Visual Tour: 20 Reasons Why Windows Vista Will Be Your Next OS

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WIRELESS NETWORKING

10.
Wireless networking improvements

I was pretty hard on the new user interface controls for Vista Beta 2's networking features in the first installment of this two-part series. It's easy to get lost in the rash of new Control Panel applets, wizards and dialogs. Worse, though, that new UI masks some of the great features Microsoft has added.

Probably the best thing about Windows Vista's wireless networking is that it no longer automatically tries to connect to the most powerful wireless network it finds, even when that network happens to be one from the company two floors down or your next-door neighbor. Now you can name and save wireless network connections, and have them reconnect automatically when Windows detects them -- even when they're not currently broadcasting.

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Vista's new wireless connection wizard lets you name and save the result.

(Click image to see larger view)

Windows Vista's network browser also works better than in any previous version of Windows. I wouldn't call this feature perfect now, but it is better. The new network-sharing wizard helps set up easier sharing on peer networks, without throwing the door wide open. It's a good compromise between safe and sorry.

In addition to the UI inconsistencies and confusion, there are some opportunities Microsoft has missed. When you're connected via wired connection and a wireless connection is also available, Windows still nags you that wireless connections are available. In fact, most of the time when you have both wired and wireless connections, the wireless connection still takes precedence. Let's face it, the opposite should be true. Wired connections are almost always faster, safer and more reliable. The way Windows XP works now is just wrong. And it appears that, from Vista Beta 2 at least, Vista doesn't address this issue.

Since the advent of Windows XP Service Pack 2, XP's wireless networking features improved dramatically. But one thing has always been problematic. When you use several access points all with the same SSID name, but running on different channels (to prevent signal cancellation or hunting), Windows' wireless networking management tools don't let you see or manipulate which channel you're connected to. While the problem only manifests in certain settings, it's still a problem. Microsoft's wireless networking control software is the only software I've ever tested that lacks this feature.

Finally, while there's lots of help for wireless connections, why have wired connections been ignored? You can't name and save wired connections with specific configurations. This is a feature provided often inelegantly by many OEM hardware makers with PCs or networking hardware. It's time that Microsoft provided basic functionality in this area. Vista doesn't.

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