Pain-Free Wireless Notebook Configurations

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted March 15, 2004

The company I work for has several locations throughout the United States. Since my boss routinely travels between each of these locations, we issued him a laptop computer. He has been very happy with it except for one small problem — two of our six satellite offices are not linked to our corporate network.

Every time my boss visits one of these locations he needs to reconfigure his laptop before he can get access to their network. This has often proven to be rather difficult, as he is not very computer savvy, and I usually have to try to walk him through the procedure over the phone. This not only frustrates him, but also means that he typically has to spend a considerable amount of time offline. I don't suppose that I need to tell you that this isn't a good situation.

A few months ago you answered a question from a reader who was experiencing a problem very similar to mine. The solution you gave him was to use a feature built into Windows XP referred to as Automatic Configuration for Multiple Networks. We tried it out on some of our other users, and it worked well enough that it has become part of our standard laptop configuration.

In the article you mentioned that this technique could also be used to automatically configure Wireless Network Clients. However, in order for it to work, you must be using a wireless network adapter that supports the Wireless Zero Configuration service, which is configured via the Wireless Network tab in the Network Connections properties box.

My problem is that my boss's Windows XP Professional laptop does not have the "Wireless Network" tab that you mentioned in your article. With the tab missing, I can't configure it according to your instructions. And to be perfectly honest, before your article I had never even heard of the Wireless Zero Configuration service.

So my question is this, exactly what is the Wireless Zero Configuration service, and why is it that I can't seem to find the "Wireless Network" tab on any of the computers here? Is it something I need to purchase, or is it a piece of shareware that I can download? If so, where do I find it?

I'm glad you found my original tip on the Automatic Configuration for Multiple Networks feature helpful. I guess I should have taken into account that not everyone has the Wireless Zero Configuration service installed and running.

I wouldn't feel too bad about not being familiar with this particular service. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until an associate of mine purchased a new Sony VAIO computer that was equipped with among other things an 802.11b/g wireless networking card (define), that I discovered the service.

It was while I was configuring his wireless network that I first noticed the "Wireless Network" tab. Since then it has sort of become common place to me, so I sometimes take for granted that it's there. Anyway, let's correct this oversight.

To begin, the Wireless Zero Configuration (WZC) service is not a third-party application. Rather, it's a service built into the Windows XP operating system. The WZC service is designed to dynamically select the wireless network to which to attempt connection, based either on your preferences or on default settings.

This includes automatically selecting and connecting to a more preferred wireless network when one becomes available. The WZC service is not installed by default during a Windows XP installation. However, new notebooks that are equipped from the manufacturer with wireless network adapters typically have WZC pre-installed, which is probably why you can't find it on any of your other systems.

In order to make use of the WZC service, you must be using a compatible wireless network adapter. This is because the wireless network adapter and its Network Driver Interface Specification (define) driver must support NDIS Object Identifiers (define), which are used to query and set device and driver behavior. The wireless network adapter scans for available wireless networks and passes the network names — also known as Service Set Identifiers (define) — to the WZC service. Your wireless manufacturer's website should be able to tell you if your network adapter is compatible.

If, as in your situation, the Wireless Networks tab is missing from the Wireless Network Connection Properties window, then you'll need to install the WZC service. This can be easily accomplished in just a few minutes.

Before we get started, though, you need to make sure that your system has been configured to display hidden files. If it hasn't, you'll need to first open Windows Explorer, click Tools, and select Folder Options. Go to the View tab and scroll down until you come across the option "Show Hidden Files and Folders" and check it. Also, you'll need to uncheck the option "Hide Protected Operating System Files (Recommended)." Click OK when finished.

Now to install the Wireless Zero Configuration service on your system, just follow the procedure outline below:

  1. Click the Start button, and then click Control Panel.

  2. In the Control Panel window, if you're in Category View, then under Pick a Category, double-click the Network and Internet Connections icon (if you're in Classic View, click on the Network Connections icon and skip to step number four).

  3. In the Network and Internet Connections window, under the Control Panel icon, double-click the Network Connections icon.

  4. In the Network Connections window, under LAN or High Speed Internet, click to select the Local Area Connection icon.

  5. On the menu bar, click File and select Properties from the file menu. (Altneratively, right-click on the Local Area Connection icon and select Properties from the context menu).

  6. In the Local Area Connections Properties window, on the General tab, click the Install button.

  7. In the Select Network Component Type window, in the Click the type of network box, click to select the Service icon.

  8. Click the Add button.

  9. In the Select Network Service window, click the Have Disk button.

  10. Click the OK button.

  11. In the Install From Disk window, click the Browse button.

  12. In the Locate File window, browse to the C:\Windows\Inf folder (this is a hidden folder).

  13. Click to select NETWZC.INF.

  14. Click the Open button.

  15. In the Install from Disk window, click the OK button.

  16. In the Select Network Service window, in the Network Service box, select Microsoft as the manufacturer, and then click to select Wireless Zero Configuration.
  17. Click the OK button.

At this point you'll need to reboot your PC. With that completed, you should find that the Wireless Zero Configuration service has been successfully installed on your system and you should now have access to the Windows Network tab.

Note: If you don't see the Wireless Network tab when you go back into the Network Properties Page, then the most likely reason is that the service did not start. To initialize it, open Administrative Tools in the Control Panel and select Services. Scroll down to Wireless Zero Configuration, Right-click on it, and select Start. The service is now enabled, and the Wireless Network tab will be visible in Network Properties.

The final thing for you to do now is to go back to the column that discussed how to configure the Automatic Configuration for Multiple Networks and finish setting up your boss's laptop computer. Just in case you need it, you can find the article at listed in our related stories links on the right titled "XP Know-How" . I hope this helps.

Adapted from PracticalyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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