A friend and colleague wrote asking for some tips as part of a presentation at a user group about a recent trip we all took (Geek Cruises' MacMania conference), and I thought it was worth sharing these Apple items.
(Remember that Amazon.com sells Apple's AirPort Base Station with free US shipping: link.)
When you're setting up an AirPort network that has mixed platforms, Macs and PCs, and using either the AirPort Base Station or another company's base station, you'll find yourself frustrated when you try to apply security.
AirPort's built-in security system, called WEP, works in a different way under the Mac OS and other systems.
On the Mac, you type in a short phrase as your password. On other systems and on non-Apple base stations, you enter a several digit hexadecimal code. For the shorter version of WEP, called 40, 56, or 64-bit (it's all identical), you enter five 2-digit hex numbers or a total of ten characters (like 1E 2B 3C 4F AA). For the longer WEP security key, 128 bits, you enter 14 hex numbers or 28 characters!
The trick is that to use the hexadecimal key with an Apple AirPort Card, you must enter a dollar-sign before the hex number, like
Likewise, if you have a PC client that wants to connect to an Apple AirPort Base Station, you need to determine its hex key by using the AirPort Admin Utility. Run the utility, connect to the base station, and with the older admin utility, select Network Equivalent Password from one of the menus; with the newer admin utility, click the Password icon at the top of the configuration window.
Enter that hex key in the PC client *without* the dollar sign in front of it, or just
If you are on a system that's using 128-bit WEP and your Macintosh won't join no matter what you try, you probably have an old AirPort card that only supported shorter keys. Apple's free AirPort software update will change the firmware in your card so that it now supports 128-bit keys. Go to Apple's site, click Support, and follow the links for software to download the latest release of AirPort. You can also use the Software Update control panel or system preference.
There's one other case in which you might need to enter something slightly different. Some PC systems use a passphrase like Apple's, but it doesn't work identically. If you use a passphrase on any card except Apple's AirPort, then to make it work with a Mac, you enter the passphrase in quotation marks when the password is asked for.
So, for instance, if a PC user enters
as their password, a Mac owner with an AirPort card enters