How to hook up to the Internet with your laptop
Part I of two parts
The other day I got an e-mail from a reader named Nola who told me she is seriously considering the purchase of a laptop for the first time. In her own words "sometimes my PC is so busy that I want to get a laptop so I can have some peace and quiet to surf, etc." She was also intrigued by the idea of being able to take it anywhere and connect to the Internet.
So her query was very straight forward: What does it take to connect to the Internet with a laptop?
First the old fashioned way: Most newer laptops have Ethernet ports, so if you want to take your laptop to the office or a hotel room that's wired for Ethernet, all you need to do is pop the end of the cable into the slot and that's it. The advantage is that you're generally more secure with a wired connection, and usually have less trouble getting it to work.
Of course, most people with laptops want wireless connectivity and virtually all the machines manufactured presently have built-in Wi-Fi networking.
When Nola starts to shop for her laptop, she should consider a machine with at least the newer "g" version of Wi-Fi, which is faster but still backward-compatible with the original 802.11b standard.
Once you're in a hot spot, how do you get online?
The first thing you do is check your laptop's wireless connection status (it can be opened using the icon on the tray located on the bottom of your screen), which indicates what wireless networks are available to you. There may be more than one network, but you usually want one with the strongest signal.
You then manually choose the network you want by clicking an icon and, bingo, you're online.
(Note that the commercial wireless hotspots, such as those at the airport, require payment.)
Wireless reception varies in laptops, because of different antenna, but from what I gather IBM and Apple laptops tend to have the best reception. That said, reception with individual units varies widely. Some laptops may do better or worse in different locations.
Next week we'll continue with the wireless theme and discuss more about local hot spots, open access points and review how to set up a wireless network at home. Stay tuned!
general manager of digital phone at Oceanic Time Warner Cable, has been a telecommunications and computer expert for 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org