If you believed the vendors, you’d think Wi-Fi was simple: Turn on your computer or other device, hop on the Internet and you’re set to go. But as we all know, life isn’t quite that easy. Your home or office network can have dead spots where devices can’t seem to connect, or where the connections get slow or flaky. Public hotspots can make you prey for hackers and snoopers. And when you are at a hotspot, you might need to share your connection with your other devices, including smartphones and tablets.
While there is no way to immediately solve all the problems associated with wireless connectivity, there are applications that can make things better — and many of them are free. I’ve rounded up nine free pieces of Windows software that can go a long way toward helping you solve your Wi-Fi issues at home, in your office or on the go. If you want to get serious about troubleshooting your Wi-Fi network, HeatMapper may well be your best bet. To get the most out of HeatMapper, you’ll have to do a bit of work, so be prepared to put in some time. Run the program and then walk around the area your network covers (while carrying your laptop). HeatMapper creates a heat map showing you the strength of Wi-Fi coverage. You can then reposition computers away from areas of low coverage and place them where coverage is better, or plan to use your smartphones and tablets in high-bandwidth areas. HeatMapper is also useful if you’re just starting to build your network, because you can try positioning your router in various locations and see which offers the best all-around coverage. It does more as well. If you have a wireless network with more than one access point, it locates each for you. It also detects the security settings on all access points.