We've rounded up these six downloads, most of them free
Windows doesn't do a particularly good job of providing Wi-Fi tools. Yes, it will let you search for and connect to nearby networks, but that's about the extent of it. What if you want to get detailed information about every Wi-Fi network within range, troubleshoot your network, turn your laptop into a portable Wi-Fi hot spot or keep yourself safe at public hot spots? Windows is no help.
We've rounded up these six downloads. Five out of the six are free; the other is inexpensive and lets you try it out first.
MetaGeek's InSSIDer is a great tool for finding Wi-Fi networks within range of your computer and gathering a great deal of information about each. It's also useful for troubleshooting problems with your own Wi-Fi network.
Price: Free Compatible with: Windows XP, Vista and 7 (32- and 64-bit) Download InSSIDer
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.
Tools like InSSIDer and Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector are great for finding hot spots that are currently in range of your laptop. But if you want to find hot spots in other locations -- a part of town that you'll be in later in the day, for example, or a city you'll be visiting next week, you'll want to give WeFi a try.The basic version of WeFi is free, but there's also a version called WeFi Premium that you have to pay for.
When you connect to the Internet via a public hot spot, you put yourself at risk because someone might try to sniff your packets or otherwise snoop on what you're doing online. Hotspot Shield, a free, lightweight piece of software from AnchorFree, promises to keep you safe by creating a secure VPN connection and encrypting all of your communications.
A very nice touch is that you can tell Plug and Browse to automatically create a profile for you and it will grab all of your current settings for the network to which you're connected. You can still edit the settings after that if you need to.