Apple AirPort Uniqueness
I've received some email asking about the differences between the Apple AirPort Base Station's new release and the updated firmware for the AirPort Cards and cheaper equipment that can be purchased from other manufacturers. (Note that access point or AP is the industry term for Base Station.)
Mac configuration support: Many APs can have their settings changed only via a Web browser: you enter the local IP address of the AP and then a password. This works pretty well, but some features - like upgrading the internal software (firmware) on the access point - fail on a Macintosh. This is consistently true for me with the Linksys BEFW11S4 EtherFast AP, for instance. Some APs have Windows-only software, too. The AirPort Base Station by contrast comes with the AirPort Admin Utility, a Mac-only tool that scans a local network - you don't have to remember the Base Station's number - and uses simple graphical tools for making setting changes. A Java-based configuration tool works with other platforms, but it's not supported by Apple .
AppleTalk compatibility: AppleTalk is an older protocol for printing and reaching fileservers (shared volumes, too) over Ethernet networks. Many APs won't handle AppleTalk. Apple's Base Station, and models from Farallon and Asante will work wirelessly with AppleTalk. Users of newer printers and Mac OS software (including 9 and X) don't need to worry about AppleTalk, as Apple switched over entirely to TCP/IP. (Even if you're currently relying on AppleTalk, you may be able to change a couple of File Sharing settings and use the Apple Desktop Printer Utility to switch over to TCP/IP.)
AOL support: No other wireless hub from any maker can support dialing AOL - not over Windows, not over Mac. Dial-up AOL users who want to use wireless networking can essentially relay through the Base Station to reach AOL.
Modem and Ethernet: Some other APs have both an Ethernet port and a modem (or an RS232C port for a modem or ISDN device), but it's usually at extra cost over the plain vanilla version, bringing the price closer to an AirPort. Many readers find that the modem is a great backup if their broadband connection goes down. It only works at so-called 56K speeds (more like 40 to 50 kbps), but it still handles dialing up for a whole network.
High-speed LAN Ethernet port: The revised Base Station has a second Ethernet port that runs at both 10 and 100 Mpbs depending on the connected network. The cheapest competing APs have a single Ethernet connection, although others may have up to a 4-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet hub.
RADIUS: While it's only important in more advanced networks, RADIUS authentication is supported in AirPort 2.0 (requiring a new Base Station, not just a software update with the original modem). Many cheaper APs don't support RADIUS.
Cisco LEAP: A software upgrade that works with older AirPort cards allows them to connect to networks that use Cisco LEAP for authentication. Again, this feature is not found in all cards (especially not in $99 ones), and is critical for networks that require it.