We went on a mission to find, experiment with, and examine Linux programs to help manage our Wi-Fi connections. We found many different networking utilities. Most are based around profile-based configuration, where connection details such as encryption keys are saved for reccurring connections. Some even support per-network IP and DNS settings. This is great, for example, if your work network requires a static IP address, while at home your router using its DHCP server; IP address information is saved for each network's profile. In addition to a simple signal indicator for wireless networks, some utilities offer details such as signal and noise level graphs and the displaying of the channels used by the wireless networks.
On our search, here are some of the network connectivity utilities we came across: NetworkManager, Wicd, KWiFiManger, WaveSelect, AP Radar, NetChoose, gWireless. We're going to review Network Manager, Wicd, and KWifiManager.
The first networking utility we'll review is NetworkManager, an interface for both wired and wireless connections, installed by default in Ubuntu. Though NetworkManager lacks advanced functionality, such as per network IP settings and channel info, it includes the basic features.
As Figure 1 shows, a click on the tray icon displays all the detected Wi-Fi networks and shortcuts to perform networking tasks. When you click a wireless network, you're prompted if a encryption key is required and then it connects. A profile is automatically created for the network, including any encryption keys you entered.
You can click on Connect to Other Wireless Network to manually enter a network name (SSID) and the security type, in order to connect to non-broadcast or hidden Wi-Fi networks. Additionally, you can create your own ad-hoc or computer-to-computer network by clicking Create New Wireless Network.
As Figure 2 shows, right-clicking the icon lets you disable/enable the wired and wireless connectivity. Clicking Connection Information shows you the details of the current connection, such as the data rate, IP settings, and the hardware (or MAC) address. To view and/or change the profiles created for networks you've connected to, you can click Edit Wireless Networks.... Shown in Figure 3, for each profile, you can change the security/encryption settings and, for networks with multiple access points (APs), you can add the MAC addresses of all the APs that use the same network name (BSSID).
You'll find NetworkManager provides a simple networking experience when working with simple networks. You may want to look elsewhere if you work on multiple networks that each require advanced settings (such as static IP addresses) or need a tool that provides detailed signal strength and channel information.