Apple Airport Base Station
Businesses should no longer wonder whether wireless networks work, but they do need to consider whether they're any better than land lines. In most offices, people don't move around much, so vendors' promises of limitless freedom fall on deaf ears. (And since the range on the AirPort is 150 feet, aren't exactly true.)
Wireless' main advantage is that it reduces the work it takes to add a new computer to the network -- each AirPort can support up to 10 connections at a time, and only needs to be configured once. AirPort cards slide under the keyboards of most G3 laptops, are accessible via the underside of the new Powerbook G4, attach to adapters inside the transparent iMac and Cubes, and can automatically "find" any Base in range.
Plug the Base into any Internet connection via an Ethernet cable (or even through a phone line), and be off and running, browsing the Internet at speeds 11Mbps. For home users, this is perfect, and about all that's needed. Moving from couch to den to kitchen table, all the while pulling down audio and video through a high-speed connection, is the kind of liberating experience wireless vendors crow about.
But networking an office is different. Even linking two computers in a local network proved challenging. After poring through manuals and trying several incorrect paths, we discovered we needed to activate something called "bridging," by clicking a radio button buried deep in a configuration dialog box. To find this out, we searched for help on Apple's Web site -- something we couldn't have done if we didn't have a land line handy.
Finally, we took the AirPort to a final testing ground: The real world. Outfitting ten employees will require one $299 base and ten $99 network cards, and cost about $1,300 dollars in total. A standard, non-wireless setup would cost half that.
Pushing massive files back and forth through the atmosphere sometimes does seem like magic, but it's not something most companies have a pressing need for. Unless, of course, you've got one of those offices where everyone sits on communal couches and works wherever they can find a place for their beanbag.
And, if you're all using Macs, perhaps you do.