Post image for How to Connect Your Laptop to a Wireless Network

How to Connect Your Laptop to a Wireless Network

April 10, 2009

in Internet,privacy & security

by Tina Gasperson

One of the best things about having a laptop is having the ability to mobilize your computing. Instead of being tied down to your desk in your home or office, you can work anywhere there is an accessible wireless access point, such as your favorite coffee shop, the library, or the airport. However, unless you’re already familiar with the procedure for getting online at one of these wireless access providers, it can be a little bit confusing. So here’s what to do once you’ve arrived at the coffee shop and unpacked your laptop.

If you have a built-in wireless adapter, make sure it is enabled. Many laptops allow you to use a function key combo to turn your wireless adapter on and off, and there’s an indicator on the laptop itself that shows the status. If you don’t have built-in, insert your wireless adapter into the appropriate receptacle (USB, PCMCIA, or ExpressCard).

Once you’ve made sure your adapter is enabled and working, by default it will search for available wireless networks. You can see what networks are available by clicking “Start,” “Control Panel,” and double-clicking “Network Connections.” Right-click on the “Wireless Network Connection” icon and select “View Available Wireless Networks.” If you have a passkey for the network you’re trying to access, double-click the icon for that network and enter the key, then press “Connect.” Most of the time if you’re at a public location, the wireless connection will not require a passkey, so look for an “unsecured” network in your list of available networks to connect to. Be careful logging onto an unsecured network – if you have file-sharing enabled on your laptop, another person on the network could access your personal files. Avoid entering super-sensitive information such as credit card, social security, or bank account numbers while logged in to a public unsecured wireless network.

If your location offers free wireless access, double-clicking the network in the list should be all you need to do. Open your browser and begin using the Web. If your location charges a fee, then once you open your browser it may redirect you to a sign in and/or payment page that you’ll have to take care of before you can visit any other Web pages. Don’t even bother trying to subvert this step – you’ll simply continue to be redirected to the payment page until you hand over the money.

Tina Gasperson (, affectionately known as Computer Lady by her family, has been writing about IT, home computing, and the Internet for more than a decade.