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The most normal use of a WiFi network is probably your personal wireless network at home. You set up your router, assign a wireless SSID and the encryption and you know what to configure on your computer. Those more mobile computer users, however, will often run into locations where they would like to see what wireless networks are available. Some Hotels for example provide several access points depending on the size of their premises. Which one has the strongest signal? Or you may wonder what is the SSID of the access point in the coffee shop that just opened around the corner? Wirelss monitors can also help to identify competing networks on the wireless channels so you will be able to make a more educated decision about changing your channel.
A WiFi network finder software will answer these questions. Compare it to a radio that is receiving all wireless signals and displays that information to you. There are some good commercial products out there, many laptops come with an OEM product, but there are also some free contenders in this category.
Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector: Xirrus might be known by many for their sidebar gadgets for wireless networks. What some of you might not know (and I didn't either until recently - thanks, Jonas) is that they also offer a full local Wi-Fi finder utility as well. And it is good. I actually liked it that much that I made it the new Top Pick in this category.
It was not that it offers better or more features that made me change my pick, it was more the fact that the features it offers and the GUI they are presented in are so well done that I think it will be favored by most users trying both, Xirrus and inSSIDer. inSSIDer's concept approaches the more techincal oriented user while Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector uses a more general approach addressing the majority of users.
Of course, what hits the eye first is the beautifully animated radar screen in the upper left corner displaying the strength of the visible Wi-Fi networks in your vicinity. The closer the dot to the center, the better the signal. But don't mistake this radar animation as a Wi-Fi locator. The position of the dot in the radar does not represent the physical location of the hotspot. I assume the dots are just placed randomly on a circle around the center. However, it is very nicely made.
The upper right window area shows the most important information about your current connection, the wireless network and your local IP settings. In the middle the available networks are listed in a grid, just like in inSSIDer. You can sort the list by each column and read signal strength, encryption, channel etc. of those networks near you. The lower part of the window shows a history graph of the signal of your current network. All of these areas can be easily selected to full size by the Office like menu on top of the window. The usabilility of this application is simply great. You can even disconnect/connect to a network as well as enable/disable your adapter. I think it is a worthy successor as the Top Pick Wi-Fi finder.
NetSurveyor comes in second in my view but is close to inSSIDer. The layout is similar, a network list on top and graphical representations at the bottom. Also, when selecing a network in the list, the corresponding lines in the graphs are thickened to display the correlation. When NetSurveyor starts it takes about 10 seconds of scanning until the first result is presented. Continuous rescanning makes sure the list and diagrams are updated constantly. NetSurveyor offers six different diagrams concentrating on any focus you want (signal strength, channel usage, etc.).
NetSurveyor works in 32Bit environments only. Even though it offers more graphical representations I must say that the GUI implementation has room for improvement. I found it very annoying that the application is set to fullscreen mode only. I also could not see any column labels in the top list. The screenshots on the home page show the labels so I assume it is a matter of how the GUI API is used. The setup suggests a restart, however, I could not find a service or logon programm that was added. But at least I found that suspicious.
Related Products and Links
You might want to check out these articles too:
- WirelessNetView A simple wireless network monitor but portable (run from USB stick)
- NetSetMan lets easily you change your network settings on the fly
- Best Free TCP Settings Tweaker
Xirrus Wi-Fi Inspector
This article is maintained by George