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Book review

Poor Richard's Home and Small Office Networking, by John Paul Mueller

Top Floor Publishing, 2001, ISBN 1930082037. Order from

Cover image of Poor Richard's Home and Small Office NetworkingReviewed by Jean Hollis Weber

Although most technical writers and editors are quite technically knowledgeable, we often work in software development or other fields that don't necessarily provide much background in the practical aspects of networking. If you work in a large company, someone else normally handles network issues for you; indeed, you're probably not allowed to do it yourself.

But if you get the opportunity to telecommute, or you set up in business for yourself, or you simply want to share data between computers at home, suddenly you need to know enough about networking to at least ask intelligent questions in the computer store and have a chance of understanding the answers.

Or perhaps you have friends or clients who ask you about a home or small business network. Even if you understand the concepts, you may not want to be drawn into consulting in that area, so you'd like to suggest a resource for the other person to read.

In either situation, this book could be just what you need. I'm a big fan of the Poor Richard's series of books, which explain complex computer and Internet related issues in an understandable way. This book fits in well with the others in the series. I wish I'd had it a year ago when I was making decisions about my home network. Fortunately, I live with a geek who is into minimalist solutions, so I got what I needed. Now, reading the book, I understand a lot more about the reasons behind the decisions we made.

My geek (technical partner), Eric Lindsay, is very critical about books covering technical matters to do with computers and networking. It's an indication of the quality of this book that he praised it.

Eric said, "It doesn't tell you everything you need to know, but no one book can do that. It does tell you enough to make some critical decisions and then go find a book with the details you need to do whatever you've decided to do. It's written at a level that most small businesspeople, even those who are not very knowledgeable about computers, should be able to understand, so they can ask the necessary questions of salespeople and possibly even understand the answers they get."

Eric and I were both impressed with the first two chapters, "Do you need a network?" and "Cheap alternative networks," although some of the suggestions for cheap alternatives (such as those using power wiring and telephone wiring) are more relevant to the USA than to the rest of the world.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5, "Designing a standard network," "Connections require software," and "Cabling and other masses of wire" continue leading you through the decisions you need to make.

Chapters 6 through 14 get into more "hands-on" information. Most of that is primarily Windows-oriented, so if you're trying to network Macs, it won't be as specific to your situation as you might like.

The chapter titles are:
6 - Configuring Windows for network use (including "Windows features you can live without")
7 - Working with NetWare
8 - Network security essentials
9 - Network administration made simple
10 - Remote communications
11 - Communicating over the Internet
12 - Networks that pay for themselves
13 - Performance issues
14 - First aid for the network

Chapter 15 returns to decision-making mode with "Planning for the future." A glossary and index, plus an appendix of "50 tips for a successful network," complete the book.

The author, John Paul Mueller, is a freelance author and technical editor. (It shows; the book is very well organized and written.) He has produced 48 books and almost 200 articles, on topics ranging from networking to artificial intelligence and from database management to programming. One of his current books is about Windows 2000 performance, tuning, and optimization. In addition to book projects, John has provided technical editing services to computer magazines.

For more information on Poor Richard's Home and Small Office Networking, a table of contents, sample chapters, and other reviews, see This site also contains hundreds of links to useful resources mentioned in the book.