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Managing Wireless Connections in Windows 7

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Windows 7 brings Microsoft's third generation of wireless network discovery and management to life. Mark Soper, author of Easy Microsoft Windows 7 shows how to work with wireless networks, save your favorites, and find secure networks faster and easier than ever before.

Windows 7 is the third desktop operating system from Microsoft to include built-in wireless networking support. However, whether you've used Windows XP or Windows Vista for wireless connections previously, you will notice how Windows 7 makes connections to both secure and unsecured wireless networks easier to make and maintain. The difference in Windows 7's support of wireless networks begins as soon as Windows 7 detects a wireless network.

Discovering Wireless Networks

Windows 7 includes an improved version of the automatic wireless network detection feature first introduced in Windows XP and included in Windows Vista.

When you have no other network connection active and Windows 7 detects wireless networks to which you can connect, it displays a five-bar icon marked with a starburst in the notification area of the desktop. This icon means “Not connected – Connections are Available.” To begin the connection process, click the icon to display detected wireless networks (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Opening the Wireless Connections dialog from the notification area.

As Figure 1 illustrates, you can connect to a wide variety of wireless networks with Windows 7. These include:

  • Infrastructure
  • Ad-hoc
  • Unsecured (open)
  • Secured (encrypted)

WLAN connections listed with a five-bar signal strength icon are infrastructure connections. An infrastructure connection uses a wireless access point (WAP) or wireless router to connect you to other computers on the network and to the Internet.

WLAN connections displaying a three-device icon are ad-hoc connections. An ad-hoc connection is a direct link between two PCs or between a PC and a printer, multifunction device, digital camera, or other device. Ad-hoc connections cannot connect you directly to the Internet.

Connections marked with a gold Windows security shield are unsecured (open) connections. No encryption key is used. Unsecured infrastructure networks are commonly used in locations that provide free Internet service, such as hotel lobbies, and rooms, libraries, meeting rooms, restaurants, and coffee shops. Ad-hoc networks are often set up for unsecured access.

Connections without the gold Windows security shield are secured wireless networks. You must provide the encryption key used by the network when connecting to the network.

To get more information about any connection, hover your mouse over the connection (Figure 2).

Figure 2 This connection works with both 2.4GHz (802.11g) and 5GHz (802.11a) wireless adapters.

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