I am typing this on a laptop that blinked a strange orange light when I plugged in the power cord, that has a red line on the left side of the screen, and where a large gap has developed in the upper left side of the case. Clearly, I have to be prepared, literally any evening now, for me to turn on the computer and for it simply not to work. I’ve already spent too much money this month; on March 1, however, I will order various pieces of electronics.

I’m comfortable with most of the decision making. But there will be one significant change that I don’t have much experience with: I’ll be going from one computer connected to a cable modem via an ethernet cable to multiple devices (computers and game consoles) connected largely or entirely to each other and the cable modem via wireless. And I’ve never set up, or even used, a wireless network before. (Actually, I’ll have questions on the Mac transition, too, but that can wait for a bit.)

So I offer up my plight to the collective wisdom of my readership. Here’s the setup:

  • I’m planning to buy a Sun Ultra 20 (probably the base model with a slightly less bare-bones graphics card), on which I’ll run Linux.
  • I’m planning to buy one of the new Mac laptops (the stock lower-end model might be good enough).
  • I already have one console with wireless access (the DS); I assume that, in the next generation, I’ll want to connect all the consoles up to the internet, whether through wires or wireless. I will doubtless acquire more networkable devices in the future.
  • There is a cable jack in the den, where the consoles are located; there isn’t a cable jack in the library, where the Ultra 20 will be located.
  • The only external access that I’ll want to allow into my network, at least for now, is to let myself ssh into the Ultra 20.
  • I’m leaning towards not allowing free access to the wireless network, for security reasons.

So: what should I do? I’m assuming that I want to connect a wireless router to my cable modem in the den; any specific buzzwords I should look out for? Anybody have any favorite routers? What’s worth spending more money on, what’s not? (Presumably I want a device that can do 802.11g.)

As far as security goes, it sounds like WEP is quite bad, but WPA is decent. (And there are multiple flavors of each?) It looks like the DS only supports WEP; will the router support different devices using different encryption protocols (after all, I don’t care how well the DS traffic is encrypted), or is it an all-or-nothing thing?

How should I connect the Ultra 20? A wireless card? A hub? A router? A long ethernet cable? How does security work with wireless hubs? Any gotchas with Linux and wireless cards?

Is AirPort Extreme just Apple’s name for 802.11g, or do they have proprietary extensions?

Anything else that I’m forgetting to ask?

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