SP2 Tools Ease Wireless Configuration

Windows Service Pack 2 features wireless configuration tools that can cure IT headaches-if SP2 doesn't break your applications.

If yours is among the lucky enterprises whose applications dont appear on Microsofts list of 50 that "seem to stop working" or the other 200 that "behave differently" under SP2, youll probably enjoy the utility that SP2 brings to a wireless environment.

SP2 does not solve all the problems of managing a wireless network but it greatly simplifies setup, maintenance and remote support. How about security, you ask?

Much has been said about the WLAN security updates in SP2 and they are significant—if youre a small office/home office customer. SP2 packs firewall, anti-virus and other security enhancements into the operating system where, arguably, they should have been all along.

On the wireless front, it builds in support for WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), the interim security specification released late last year by the Wi-Fi Alliance to provide strong wireless protection until the IEEEs 802.11i specification was ratified. (That happened in June.)

What you get in SP2 is what Microsoft previously offered as a free download for Windows XP, which basically allowed you to configure WPA through Network Connections in the clients control panel. And its important to note that what you get in SP2 is WPA protection, not WPA2 which is what was defined in the 802.11i standard.

Still, SP2 is a significant leap forward, particularly for small shops and remote offices. Those who lack IT staffs will find it easier to enable WPA through Windows, but SP2 does not alleviate the need to upgrade APs (access points) and client devices to support it. And, of course, enterprises still have the chore of deploying a RADIUS (Remote Authentication Dial-In User Service) server to handle the authentication thats available in WPA.

/zimages/7/28571.gif eWEEK Labs has been testing SP2. Click here for a preview of their findings.

Whats more significant in SP2 is the tools it provides for configuring WLAN devices and for provisioning them to use public wireless hot spots. The new Wireless Network Setup Wizard and Wireless Provisioning Services, or WPS, alleviate the workload for IT departments by automating setup processes.

The Wireless Network Setup Wizard steps you through the WLAN configuration and allows you to save the settings to a USB flash drive so that you can transfer them to other devices. For any IT department that has to deploy a fleet of laptops or handhelds—or add the standard configuration to new devices as employees are added—this should simplify life. Configuring APs and routers may still require manual intervention as many lack USB ports.

If the wizard simplifies IT life within the company, WPS may alleviate many of the headaches that happen when employees are on the road. Its designed to automate the process of configuring devices for whatever wireless public hot spot a user accesses to connect back to the corporate LAN. Basically, it standardizes the steps the user has to perform when making a connection.

Other tools that should make life easier include a zero configuration service log that assists in troubleshooting the wireless authentication process and an enhanced repair capability that disables and then re-enables a wireless connection to clear conditions that may be causing problems.

/zimages/7/28571.gif Ziff Davis Channel Zone Editor Steven Vaughn-Nichols found that implementing XP SP2 is almost as much work as installing a new operating system. Click here for his report.

If your applications appear on Microsofts lists of those that do—or may—break if you install SP2, the wireless utility you get in the new service pack isnt worth the risk in productivity. But if they dont, theres good reason for the IT department to applaud.

/zimages/7/28571.gif Check out other columns by Carol Ellison

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