Mac or PC, iPhone or generic smart phone, we live in a WiFi world. All Macs in recent memory come with wireless connectivity built in.
WiFi hot spots abound, from McDonald’s to Starbucks to the airport to your neighbor. How many ways can you locate a wireless network on your Mac? There’s easy and cheap, or easy and free, or not so free with features. You choose.
Assuming you have a recent Mac and DSL or cable broadband at home or a speedy network at the office, then you know about wireless. WiFi. Airport. Your Mac can connect to the internet with a couple of clicks, or automatically.
It’s easy at home or the office. At home, if you have a wireless DSL or cable modem, or Apple’s Airport, your network shows up in your Mac’s Airport Menu Bar. Select, enter a password, and you’re logged on.
Sometimes you’ll notice other networks in the Airport pull down menu. Where are they? What are they? Can you use them? Are there other network connections out there? Airport doesn’t give you much information.
Fortunately, enterprising (though I’m not so sure how enterprising, since their utilities are free) Mac software developers have created utilities which scan the airwaves and find nearby networks, then display information about said network.
One of my favorites is iStumbler which features a simple window on your Mac which displays details about all the networks it can find within network range of your Mac.
The wireless connections are not limited to wireless modems or Airport, but include local Bonjour devices and Bluetooth. The window is resizable, movable, and displays the basics; Secure vs. Open, network name, signal strength, and so on.
There’s also an iStumbler Spectrum Widget to satisfy your geeky moments.
$10 will get you a few more features in the commercial AirRadar. Scan for nearby wireless networks, tag them as favorites, or filter them, and automatically join an open network.
Features? Sure, why not have AirRadar speak the networks name, or display the network’s operating frequency. All that expense requires that you get something extra, right?
If you’re getting the impression that most of these utilities do pretty much the same thing, but with a few features more than your Mac, then you assume correctly.
WiFi Radar is another of the nifty wireless utilities which scans for access points and base stations, including Apple’s Airports. This one works with WEP, WPA, WPA2, and others.
It’ll even create a log of access points, give you basic stats for all channels, and spits out HTML web pages with the details.
If you’re an amateur wireless scan type of person, the KisMAC group asks you to avoid their open-source, free stumbler/scanner application because it’s for professionals.
For example, KisMAC displays hidden, cloaked, or closed SSIDs and can even draw an area map of the network. This is not your father’s WiFi stumbler. KisMAC is AppleScriptable, and offers crypto support against various attacks.
Best stumbler name award should go to AirMoose, an open source project hosted at Google.
Other than logo and name you could easily wonder how much different AirMoose is from any of the others, and the answer would be not much. It logs. It notifies. It Growls. It auto joins. It’s free.
My fav is iStumbler because it’s easy to figure out, easy to use, and comes with a Dashboard Widget, and God knows I don’t have enough of those.