9.1 Wireless Networking
One of the most user -friendly things about Windows XP is that it includes built-in support for WiFi , the wireless networking system that has freed computer users from the chains of cables and phone lines. As WiFi's popularity has grown, it's now possible to surf the Internet from many hotel lobbies , check your email at the airport, and conduct Web research from the comfort of your own bathroom.
The hints in this section focus on maximizing your wireless experience and keeping your PC safe in a wireless world.
9.1.1 Zero Configuration WiFi Services
Windows XP makes it easy for you to find available WiFi networks by automatically running what it calls Zero Configuration WiFi Services (which French network administrators have been rumored to refer to as Zecows). Zero Configuration lets you automatically find WiFi networks without having to muddle through a time-consuming series of configuration steps.
Note: In order to actually connect to a WiFi network, you have to follow the steps in the next hint ("Connecting to Wireless Networks").
Verify that the Zero Configuration is running on your PC by choosing Start Control Panel Administrative Tools. Double-click Services, then scroll down to the listing for Wireless Zero Configuration and look in the Status field. If it says Started, you don't need to do anything. If it doesn't, then right-click the Status Field and choose Start, as shown in Figure 9-1.
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Figure 9-1. After you turn on Zero Configuration WiFi Services, you won't notice even the slightest change in your PC because the feature works in the background.
9.1.2 Connecting to Wireless Networks
XP makes it easy to connect to any WiFi network. For example, there are many WiFi hotspots you can connect to in coffee shops , hotels, airports, restaurants , and other public places. Hotspots are public areas that provide a wireless Internet connection you can hook to via your WiFi-enabled computer ‚ sometimes for a fee, sometimes for free, but always without worrying about cables and cords.
Note: Some hotspots are password-protected, which means, of course, that unless you know the secret password you can't use that hotspot.
To connect to a hotspot, or to your own WiFi network, here's what you need to do:
Open your Wireless Network Connection Status dialog box by double-clicking the network icon in the notification area (the notification area is on the taskbar, just left of the clock) .
The network icon looks like two screens, one on top of the other; if you see more than one such icon, mouse over each and wait for a little box to appear that tells you which network it's the icon for (you're looking for Wireless Network Connection).
In the Wireless Network Connection Status dialog box, choose General Properties. Then click the Wireless Networks tab .
The screen pictured in Figure 9-2 appears. In the Available networks area, you should see the name of any nearby wireless networks. If no WiFi network appears, but you know one is nearby, click Refresh. You may see multiple WiFi networks ‚ perhaps set up by your neighbors.
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Figure 9-2. Here, it's easy to choose which network to connect to, since there's only one network visible (called "linksys") in the Available networks section. If you've connected to other networks in the past, they'd be listed under "Preferred networks." Only currently live networks appear in the "Available networks" section.
Highlight the network you want to connect to and click Configure .
The "Wireless network properties" dialog box, as shown in Figure 9-3, appears. Leave the "Data encryption" and "Network Authentication" boxes turned off.
Click OK .
You should now be connected to the WiFi hotspot.
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Figure 9-3. Confirm that the WiFi network listed (in the "Network name (SSID)" box) matches the name of the WiFi network you want to connect to. Section 9.1.4, later in this chapter, explains how to turn on encryption in case you want a more secure network.
9.1.3 Finding Hotspots Before You Travel
The U.S. is dotted with literally thousands of hotspots, from the Sub Zero cafe in Anchorage, Alaska to the Four Seasons hotel in Miami, Florida. If you frequently travel with your laptop and WiFi card, it makes sense to know where these spots are before you hit the road.
There are lots of Web sites that list public hotspots, including http://www.hotspotlist.com (Figure 9-4) which lists hundreds of public hotspots in every state across the U.S. (and even in a few other countries ).
Other useful WiFi hotspot directories are http://www.jiwire.com, www.wifinder.com, and http://www.wi-fihotspotlist.com.
Note: Not every list of hotspots is always current or exhaustive, so it's a good idea to check more than one.
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Figure 9-4. Hotspotlist.com tells you whether a hotspot is free or if you have to sign up with a wireless service provider in order to log on (fees for 24 hours of access typically cost $10 or less).
| UP TO SPEED |
Your WiFi Connection Speed
WiFi signals can often deteriorate if they're sharing the same airspace as other radio wave-using devices like microwaves and some cordless phones. To check the strength of your WiFi connection, double-click the network icon in your PC's Notification area. The "Wireless Network Connection Status" dialog box (shown here) pops open.
It indicates whether you're connected to the network, the maximum speed of the connection, the signal strength, how long you've been connected, and the number of packets of data sent and received.
Although the window contains a figure indicating your speed (in this instance, 11 Mbps), oftentimes your true connection speed is lower. To find out how to get a slightly more accurate measure of your real speed, see Section 6.5.2.
9.1.4 Protecting Your Wireless Network with WEP
The downside to WiFi's convenience is that it's less secure than its wired networking counterparts like Ethernet and even plain-old dialup. A really determined hacker can wheedle her way into a computer that's using WiFi and that you haven't properly protected.
You can minimize the chances of being spied by using Wired Equivalency Privacy (WEP), a technology that encrypts data traveling between your PC and your hotspot. WEP uses encryption keys ‚ numbers or passwords that turn the data into gibberish ‚ so that only those with the proper key can read it. The hotspot and each PC that connects to it must use the same key in order for encryption to work.
WEP is available in two flavors: 64-bit and 128-bit. 128-bit encryption is harder to crack, because it uses a longer key. But not all hardware supports 128-bit encryption, so check your documentation to see if yours does.
Note: The use of encryption slows down your network. Exactly how much depends on many variables , including the quality of the hotspot and the network cards being used, the exact placement of the devices, and any sources of nearby interference such as portable phones. Test your network with and without encryption to experience the speed difference, and then decide if the added security is worth the slowdown .
Before setting up WEP, confirm the level of encryption each computer on your network can support. You're looking for the lowest common denominator here: if even one computer can deal with 64-bit encryption only, your whole network will have to use that standard.
Once you've figured out the level you can use:
In your router, turn on WEP .
This process varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, so check your documentation. The main step requires you to enter a password that XP then uses to generate an encryption key. Remember the password and the encryption level you choose; you'll need them when you configure your computers to use encryption.
On each computer on your WiFi network, double-click the wireless network icon in the Notification area, and choose Properties Wireless Networks to open the Wireless Network Connection Properties dialog box .
Any nearby wireless networks are listed under "Available networks." There's a chance that only one will be listed ‚ the one you set up.
Highlight the name of your network in the "Available networks" area and click Configure .
The Wireless Network Properties dialog box appears (Figure 9-5).
Turn on "Data encryption (WEP enabled)" and uncheck "The key is provided for me automatically." If you entered a value for a key index in step 1, choose that value in the Key index section. Type your password in the "Network key" box and then again in the "Confirm network key" box. Click OK .
Figure 9-5 shows the Wireless Network Properties dialog box filled out properly. When you click OK, your PC begins using encryption to connect to the network. Repeat the same steps for each computer connected to the network.
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Figure 9-5. When turning on WEP using this dialog box, it's critical that you type in the encryption key information precisely, including upper- and lower-case letters .
Note: An even newer encryption technology called WPA (short for WiFi Protected Access) is even more secure than WEP. But WPA only works with Windows XP, which means that if you have other non-XP computers on your WiFi network, you won't be able to use it. Furthermore, depending on the version of XP you have, you may need to download a patch from Microsoft to be able to activate WPA. Microsoft has a special Web page that contains more details: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx?kbid=826942.
9.1.5 Unplugging the Unplugged Icon
When using your wireless network, an icon may appear in the notification tray, warning you that your network cable is unplugged. What gives? After all, you're connected through a wireless network, and you probably don't even have a cable attached to your computer.
If this useless warning bugs you, you can easily kill it. Here's what you need to do:
Open your Network Connections folder .
In the notification area, right-click the network icon that has an X through it and choose Open Network Connections. The Network Connections folder opens.
Select your Ethernet network connection .
If you're not sure which connection is your normal wired connection, click each in turn and then look in the details area of the Network Connections folder (on the left side of the window). Here, you'll see information listed about the connection you've highlighted, including the name of the network adapter and its status. Look for one that's labeled "unplugged."
Turn off the notification area icon .
Once you've found your wired connection, right-click it and choose Properties General. Turn off the box that says, "Show icon in notification area when connected," as shown in Figure 9-6, then click OK. The icon should go away.
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Figure 9-6. Uncheck the highlighted box if you don't want the icon for your "unwired" connection to appear in the notification area. Don't turn off the icon for your wireless connection, though; if you do, you won't receive a notification when you've made a wireless connection.