MicroCenter, WIFI, Webcams and iOExperts

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This past weekend I picked up a several cool gadets in the bargain bin at the local MicroCenter. during a weekend markdown sale, I could have spent all day there, and all my money, but I ended up restraining myself and wound up with some real deals thanks to their overstock and returns. The first item I’ll mention is an ADSTech Pyro 1394 Webcam. It normally runs for about $89 bucks from most places online. During the markdown at MicroCenter. I snagged it for only $66 bucks! At my office, I have been using an old USB based Connectix/Logitech Quickcam Express that I picked up for free a while back, and from home I had been using my Sony DCR-TRV10 MiniDV for Flash Communications server related projects. Well the Pyro webcam kicks some serious butt. The USB Quickcam only works on PC’s, no support for Macs, and the Sony DV still has issues when used on a machine with Quicktime 6.x (It causes weird sized video feeds with the standard Flashcom Components). The Pyro Webcam works on Macs or PC’s that are firewire capable and it also came with a ton of cool apps. It works great with Flashcom stuff, which is the main reason I wanted it. Another great feature is that it is mounted on its own removable three legged tripod. Not some weird triangle of plastic or shaped foot that never really adjusts, but a real, removeable, telescoping, adjustable, pivot-head, tripod that can be used with other cameras or devices. This makes it so much easier to use. The picture quality falls somewhere between the Connectix and Sony DV, and closer towards the Sony. The picture is grainer than the DV, but perfect for web usage. This leads me to talk about the folks at iOExperts. I originally found them months and months ago after trying in vain to find a driver for OS X for the Connectix. Unfortunately they didn’t support that camera at the time, I believe it may be supported now, but Im not going to bother now that I have the Pyro, its so much better. Well, the Pyro came with an older beta version of the driver. I went to their website and picked up their latest FireWire WebCam Driver for Mac OS X and it was very simple to install, quite painless, and worth every penny of the $19.95 I spent on it. Now I don’t have to lug around my expensive DV camera to do demos. All I need now is for someone to make an adapter so that I can use my Xbox LIVE headset with my Griffin iMic adapter, another very cool gadget for Macs or PC’s to route audio in/out via USB. You will need some form of audio input/microphone when using the Pyro webcam since it doesnt have a builtin microphone like some other webcams.

The other gadget I picked up on sale was a Linksys WAP11 802.11b Wireless Access Point, also got this one for $67 bucks! I actually went ahead and bought two, one for home and one for the office, since it was such a steal. The WAP11 is designed for folks who already have a network going and a router to control thier broadband/Cable/DSL connectivity, and just want to add wireless to the mix. It has a single port to connect to your hub or switch and a power brick. Plug them both in and you ready to go. I quickly set mine up for 128bit WEP, turned off broadcasting of the SSID, and enabled MAC address filtering, so that even if someone managed to find my network and get my WEP key, they would be hard pressed to figure out which MAC address they would need to spoof to gain access to my network. The easy to use web interface of the Linksys made setting this up a matter of about 60 seconds. I happen to use a Linksys BEFSR41 Cable/DSL Router with 4 Port Switch for my home office, so they stack nicely on top of each other. Speaking of stacking, check out Phillip Torrones review of the WIFI booster Linksys makes that you can use with these to extend their range dramatically.

I use the wireless at my home office to remotely sync my Pocket PC with ActiveSync, browse the web, etc. I use a Symbol Compact Flash Card in a sleeve on my iPaq 3675 for its WIFI connectivity. I took the second Linksys WAP11 to work with me, and plugged it into a port on one of our Cisco 2900 Catalyst Switches and configured it the same as I had for home, this time adding in the MAC addresses for devices around the office that have wireless capabilities. It plays nice with all of the other gadgets on the LAN including our firewall, a Cisco PIX 501 the baby PIX of Ciscos’ line.

The one thing I couldn’t get to work at first was one of my coworkers Apple Powerbook G3’s. She has an Asante FriendlyNET AeroLAN AL1011-DP 802.11b card since her older Powerbook doesn’t accept the standard Apple Airport cards. She bought the Asante a few months back to work with her Linksys 802.11b router she has at home for her cable connection. On her home LAN she had never made any changes to the default config of her router, it just runs with the defaults of no WEP encryption, and no MAC address filtering, with DHCP adressing. Well I remembered when she bought it, she had a terrible time getting it to work with OS X Jaguar. Asante had just released their beta drivers for OS X, and she had a heck of a time with the installer and their tech support or lack thereof. The installer is just wonky, telling you to restart, but don’t restart before running a shellscript with the root password (things a real installer should never ask the average consumer to do) and on top of that, after its installed the software just plain doesn’t work correctly. It doesn’t allow you to properly enter 128bit WEP keys (even though it says it supports them), it literally only has three configurable items: an SSID field, a WEP Key checkbox, and WEP key field. Nothing else. Very non user-friendly, and an absolute lack of documentation in the box or on the website relating to the operation of the software once installed. Very bad.

I called their tech support to find out if they had anything newer than what was on their website and to see if they could help figure it out or if they had heard of issues with the Linksys WAP11 and their products, well that was 15 unproductive minutes of my life I wish I could get back! Don’t bother calling those folks! At this point, I remembered about the iOExperts folks whom I had just purchased the OS X webcam driver from. They also happen to make a generic 802.11b for Mac OS 8-9 and Mac OS X. They have a trial version that works for 30 minutes at time. So I uninstalled the piece of garbage Asante driver (luckily it was much easier to remove than it was to install!), and I installed the trial iOExperts 802.11b driver and restarted her laptop. Once I had it back up I went into the System Preferences, and there in the “other” section was the panel for the iOExperts driver. It is fantastic! It has support for all the standard features you would expect from an 802.11b device, it also shows signal strength, the remote MAC address of the base station your currently connecting to, automatic discovery of strongest signal, WEP key options, all the things the Asante driver was severely lacking. I popped in the correct config info, and blammo she was up and running in seconds.

My coworker was so happy to have it working, she hit the buy button in the bottom of the panel and purchased it online in a matter of seconds. That is how e-commerce on the web should always work! So that was two wins for the folks at iOExperts in a matter of days. As a result, I would highly recommend both of their products to anyone with similar needs. From their About Us page on their site, it looks like they have some deep roots in development for the Mac, and are trying to help bridge the gap for Mac users wanting to use readily available PC based devices that only lack Mac/OS X drivers. Its always good to support the little guy, as they are usually the nimblest, most innovative, and eager to please their customers. I’m curious to see what kind of stuff they offer next. I hope Asante finds them and their OEM offerings, and decides to start bundling the iOExperts software with their cards, they will wind up with MUCH happier customers.

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