May 08, 2003
This Wi-Fi connection manager software boasts that it's better than what's in Windows XP or bundled with your wireless network card, but outside of some minor conveniences it shows few advantages.
Cirond's WiNc wireless management software attempts to improve on the basic functions managers' features found embedded in Windows XP, and also in the software that ships with most wireless NIC cards today. I got a hold of the company's latest version and put it through some preliminary tests.
No matter how many features Microsoft packs into its Windows operating system, many of us find the tools inadequate for more specialized tasks. One of the more promising features was the built-in wireless network management software introduced in Windows XP. It eventually fizzled for its lack of advanced features and for the fact that it's hard to find and use. Besides, all wireless adapters came with their own, oftentimes better software.
Cirond recently introduced WiNc (pronounced "wink"), a software application billed as a Wi-Fi connectivity manager. The company also touts is as "better than XP" Wi-Fi connector -- which isn't much of a stretch. I tested version 1.1 of the software and found that, though it organizes many connectivity features in an easy and colorful interface, it didn't offer any functions that were outstanding or exclusive enough to really make it a must-have product.In my preliminary installation tests, I used older machines and non-XP operating systems. WiNc didn't work. Company representatives pointed to incompatible adapters, outdated drivers, and old operating systems as possible culprits. One notebook I tested on had Windows 98 SE -- WiNc version 1.1 is listed as working with Win 98SE, ME, 2000 and XP, but only in combination with certain makes and models of WLAN NICs. The company suggested I look at their adapter compatibility list. You should too, before you try the software. At the time of my tests, I found the list somewhat short, but there are now 19 cards listed including 802.11b NICs from Cisco, D-Link, Linksys, Netgear, Proxim ORiNOCO and SMC. Eventually, I got the right combination of operating system and adapters to make Cirond function properly.
After installation, a WiNc icon appears in the system tray. It looks like a small four-bar graph. Each bar represents connectivity strength -- the more green bars, the stronger the wireless signal.
WiNc organizes Wi-Fi connection features and details with three tabs in a sleek blue and gray interface. The General tab delivers information on the status of a wireless connection. It also includes a button for applying WEP key provisioning files, so you can access WEP-enabled networks without having to know the key. This lets system administrators rotate keys with a file instead of distributing the password or WEP key.
The IP Properties tab yields detailed information on network IP addresses. It offers a convenient one-click button that releases and renews the client's IP address obtained from a DHCP server. The third tab, Connection Management, presents a list of available wireless networks. Here, you can also prioritize networks you connect to frequently. A large ad-hoc button accesses the settings for joining or creating an ad-hoc (peer-to-peer) network with multiple nodes, a convenience for groups who want to work collaboratively but don't have access to a Wi-Fi access point. Additionally, you can set the software to automatically search for a wireless network at a time period you set (from every 10 up to every 120 seconds). It's a good tool for those who roam into different areas with wireless networks.
By clicking on the system tray icon, WiNc interface pops up in the middle of the screen to give access to all of these features. The interface is easy to use overall. It is well organized, but I still find that, like many wireless managers, it's too technical and jargon-laden for the average user. Of all of the features, I found the ad-hoc button and automatic wireless network search the most unique and convenient.
I found Cirond's WiNc does as good a job as almost any wireless connection manager. It has an easy, well-organized, and colorful interface. But I didn't find it to be significantly better than Windows XP's or other Wi-Fi connection managers found in several adapters I've tested in the past -- but you can judge yourself, as they provide a free trial of the software at the Cirond Web site (they also provide a similar client just for PocketPCs called, aptly, pocketWiNc). Other than a few unique tools, the average user or administrator will be hard pressed to find justification for deploying the software. Cirond has yet to launch its larger enterprise application, WiLan Manager, which WiNc will be a part of. We may yet see the benefits when all of Cirond's modules come together.