If you were intrigued by our review of the 3 MiFi gadget but thought it was a bit pricey and you don’t want to be tied to a mobile phone operator, don’t despair. Connectify is free software that turns any Windows 7 WiFi-enabled PC or laptop into a Wi-Fi hotspot, capable of sharing its Internet connection with any WiFi device.
Connectify relies on a new service in Windows 7 called the Microsoft Virtual Wi-Fi Miniport Adaptor that started life in 2002 as a Microsoft Research Labs project. Although there’s no built-in program that uses the service, developers can build applications around it, which is exactly what Connectify has done.
Put simply, Connectify is a software WiFi router. It detects all your Internet connections and lets you choose which one to share over the WiFi connection. It can even share a connection over the same Wi-Fi adapter you’re using to connect to the internet. Connected devices don’t have to run Connectify.
Once you get your head around how it works, the possibilities start to appear. We used it in several configurations in a home environment. First, using a USB WiFi dongle in a desktop PC, we shared the wired Ethernet connection to laptops and mobile phones, making it a cheap way of adding WiFi to a wired router.
We also tried it as a WiFi repeater, using a netbook connected via WiFi to a router and then connecting devices to the Connectify hotspot on the netbook. Then we shared a 3G broadband connection from a USB dongle. To round it off, we put two WiFi adaptors in one laptop, and specified one of them as the Internet connection and the other as the hotspot. In all cases it worked perfectly.
There are few settings to tweak: the Connectify icon sits in the system notification area and detects all your network connections automatically. Choose the Internet connection from a drop-down box in the simple interface, choose the WiFi connection to share over, create a password (it requires WPA2-PSK encryption) and that’s it. It can be a bit fussy about WiFi adapters, though: there’s a list of supported chipsets on the Connectify website. It supports WPS, so you can save network settings to a Flash drive.
Connectify runs as an infrastructure access point by default, but it can work in ad-hoc mode using WEP encryption. The only reproducible glitch we came across was when trying to share an Ethernet connection from a router over a Wi-Fi dongle on a PC when the router’s Wi-Fi was enabled: this seemed to confuse Connectify and devices couldn’t connect, although the hotspot was shown as running correctly. The solution was either to connect to the router’s Wi-Fi connection instead and share that, or simply turn the router’s Wi-Fi off and share the Ethernet connection.
It’s a great little program once you realise what it can do, and one that’s well worth trying out.