Mobile Linux users have a variety of options when it comes to wireless connectivity tools. Jack Wallen outlines some of the best choices to help you find one that will work for you.
I spend much of my time on wireless networks. The distribution of Linux I'm using and the hardware I'm using will dictate which application I use to connect to any given access point. Some of these tools are distribution independent. Some are not. Some were created for a specific desktop but will still work with other desktops.
For many mobile Linux users, being able to connect via wireless is just a matter of finding the right tool. Here are 10 of them that will help you connect your Linux laptop to a wireless access point. If one doesn't work (or install), try another. Eventually you'll get connected.
Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.
This is the nm-applet tool. It's the default connection method in many distributions (that default to GNOME) and is one of the most well done of all the tools. The nm-applet resides in the GNOME panel and matches the OS X wireless connection tool for simplicity and reliability. This tool is so good I have found it can be run without GNOME running. Say, for example, I am in the Enlightenment window manager. I can open up a terminal window and issue the command nm-applet and connect to a wireless access point that has previously been configured. To that end, I place a menu entry in the E16 menu for nm-applet, and when it is clicked I see nothing (no GUI opens no text flies by) — yet I am connected. Of course, this won't work with a wireless access point you haven't previously connected to. For that, you will have to be in GNOME and set that connection up through the GNOME Network Manger. Works with most encryption schemes.
This is one of my favorite wireless network managers. Wicd can be used in many distributions and many desktop environments/window managers. I have used this tool on nearly every laptop I have had. Like the GNOME Network Manager tool, Wicd can work with both wireless and wired networks and can connect to most encryption schemes. Wicd one-ups GNOME Network Manager by allowing you to add your own encryption scheme. The most useful aspect of Wicd is that it doesn't have the dependencies you will find on the default GNOME or KDE tools which makes this tool much more portable.
If you use a Debian system, you should take advantage of this tool — regardless of desktop environment. I have one particular laptop that no other wireless connection tool will work on save wifi-wiz. I discovered this tool thanks to the Elive Linux distribution. Wifi-wiz is a python-gtk program and is a front end for iwconfig, iwlist, ifconfig, ifup, and ifdown. One of the unique features of wifi-wiz is that it contains a daemon that will run in the background to check the status of your connection, and if your connection fails a gateway ping, it will check for other networks and connect to one if available.
If you're a SuSE user you know YaST well. YaST is one of those all-in-one tools that handles the bulk of administration for SuSE. Networking is no exception. The YaST2 wireless network is one of the easiest to use for new users because it doesn't bombard them with advanced settings. The more experienced users will be happy to know, however, that they can easily access the advanced settings.
This is one of the few command-line tools on this list. I include command-line tools because they can often be the only option and they are so flexible. This particular tool is configured via a flat text file where you can configure multiple networks so that when you issue the getwifi command, it will connect to the first available wireless network (listed in the configuration file). This is handy in that you don't have to bother selecting a network. There is no "installation" of the application, you simply mv the getwifi executable file to /usr/bin and then mv the configuration file to /etc/getwifi.con.f (It's called config in the tar file.)
Wireless Tools is the command-line foundation for many of front end tools. The included tools are iwconfig (manipulate wireless connections), iwspy (list wireless information), and iwpriv (manipulate wireless drivers). These tools are best used by advanced users or those wishing to create GUI tools for wireless devices (or other tools that require the use of underlying wireless connections).
The wlassistant tool is a KDE wireless tool that makes connecting to a wireless network as simple as any other tool of this nature. Although Wireless Assistant is a KDE application, it is not integrated in the same way that GNOME Network Manager is. Because of this, you actually have to start this application when you want to make a connection. What this application is missing is the ability to minimize to the Notification Area. But this is not such a bad issue, because you can quit the application and your connection will remain up.
This wireless tool is a unique application that has packages for Debian, Gentoo, OpenSuSE, and Ubuntu. It's a Python-PyGTK2 application that is unique, in that you can drag and drop your configured networks into order of importance for connection. One oddity with wifi-radar is that you do need to run it using sudo. Even though the application will install under Fedora, it will not run unless sudo is used. This makes wifi-radar an obvious choice for Ubuntu or any other distribution that depends upon sudo.
GTKWifi is a simple applet for GNOME written in Python/GTK that is similar to the Zeroconf tool used in Windows XP. GTKWifi shows your current network status and all available access points and allows you to connect to one. GTKWifi doesn't offer much to set it apart, outside of an easy-to-use interface. It is a good alternative if you are using GNOME and GNOME Network Manager can't manage to connect to your access point (on the rare occasion this might happen).
Although Wavemon is not a tool that will connect you to a wireless access point, it does give you a ton of information that can help you troubleshoot a wireless connection. Wavemon allows you to see real-time information on signal levels, as well as wireless and wired network information. From the main ncurses screen, you can see interface information such as SSID, Interface name, Noise Level, Signal Level, Signal to Noise Ratio, Frequency, and Sensitivity. If you're serious about wireless networking, this should definitely be in your toolkit.
What's your favorite?
Have you tried any of these tools? Or have you found a tool not listed here that has helped you manage your wireless connections with Linux? If so, share them.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.