Windows wireless network's route to the Airport Express

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:18pm


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In recent months, several people have asked me about connecting a Windows or Linux PC to an Apple Extreme Base Station or Airport Express. I had not imagined it would be all that difficult, but I recently had to do the same thing and it turned out to be a far bigger problem than I thought.

There have been many problems over the years with this technology but they were caused mainly by rummy wireless card drivers.

The PC world was several years behind Apple in implementing built-in wireless technology but that has now changed. It is almost impossible to get a notebook computer that has not got wireless. Consequently, the drivers are already loaded. That is one big problem solved.

Apple, of course, was not content to support the standard 802.11b - it had to up the stakes to the faster 802.11g. That was not a big problem because the technologies are compatible.

However, it did cause a certain amount of confusion. Nevertheless, the Airport Base Stations are quite good and are reasonably easy to set up. (Apple for some odd reason decided not to go with a browser interface. That may have been for aesthetic reasons, but it does mean you must load Apple's software to administer the Base Station. Many users have complained about this).

The key to getting wireless computers attached to your Airport Base Station is something called the media access control (MAC) address. MAC is a hard-coded address. It identifies your network adaptor. It takes the form of a series of hexadecimal numbers, usually separated by colons. It would look like this: 00:11:22:33:44.

Because this is a hexadecimal number, you are most likely going to see digits including any of the letters 'a-f'. That is perfectly all right. In the Airport Admin Utility application there is a tab called 'Access'.

If you click on that, you will see that you can enter the MAC addresses of any notebook that you want to connect to your Base Station. Type in the value of any machine you want to connect.

The first question that is likely to be on one's mind is: How do I find that? On a Windows machine it can be done by clicking on the 'Start' button, then choosing 'Run' and typing in 'cmd'. A command prompt window appears and you can type in 'ipconfig /all'. This will churn out some text on the screen and the MAC address should be easily spotted.

On the Mac, just run Network Utility (in the utilities folder of applications) and the hardware address will appear on the screen.

Once all this is sorted out, there is one more important thing to get right - the password and protection of the wireless connection. There seems to be a bit of confusion here, but the best method that has worked well so far is to use 40-bit WEP (wired equivalent privacy).

When you set this up with Airport Admin Utility, type in a normal password, but when you click on 'password' (an icon visible at the top when you launch Airport Admin Utility), you will be shown a 10-digit hexadecimal number. Write it down and use it when setting up your Windows wireless network.