NOTE: This article contains no genealogy-related information. If you are looking for genealogy articles, you can skip this one. However, I know that many readers of this newsletter use wireless network connections on Windows or Macintosh laptops, as I do. This week I discovered an impressive free program for the traveling wireless network user and thought I would describe it.
Boingo is a commercial provider of high-speed wireless network (or Wi-Fi) access points. The company now has more than 17,000 "hot spots" around the world connected to its network. If you sign up for a Boingo account, you can access the Internet using a wireless connection from hotels, airports, coffee shops, and other locations around the world. Boingo charges either $9.95 a day or $21.95 a month for unlimited Internet access on the company's high-speed wireless connections. For more information about Boingo and its many services, look at http://www.boingo.com
Boingo also offers free software for Windows XP/2000/ME/98, Macintosh OS X, and even PocketPC 2002 or 2003 handheld computers. This software works with the company's access points and those of other companies as well. It is available to everyone, Boingo subscribers and non-subscribers alike. While I am not a Boingo subscriber, I found that the company's free Wi-Fi connection software has become one of the handiest programs installed on my laptop. I even installed the PocketPC version on my HP iPAQ handheld computer and am now able to connect to wireless hot spots easily from my shirt pocket-sized computer.
In the past, I have used whatever programs were built into the operating system plus whatever shipped with the wireless access card to establish connections to wireless networks that I encountered. I have always had to manually specify SSID, keyphrases, and more "techie stuff" myself. I have a technical background and am familiar with networks, so that isn't too bad for me; but I have found that others who lack a technical background are quickly overwhelmed with all the parameters required in wireless networking.
In fact, the toughest part isn't configuring a network; it is in FINDING a network! Depending upon the software bundled with your wireless card, finding and configuring wireless networks can be a challenge. Until this week, I have used a freeware utility called NetStumbler to find wireless connections. NetStumbler works well at finding available access points and displaying the parameters of each. However, the user is then left to decode that information himself and to figure out how to configure the network card's parameters to match. The new Boingo Simply Wi-Fi software combines the functionality of NetStumbler and that of the configuration utility: it quickly identifies all wireless networks within range and asks the user if he or she would like to connect. If so, Boingo Simply Wi-Fi automates the setting of required parameters.
To be sure, the user still needs to enter any required encryption keys. However, Boingo has even simplified this as much as possible. Boingo's "Simply Wi-Fi" also will (optionally) save all the parameters entered. This can be very handy if you travel frequently and return to the same hotel later or if you use identical Boingo or T-Mobile connections often in different cities. You can configure this software to connect automatically to networks that you specify, assuming they are within range. This feature alone can save a lot of time and frustration: you only have to figure out each connection once.
Installation of the software was simple:
- Go to Boingo's web site and download the version required for your Windows, Macintosh, or PocketPC.
- Double-click on the newly-downloaded file, and follow the instructions that appear on the screen.
That's it. Following installation, a new icon appears on the desktop (and in the System Tray on Windows systems). Double-clicking on this icon reveals all the wireless networks within range at that moment and asks if you want to connect to any of them. You double-click on the one you want. If that network is encrypted, you are asked for the encryption key or passphrase. You are then connected. That's all there is to it. If you save the parameters and tell the system to automatically connect in the future, the second time you go to that network, you can simply turn on the PC and become connected automatically. If you prefer, you can specify to always ask before connecting to any network. I configured my systems to automatically connect to my home wireless network, if available, but to always prompt before connecting to any other networks.
I first downloaded Boingo's Simply Wi-Fi software onto my HP Tablet PC that contains a built-in wireless card, and everything worked flawlessly. I was able to connect easily to my own encrypted wireless network at home, as well as to my neighbor's unencrypted wireless access point. I guess I should talk to him some day about encryption. When I took the tablet PC to my office, I found that I could easily connect to several different free and open networks in the neighborhood.
I later downloaded Boingo's Simply Wi-Fi software onto an older HP laptop that used a plug-in SMC brand of wireless card, but the Boingo software never saw the card. The software displayed a message of "Insert network card," even though the laptop was already connected to the Internet via the wireless card and I could already surf the web. I had an older Belkin wireless card available, so I replaced the SMC card with the Belkin unit. Then everything worked perfectly. Apparently Boingo's software is not compatible with the SMC 2632W card although I am told that the software works well with newer SMC units.
I also own an iMac, which is used often at home on my wireless network and occasionally in the booth at genealogy conference exhibitors' halls. I downloaded the Macintosh version of Boingo's Simply Wi-Fi and found that installation and configuration was very similar to the Windows version I have just described. I also downloaded the PocketPC version into an iPAQ 4100 handheld computer. Its installation procedure was equally simple.
If you have a wireless card for your computer, and if you wish to connect to various networks as you travel around, Boingo's Simply Wi-Fi software will simplify your life. That's not bad for a free program!
To learn more or to obtain Boingo's Simply Wi-Fi software for your Windows, Macintosh, or PocketPC computer, go to http://www.boingo.com/download.html
My thanks to Steven Shilcusky for telling me about this program.