Although it may seem elementary to some people, this question is perhaps the most important for all home users. First and foremost, just because the whole world seems to be talking about installing a network in their home, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you need one. Before you run out to buy all types of equipment and cabling, be sure to take the time to consider whether you really have the need. In most cases, the answer is generally pretty simple.
In the most basic sense, a network consists of two or more computers that wish to share resources. This begs the obvious question – what is a resource? In the world of computer networks, a resource is something that someone on one PC might want to gain access to on another. Most commonly, this is access to data files, such as spreadsheets or documents, for example. In the old days, people used a wonderfully elementary system called “sneakernet” – saving data to a floppy disk, and then walking it over to their machine. Although simple, the system obviously has some flaws, namely the fact that it is incredible time consuming if it needs to be done often. Another commonly shared resource is a printer – why purchase two printers to connect to two machines, when both could share one printer? One thing that a network provides in the longer term is savings, both in terms of time and money. Finally we come to what is perhaps the biggest resource why people consider installing a home network – in order to share access to a single very large resource, the Internet, through a single connection.
Going back to the original question, a home that could use a network is one in which you want to share resources between two or more PCs easily. If you only have one PC, and only ever plan on having one, then a network probably isn’t right for you – in the most basic sense, you really don’t have anyone else to talk to. This is not to say that networks consisting of a single PC do not exist – they sometimes do, as you’ll see later in the series.