Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor is on fire! Wi-Fire, that is.
Laptops like my Lenovo ThinkPad have pretty good built-in wireless capabilities, but the antenna system puts a limit on distance.
I solved that problem by getting better range -- and faster connectivity -- with a Wi-Fi receiver/antenna system called Wi-Fire. Made by hField Technologies, Wi-Fire works very well indeed. Here it is connected to my Thinkpad.
Wi-Fire is an external directional Wi-Fi receiver and antenna that connects through USB. It extends the useful Wi-Fi range considerably. According the materials, it'll work at ranges up to 1,000 feet. I haven’'t tried that, but it definitely added at least a hundred feet to my local Wi-Fi range.
At first, I was a bit concerned about installing it with the ThinkPad. The ThinkPad has its own Wi-Fi management system, which sometimes argues with the Windows 7 Wi-Fi management system. I thought adding yet another system might be a problem. It wasn't, as it turned out, and there's a story I have about that.
First, I unplugged the Ethernet connector from my ThinkPad and connected to my local Wi-Fi net with the ThinkPad’s wireless. When that was working properly, I turned off ThinkPad Wi-Fi. Then I let the Wi-Fire software disk auto-run to install Wi-Fire. When that was done, I plugged the Wi-Fire antenna in.
Getting it to run was tricky: clicking and doubleclicking the Wi-Fire icon did essentially nothing. Eventually, I did a right click on the Wi-Fire icon -- and I saw a menu that included the option to Run as Administrator. That did it.
Suddenly, the system showed me an astonishingly large list of potential Wi-Fi sites, most of which I never knew existed. One was my own. Telling Wi-Fire to connect to that resulted in a demand for the password. Seconds later I was connected. I tested it out with Firefox. Everything ran fast and well.
Just to be sure, I closed the Wi-Fire software and turned on the ThinkPad’s wireless. That worked as expected, too. It turned out the ThinkPad doesn’t care if there's a Wi-Fire so long as you're not actually running its software.
Wi-Fire does pretty well at what it's designed to do: it makes good connections to Wi-Fi networks that would otherwise be out of range entirely and improves connection speed with marginal Wi-Fi locations. It works with Windows, the Mac and various forms of Linux.
If you use Wi-Fi out on the road, Wi-Fire is a good tool to have in your road warrior kit. It doesn't cost too much -- under $50 -- and except for my initial installation issues, I think it works great. I recommend it.
Jerry Pournelle is BYTE's senior technologist. An award-winning novelist and columnist, he's now back at BYTE with Computing at Chaos Manor. Find more of Jerry's stuff at www.jerrypournelle.com. Email him a question or comment at Jerry@BYTE.com.
. We've got a management crisis right now, and we've also got an engagement crisis. Could the two be linked? Tune in for the next installment of IT Life Radio, Wednesday May 20th at 3PM ET to find out.