Q: I am going on vacation next week and want to take my laptop with me. How do I use the wireless part of my laptop to check my email from somewhere like Starbucks?
A: As much as I’d love to answer your question by reminding you that you are on vacation and that you should be relaxing and not checking your email, I can’t because I’m guilty as charged when it comes to taking my laptop on vacation with me. In fact, I once set my fantasy football lineup from my hotel room in Maui but I’ll have to save that story for another time.
Connecting your laptop to a wireless network is a fairly simple process if everything is set up correctly. Assuming it is, when you power on your laptop in an area that provides wireless service, sometimes called a wi-fi hotspot, you should see a message on your screen indicating that your laptop has found one or more available wireless networks. Usually, you just need to click that message which will display the list of available networks. Select the one you want, click the Connect button and you’re done.
Keep in mind though that not all wi-fi hotspots provide their service for free. I’m mentioning this because you referenced Starbucks in your question and Starbucks generally does not provide their wireless service for free.
If you want to be better prepared, head on over to a web site called JiWire before you leave for your vacation. JiWire’s web site address is http://www.jiwire.com/. Using the JiWire site you can punch in any location using a street address, city, state or zip code and find a listing of all available wi-fi hotspots in that area, along with what they charge, if anything, for their service. You can even specify what proximity in miles you want the search results to return.
One last note of caution. Public wireless networks are generally less secure than private wireless networks like the one in your home. Just something to think about before you do your online banking while sipping that cinnamon dolce latte.
This post was originally broadcast Friday, June 1, 2007 on Tech Talk with Noobie, a weekly radio show on WCBK 102.3 FM in Martinsville, Indiana. Tech Talk with Noobie airs every Friday between 11:30 a.m. and noon. If you have a question you would like Noobie to answer on the air, simply e-mail your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.