Networking with Ubuntu 8.04 and Windows Part 2

Friday Jul 18th 2008 by Eric Geier

Part 2 of this series will give you a tour of the networking interfaces in Ubuntu; which are surprisingly somewhat similar to Windows XP. You'll soon be connecting, checking connection details, and browsing network computers in the Linux world.

The first installment of this series helped you enable Windows sharing (SMB) and configure your Workgroup and Computer Name values in Ubuntu. Part 2 will give you a tour of the networking interfaces in Ubuntu; which are surprisingly somewhat similar to Windows XP. You'll soon be connecting, checking connection details, and browsing network computers in the Linux world.

As in any other present-day operating system (OS), Ubuntu has a network icon on the main tool bar; as you can see in Figure 1. When you're connected to a wireless network, the icon serves as a quick signal strength indicator. The icon itself shows you signal level with its four signal bars and hovering over the icon shows you the SSID (or network name) and signal strength in terms of a percentage.

Right-clicking the network icon lets you disable or enable all networking or just wireless networking. From the drop-down menu you can also access a shortcut to the Connection Information window which shows you the details of your network connection, like the speed (or data rate) and IP and MAC addresses. Additionally, this menu provides a shortcut to the wireless network manager where you can edit the encryption keys used for secured networks.

A simple (left) click of the network icon brings down a different drop-down menu as you can see in Figure 2. You'll see a list of the wireless networks available in your area, along with their signal strength. Networks secured with encryption will sport an icon just to the left of the signal strength bar. The radio button of the network you're currently connected is marked. To connect to a wireless network, simply click the network you want.

The menu also gives you three shortcuts: Connect to Other Wireless Network so you can connect to non-broadcasted or hidden networks, Create New Wireless Network to make a computer-to-computer or ad-hoc, Manual Configuration which takes you to the Network Settings window where you can set a manual (static) IP address for your network connection and set your Workgroup or Domain and Computer (Host) Name.

As touched on in the previous section, you can see your network connection details by bringing up the Connection Information window. Simply right-click the network icon and click Connection Information. You'll see similar results to what Figure 3 shows, a resemblance to the Network Connection Status window of Windows XP accessible by double-clicking the network icon.

The Speed is the (theoretical) data rate in Mbps, or megabits per second, at which you are connected to the network. If you have the latest and greatest wireless gear, 802.11n products, this value should be above 54 Mbps, while speeds at or below this rate will probably be 802.11g equipment. If you're using ancient 802.11b products, however, the data rate may be hovering at or below 11 Mbps.

The IP Address field is the address of your computer, or specifically the particular network adapter you're using. All the devices and computers on your network has (or should have) its own unique IP address. This address helps identify themselves on the network and can be used by users to manually access shared resources of computers.

The Subnet Mask is part of what defines the subnet or section of the IP address range you're using. You'll only have to reference this value if you manually set a static IP address to your computer(s). The Default Route value is the IP address of your router which you can use to access its web-based configuration utility.

The last nugget of information you should be concerned with on the Connection Information window is the Hardware Address. In most other utilities and documentation you'll see this value referred to as the MAC (Media Access Control) or physical address. You can essentially compare this to a VIN number of a vehicle or a serial number of a product. Every networking product has its very own MAC address and is used for identification purposes. The only time you'll probably need to concern yourself with this value when setting up MAC address filtering on your router, to better secure your wireless network from intruders that are within range.

Along with being able to access the Network Settings window by clicking the network icon and selecting Manual Configuration, you can click System | Administration | Network. Once the window appears (see Figure 4), in order to make changes, click the Unlock button, enter your account password, and click the Authenticate button.

On the Connections tab, you can double-click a connection type (to configure its settings, for instance, its IP address settings to configure a static address. On the General tab, you can change the Host (or Computer) Name; however you configure the Domain Name (or Workgroup) elsewhere, as explained in part 1. The DNS and Hosts tabs contain advanced settings you probably don't need to concern yourself with right now.

To wrap up the grand tour of Ubuntu's networking menus, windows, and settings, take a look at the Network window, shown in Figure 5. Here you can browse through the computers and files on your network. You can access this window by clicking Places and selecting Network, or by clicking the Network Servers icon when in a File Browser window.

To view files from your Windows PCs, first double-click on the Windows Network icon. Then double-click the Workgroup that the computer you desire is assigned to. Now double-click the computer you want to access, identified by their Computer Names. Finally, you can browse through the computer's shared folders.

Stay tuned--the next part of this series will show you exactly how to share files and printers in Ubuntu.

Eric Geier is the Founder and President of Sky-Nets, Ltd., a Wi-Fi Hotspot Network. He is also the author of many networking and computing books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008).

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