This tutorial will guide you in using iStumbler to find and connect to the best possible wireless connection while you’re out and about on the town.
If you frequently use your Mac away from home – in coffee shops, parks, hotels or elsewhere, iStumbler is a tool that will make your life considerably easier. iStumbler is the leading wireless discovery tool for Mac OS X, providing plugins for finding AirPort networks, Bluetooth devices and Bonjour services with your Mac. It’s also free (donation-ware).
First and foremost, make sure you’ve downloaded and installed iStumbler. The installation is as straight forward as most Mac apps – unpackage it and drag it to your Applications folder.
When you launch iStumbler it will immediately search for wireless networks, Bluetooth devices and Bonjour services. This guide will only deal with wireless networks. If you have Growl installed it will start popping up notifications for all the networks/devices that iStumbler finds.
The main iStumbler window displays a list of all available wireless networks (when AirPort is selected from the left menu, which is the default) and detailed information about each network.
Allow it to run for a moment in order to discover every possible network. You can sort networks by selecting the various tabs – for example if you want to connect to an open network, sort by the Secure so all of the open networks are grouped together.
As you can see in the above screenshot (though you might need to enlarge it) – iStumbler found 20 wireless networks (I was @ a coffee shop in Vancouver). At the exact same time, Apple’s default AirPort status monitor only found 6.
Select iStumbler from your menu, Preferences from the drop-down list and then choose the Airport tab. By default, iStumbler will auto-connect to the “best” available network. The coffee shop that I was in at the time had a very strong signal and minimal noise, so iStumbler considered it the best. However, it was being used by at least 20 other people, and was quite slow. So to keep iStumbler from re-connecting to that network, I removed the check from the Auto-Select Best Network option.
Choose the iStumbler tab from the top of the Preferences menu to review some of the other options. I’ve found that leaving the defaults is ideal, but you can try changing them to suit your personal needs.
To manually join a network, select it from the list and click the join network button.
iStumbler also includes a small (and transparent by default) Connection Monitor, which graphs the network that you’re connected to.
There’s also a Spectrum dashboard widget that displays a virtual spectrum analyzer, allowing you to visually detect network radio frequency overlap. Spectrum gets it’s information directly from iStumbler to provide you with the most accurate signal information available.