Whether you're at home, in the office or on the go, you probably have at one time or another, connected to the web via a Wi-Fi network. However, Windows doesn't do a particularly good job of providing Wi-Fi tools. We've rounded up six of the best downloads to help you connect and manage your Wi-Fi network.
Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector
This is another excellent program that sniffs out Wi-Fi networks and shares pertinent information about them, such as how close or far away they are. Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector shows any nearby hot spots on a radar-like display. A separate pane offers detailed information about every hot spot it finds, including signal strength, the kind of network (802.11n, for example), the router vendor, the channel on which the network transmits and whether it's an access point or an ad hoc network.
In a pane next to the radar, Wi-Fi Inspector shows you even more detailed information about the network to which you're currently connected, including your internal IP address, external IP address, DNS and gateway information, and so on.
Why use Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector rather than MetaGeek's InSSIDer? Wi-Fi Inspector's simpler, cleaner layout makes it easier to see information about all of the hot spots at a glance. It also shows the relative physical distance between you and each hot spot on its display. And there's no denying the overall coolness factor of a radar-like display.
However, if you want more detailed information, including the relative signal strengths of all nearby wireless networks, InSSIDer is a better bet.
Compatible with: Windows XP SP2+, Vista and 7
This very nifty piece of free software lets you turn a Windows 7 PC (it only works with Windows 7) into a Wi-Fi hot spot that can be used by nearby devices - your smartphone, for example, or devices that your co-workers are using in the same location.
The PC on which you install it will, of course, need to be connected to the internet itself and have Wi-Fi capability so it can provide access to other devices. The computer doesn't necessarily need a wired connection to the internet (although it won't hurt to have one); its Wi-Fi card can perform double-duty as Wi-Fi signal receiver and transmitter.
Setting up a hot spot is simple: Once you have a connection, run Connectify on your PC and give your hot spot a name and password. Your computer's Wi-Fi card will begin broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal that other devices can connect to, in the same way they can connect to any other hot spot. (Your PC card will broadcast in whatever Wi-Fi protocol it was built for. It also should support devices that use earlier protocols - for example, an 802.11n signal should allow 802.11b/g/n devices to connect.)
Since your hotspot is password-protected, only people who know the password can use it; the signal is secured with WPA2-PSK encryption.
You can even use Connectify to set up a local network without an external internet connection. Run it as a hot spot, and nearby devices can connect to each other in a network, even though there's no Internet access. You can use this for sharing files in a workgroup or setting up a network for multiplayer games.
Note that I had problems connecting my Mac to a Windows 7 machine running a Connectify-created hot spot, but I was able to make the connection with other PCs and devices.
Compatible with: Windows 7
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