How to Connect to a Wireless Network - dummies

By Dan Gookin

You can seek out a wireless network in at least two ways. The first is to use Windows. The second is to use any custom software that came with the wireless NIC. Here’s how to find a wireless network in Windows 7, Vista, XP, and using custom software.

Locate a Wireless Network in Windows 7

Connecting to a wireless network in Windows 7 happens in a number of strange and confusing ways. The easiest way is to click the Wireless Networking icon in the taskbar’s notification area.


Up pops a list of available wireless networks; choose one from the list and click the Connect button. If prompted, type the network password.


Use Windows Vista to Get on a Wireless Network

In Windows Vista, connect to a wireless network by choosing the Connect To command from the Start button menu. A Connect to Network window appear, from which you can choose a wireless network.


Find a wireless network in Windows XP

In Windows XP, you need to access the Wireless Network Connection icon in the Network Connections window: Open the Network Connections icon in the Control Panel and then right-click the Wireless Network Connection icon. Choose the command View Available Wireless Connections from the shortcut menu.

Use NIC software to find a wireless network

The custom software doesn’t work better at finding the signal, but often it displays the signals it found in a better way than the traditional Windows method does.

Accessing the custom wireless network connection software that came with your PC’s wireless NIC depends on that software. For many, you will be able to right-click a teeny icon in the notification area. Eventually, after wading through some weird dialog boxes, you will get to the connection window. It not only shows available wireless networks but also graphically shows the network’s signal strength.


After choosing a network, the next step is to enter a password for access, unless your computer already knows the network and the password has been saved or the network doesn’t use a password.

After you’re connected, you see a wireless connection icon appear in the notification area. You can point the mouse at the icon to check the connection’s status.

  • You may, sometime after connecting, be prompted to specify whether the wireless network is public or private.

  • Some of those passwords can be long and tedious to type, especially in Windows XP, where you have to type it twice.

  • Yes, some networks have no passwords. The LuckyDog-guest network has no password, which is why it’s flagged with a teensy yellow shield icon. Password-less networks make for easier access, but they’re also less secure.

  • If you’re using an unsecured network, definitely employ a software firewall.

  • Public wireless hot spots often lack passwords. You might be required to “log in” by providing your email address or a form of temporary ID.

  • Always set to Public any wireless network you use outside your home or office. That helps boost general wireless security.

  • Windows Vista also assaults you with various User Account Control (UAC) warnings as you connect to wireless networks. Type the administrator’s password or click the Continue button to proceed.