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The Cable Guy - April 2006

Connecting to Wireless Networks with Windows Vista

TechNet's The Cable Guy

By The Cable Guy

Microsoft® Windows Vista includes many improvements for connecting to IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN networks. These improvements include a new set of dialog boxes to more easily connect to or configure connections to wireless networks, a new way to configure wireless connections at the command line using the Netsh.exe tool, and new support for non-broadcasting wireless networks.

For information about connecting to wireless networks with Windows 7, see Connecting to Wireless Networks with Windows 7, the July 2010 The Cable Guy article.

Wireless network configuration methods

You can configure connections to wireless networks, known as wireless profiles, for a computer running Windows Vista with the following methods:

  • Connect to a network dialog box

    This is the principal method by which individual users will configure connections to wireless networks.

  • Group Policy

    Network administrators can use Group Policy settings in an Active Directory® directory service environment to centrally configure and deploy wireless network settings and automatically configure domain member computers. For more information, see Wireless Group Policy Settings for Windows Vista, the April 2007 The Cable Guy article.

  • Command line

    Network administrators can use commands in the new netsh wlan context of the Netsh.exe tool to manually configure wireless networks and their settings. There are Netsh commands to export an existing wireless profile to an XML file and then import the wireless profile settings stored in the XML file on another computer.

The following section describes in detail how to connect to a wireless network using the Connect to a network dialog box in Windows Vista.

The Connect to a network dialog box

You can access the Connect to a network dialog box from many locations in Windows Vista, including the following:

  • By clicking Start, and then Connect to from the Windows Vista desktop

  • From the Manage wireless connections dialog box

  • From the Connect/Disconnect context menu option of a wireless network adapter in the Network Connections folder

The following figure shows the Connect to a network dialog box.

The Connect to a network dialog box

The new Connect to a network dialog box is a redesigned version of the Choose a wireless network dialog box in Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (SP2). This new dialog also supports virtual private network (VPN) and dial-up connections (including Connection Manager and Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet [PPPoE]).

In Show, you can select the following:

  • All Wireless, dial-up, and VPN connections.

  • Wireless Only wireless connections.

  • Dial-up and VPN Only dial-up and VPN connections.

By default, All is selected and the list of networks consists of wireless networks that have been detected and dial-up and VPN connections that have been configured. A non-broadcast network appears in the list with the name Unnamed Network. The list of available networks is subject to the allowed wireless networks configured through Group Policy or the command line and the types of wireless networks being detected, such as infrastructure mode or ad hoc mode networks.

To connect to a wireless network that is listed in the Connect to a network dialog box, double-click the network name or click the network name and then click Connect. For a non-broadcast network, you will be prompted to type the wireless network name. If the connection attempt is not successful, use Windows Network Diagnostics to diagnose the problem and suggest a solution.

If the wireless network you want to connect to is not listed, click Set up a connection or network. Windows Vista displays the following page.

Bb878035.cg040602(en-us,TechNet.10).gif

On the Select a connection option page, you can select the following:

  • Connect to the Internet

  • Set up a wireless router or access point

  • Manually connect to a wireless network

  • Set up a wireless ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network

  • Set up a dial-up connection

  • Connect to a workplace

The Choose a connection option dialog box is a central location to configure wireless, dial-up, and VPN connections and is a consolidation of the Create a New Connection and Wireless Network Setup wizards in Windows XP with SP2.

To manually configure the wireless settings for a wireless network, click Manually connect to a wireless network, and then click Next. Windows Vista displays the following page.

Bb878035.cg040603(en-us,TechNet.10).gif

Note If the Manually connect to a wireless network option is not present in the Choose a connection option dialog box, make sure that your wireless network adapter appears in the Network Connections folder as a wireless connection and is enabled. If your wireless network adapter appears in the Network Connections folder as a wired connection, ensure that you have installed the latest driver for your adapter that is designed for Windows Vista.

On the Enter information for the wireless network you want to add page, configure the following:

  • Network name Type the name of the wireless network.

  • Security type Select the method used to authenticate a connection to the wireless network. The choices are the following:

    • No authentication (Open) Open system authentication with no encryption.

    • WEP Open system authentication with Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP).

    • WPA2-Personal Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) with a preshared key (also known as a passphrase).

    • WPA-Personal Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) with a preshared key.

    • WPA2-Enterprise WPA2 with IEEE 802.1X authentication.

    • WPA-Enterprise WPA with IEEE 802.1X authentication.

    • 802.1x IEEE 802.1X authentication with WEP (also known as dynamic WEP).

      The choices listed depend on the capabilities of your wireless network adapter that are reported to Windows.

      The shared key authentication method is not listed. Microsoft strongly discourages its use because it provides weak security for your wireless network. To configure shared key authentication, select No authentication (Open) here and then select Shared from the Security tab in the properties of the wireless network (described later in this article).

  • Encryption type Select the method used to encrypt data frames sent over the wireless network. The choices depend on the selected security type.

    • When the No authentication (Open) security type is selected, you can select None.

    • When the WEP security type is selected, you can select WEP.

    • When the 802.1x security type is selected, you can select WEP.

    • When the WPA2-Personal, WPA2-Enterprise, WPA-Personal, WPA-Enterprise security types are selected, you can select TKIP.

      The choices listed depend on the capabilities of your wireless network adapter that are reported to Windows.

  • Security Key/Passphrase Type the WEP key (if you selected the WEP security type), the WPA preshared key (if you selected the WPA-Personal security type), or the WPA2 preshared key (if you selected the WPA2-Personal security type). For the WPA2-Enterprise, WPA-Enterprise, and 802.1x security types, the security key is determined automatically when Windows Vista performs wireless authentication.

  • Display characters Specifies whether you want to view the value typed in Security Key/Passphrase.

  • Start this connection automatically Specifies whether Windows Vista will automatically connect to this wireless network. If you clear this checkbox, you must manually connect to the wireless network from the Connect to a network dialog box.

  • Connect even if the network is not broadcasting Specifies whether Windows should attempt to connect even if the wireless network is not broadcasting its name. This will cause Windows Vista to send Probe Request frames to locate the wireless network. These probe request frames can be used by malicious users to determine the name of the non-broadcast network. For more information about the privacy issues of non-broadcast networks, see Non-broadcast Wireless Networks with Microsoft Windows.

When you click Next, Windows Vista displays the following page.

Bb878035.cg040604(en-us,TechNet.10).gif

To connect to the wireless network that you just created, click Connect to, and then double-click the newly created wireless network in the Connect to a network dialog box.

To configure the properties of the wireless network you have just created, click Change connection settings. Windows Vista displays the following dialog box.

The Connection tab for the properties of a wireless network

From the Connection tab, you can view the wireless network's name, SSID, and network type (either Access point for infrastructure mode networks or Computer-to-computer for ad hoc mode networks). You can also configure the following:

  • Connect automatically when this network is in range

  • Connect to a more preferred network if available

    Specifies whether Windows Vista will automatically disconnect from this wireless network if a more preferred wireless network comes within range.

  • Connect even if the network is not broadcasting

The following figure shows the Security tab.

The Security tab for the properties of a wireless network

On the Security tab, you can specify the following security types:

  • No authentication (Open)

  • Shared

    Shared key authentication. The Security tab is the only location where you can configure shared key authentication because its use is highly discouraged.

  • WPA2-Personal

  • WPA-Personal

  • WPA2-Enterprise

  • WPA-Enterprise

  • 802.1x

Based on the selected security type, you can configure either a network security key or specify and configure a network authentication method. If you specify WPA-Enterprise, WPA2-Enterprise, or 802.1x as your security type, you must configure the following (as shown in the previous figure):

  • Choose a network authentication method Select an Extensible Authentication Protocol (EAP) method and click Settings to configure the EAP type as needed.

  • Cache user information for subsequent connections to this network Specifies that when the user logs off, the user credential data is removed from the registry. The result is that when the next user logs on, they will be prompted for their credentials (such as user name and password).

If you specify the use of WPA-Personal or WPA2-Personal as your security type or No authentication (Open) or Shared as your security type with WEP as your encryption type, you must configure a network security key, as shown in the following figure.

The Security tab for the properties of a wireless network

You do not need to configure a network security key for the WPA2-Enterprise, WPA-Enterprise, and 802.1X security types because the key is determined automatically when Windows Vista performs wireless authentication.

After you have configured your wireless networks, you can manage them from the Manage Wireless Networks dialog box. To display the Manage Wireless Networks dialog box, do the following:

  1. Click Start, right-click Network, and then click Properties.
  2. In the task list of the Network and Sharing Center dialog box, click Manage wireless networks.

The following figure shows an example.

Example of the Manage Wireless Networks dialog box

From the Manage Wireless Networks dialog box, you can add a new wireless network, remove a selected wireless network, obtain the properties of the wireless network adapter, and choose the type of profile to assign to new wireless networks (applies to all users or the current user). To view or modify the properties of an existing wireless network, double-click the wireless network name.

Non-broadcasting wireless networks

A non-broadcasting wireless network does not advertise its network name, also known as its SSID. A wireless access point of a non-broadcasting wireless network can be configured to send Beacon frames with an SSID set to NULL. A non-broadcasting wireless network is also known as a hidden wireless network.

In Windows® XP, you could not configure a preferred wireless network as a non-broadcasting wireless network. The behavior of Wireless Auto Configuration in Windows XP is to attempt connections to broadcasting wireless networks before non-broadcasting wireless networks. Therefore, a computer running Windows XP could automatically connect to a broadcasting network instead of a non-broadcasting network that is higher in the preferred wireless networks list.

IIn Windows Vista, you can now configure wireless networks as broadcast or non-broadcast. A computer running Windows Vista will attempt to connect to wireless networks in the preferred networks list order, regardless of whether they are broadcast or non-broadcast. Additionally, non-broadcast networks appear in the list of available networks with the name Unnamed Network. The following figure shows an example.

Example of a non-broadcast network

When you connect to the unnamed network, Windows Vista prompts you to specify the wireless network name. The following figure shows an example.

Example of a typing the name of a non-broadcast network

For More Information

For more information about this topic, consult the following resources:

For a list of all The Cable Guy articles, click here.

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