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Feature: Wireless & Mobile

Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

By Scott Nesbitt on July 30, 2007 (9:00:00 PM)

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The nature of my work forces me to be something of a digital nomad -- my notebook computer and a wireless connection are essential parts of my working day. I've been known to move between several wireless access points in one day. While I've had never had any problems with the wireless cards in my Linux-powered notebooks, most of the wireless connection tools I've used have fallen a bit flat. One of the few wireless connection managers that I've actually found useful is wicd -- the Wireless Interface Connection Daemon, pronounced "wicked." It's a lot like the Windows wireless network connection tool in both appearance and ease of use.

The official releases for wicd are, according to its developer, for Ubuntu, but you can use wicd with any Debian-based system. A Debian package and a source tarball (which you can try compiling with any other Linux distro) are available for download.

If you're installing using Synaptic or from a Debian package, the installation is quick. Wicd runs as a daemon, which means that it does most of the heavy lifting in the background while your computer is running. Note that if you're using another daemon-based wireless connection tool -- such as wifi-radar -- you will have to remove or disable that software if you want to take wicd for a test drive.

Connecting to a network

To use wicd, launch it from the Application menu; for example, Applications -> Internet -> wicd in GNOME. If that's a few too many clicks for you, you can add it to your panel as a tray icon.

In the wicd program window you'll see a list of the wireless networks that the software has detected. Wicd doesn't always pick up all of the networks that are in range when it starts; click the Refresh icon on tool bar to get a full list.

From there, click the Connect link beneath the name of the network that you want to use. After a few seconds, you should be connected the network.

If the network is encrypted, you need to do a little more work. Wicd supports the following encryption schemes: WPA, WEP, LEAP, TTLS, EAP, and PEAP.

Click the arrow beside the name of the encrypted network to which you want to connect, then click Advanced Settings. From there, click the Use Encryption checkbox, select an encryption method from the dropdown list, and enter the required password in the Key field.

I was able to test wicd's encryption support on only a pair of networks -- my own, and one belonging to a friend. Both WEP and WPA worked well for me, and I was easily able to access both networks.

And there's more

With each network that you connect to, you can use either a static IP address or DHCP as needed. For each network, you can store information like IP addresses, gateways, subnet masks, and the names of DNS servers. And according to the application's Web site, you can use wicd to manage connections to wired networks too.

While writing this article, I used wicd with three laptops: an old ECS 732 running Ubuntu 6.06, a ThinkPad T40 running Ubuntu 7.04, and a ThinkPad T41 packing Xubuntu 7.04. On three different days, I took these laptops to a few of the locales around Toronto in which I've been known to do some work. The results were somewhat surprising.

I had no problems using wireless with the ECS and ThinkPad T40 laptops -- with literally a click I was connected to a wireless network. A few times I had to suspend my computer to make or take a phone call; wicd automatically reconnected to the network after I resumed.

Only hiccup that I encountered was with the ThinkPad running Xubuntu. When I tried to connect to a network, the connection process took a long time and eventually timed out. I checked wicd's preferences, and it recognized my wireless card. I opened a terminal and ran iwconfig (a command-line utility for configuring network interfaces). The output from iwconfig showed that my laptop was on the network. I then started the Xubuntu network manager, added a new wireless connection using the ESSID of the network, and was on it almost instantly. I'm still trying to figure that one out.

Overall, my experiences with wicd have been very positive. It's an easy-to-use utility that does its job well. Aside from the glitch that I ran into with Xubuntu, wicd worked as advertised and is superior to the wireless connection tools I've used in the past.

Scott Nesbitt is a freelance journalist and technical writer based in Toronto, Canada.

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on Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

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Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on July 31, 2007 03:57 AM
After futzing with KNetworkManager and Kifi I tried wicd a week ago and have not looked back. Wicd has handled all the hotspots I frequent with aplomb. For anyone using KDE you will have to do an uninstall with adept or apt-get of the KNetworkManager. It definitely conflicts with wicd.

Wicd will be part of any future customized builds.


Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on July 31, 2007 06:56 AM
Thank you for the article, it's very informative.
I really want to try it, but so far I have been lucky with gnome network manager in Ubuntu 7.04 on my laptop.

For WPA setting, I follow this guide:

I can switch access point from my office and home automatically, suspend and hybernate also automatically stop and restart the connection without any problem. All I have to do is enter the keyring password.

All the best.


Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 01, 2007 12:34 AM
Thank you - Thank you - Thank you.

Months of the debating of the WPA/WPA2 security in Linux between drivers and wpa_Supplicant configurations...this has taken all the long processes away. Extremely painless and extra easy. I have tons of notes written with hundreds of steps drilled down for different configurations/drivers, but>install->configure->connect...cuts down on processes. While the normal geek will do all the steps I "used" to do...the average joe can now get wireless working right away. This application would definitely be a great asset to the "newbie" linux guy, although geeky way is the way to go so that in turn you can learn more about what Linux is about, but for me...this is one extra step that makes it faster to bypass all long step setups and can concentrate on other distros. I vote for definite top application to get. Awesome.


Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 01, 2007 01:50 AM
Many thanks for this very objective review of wicd. I'll try pretty soon on my Kubuntu Feisty install and my ASUS Laptop. And thank to the first comment too, which indicated a conflict-problem with KNetworkmanager.


Xubuntu use (wicd)

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on August 05, 2007 07:12 AM
I have found that Wicd perfectly complements Xubuntu, since the Gnome Network Manager (of Ubuntu) requires a variety of Gnome dependencies. Another bonus is the developers will try and help you connect directly, if you have any problems (e.g. using an unusual wifi chipset driver) on their forum []. It is actually a lot more reliable for encrypted networks than Network Manager too, particularly with Atheros and Intel chipsets connecting to WPA networks (as identified in a Launchpad Network Manager bug). My advice: try it - if it doesn't work - ask the developers to fix it.


Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on September 02, 2007 12:51 AM
works like a charm. Love it


Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on September 23, 2007 06:33 AM
This little gem should be in Ubuntu by default, and they should send NetworkManager and all its wretched dependencies to /dev/null.


Re: Managing wireless connections seamlessly with wicd

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 09, 2008 12:45 PM
Can't wait to try it


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