Home Network Planning with Microsoft Home Network Guide

Even though home networking kits are widely available in the market, they are mainly designed for use with one technology. If you just think of short-term solution, using the kit will help you. But if you want to explore all possible solutions before shopping for networking gears, then you need to spend time for learning all available home networking technologies.

Microsoft Home Network Guide

Picture: Microsoft Home Network Guide

Microsoft Home Network Guide is a free tool that will help you decide which technology is the best for your home network. It is an interactive wizard that presents a series of multiple-choice questions. You will be asked 9 - 12 questions, as follows:

1. Whether you (will) have 2 or 3 computers. If you have 4 computers or more, then you can use the solution for 3 computers, for additional computers you only need to add another network adapter.
2. Whether your computer is desktop or notebook. Whether it is already there, or you just plan to buy it.
3. You have to decide the location of each computer. You will choose the room in which each computer will be located from the drop-down list.
4. You have to name the operating system of each computer, i.e. Windows XP, Windows 2000, Windows 98, or Windows ME.
5. Whether your computer is connected to the Internet. If yes, whether it uses internal or external modem. Click here to learn the function of a modem.

6. If a wireless network is your desired solution and feasible with your home structure. If you aren't sure, you'll be asked about the distance between the computers you want to network and how many walls/floors there are between the rooms that contain the computers. If your computers are less than 160 feet apart, and there are up 4 walls/floors between the rooms, then wireless solution using Wi-Fi will become one of your home network solutions.
7. Whether your home is already pre-wired for Ethernet networking. If yes, Ethernet will become the wired network solution for your home network. If not, you'll be asked whether you have a phone jack in each room with computer in it. If you do have a phone jack in each room, phoneline networking using HomePNA will become one of your home network solutions. If not, the Network Guide will pick powerline networking using PLC (PowerLine Communication) as one of your home network solutions. One PLC standard which gains more market adoption is HomePlug.
8. Whether your computer has an available USB port. The Network Guide prefers USB adapter over other kinds of adapters for desktop and PC Card for laptop. Click here to learn the function of a network adapter.
9. What types of network adapters already installed in your computer, if there is any. If you don't have a network adapter for a computer, the Network Guide will include one in the shopping list.

After you finish answering the questions, the Network Guide will offer you one recommended solution and two alternate solutions. For each solution, you can see the network diagram, the networking gears shopping list, and a step-by-step instructions to help you setup your home network.

Basically, the three solutions presented by Microsoft Home Network Guide for each session of questions and answers can help you imagine how your home network will be configured. But if you only have two computers and don't plan to buy another in the near future, you'd better consider using direct connection rather than the complete solution advocated by the Network Guide. Also, if you can easily open your desktop computer casing, a PCI adapter may become your choice rather than the external USB adapter that is recommended by the Network Guide. Regarding Internet connection sharing, you'll choose between two options, i.e. using a router (residential gateway) or by making one computer as a gateway to the Internet (ICS host). Go here for comparison between the two methods.

Microsoft Home Network Guide can be downloaded from Microsoft website, in the Download Center section.