Linksys hopes to make home networking idiot-proof with impressive new software that simplifies the setup and management of wireless networks on show in a private suite at the Consumer Electronics Show.
As well as the Linksys Easy Link Advisor software (which will be more commonly known as LELA), the company is demonstrating a range of new hardware products, including an 802.11n router with no external antenna and a couple of media centre extenders.
Linksys has privately been discussing LELA for some months, and sees the management console as an essential ingredient in demystifying wireless networking. It walks users through the setup process using a step-by-step guide, explaining the procedure in layman's terms, seeking to avoid phrases such as 'wireless encryption' and 'administrator passwords'.
Once up and running, LELA provides a diagram of the wireless network, so users can see exactly what's connected and pinpoint problems. Green lines between the various connected devices - anything from laptops, NAS devices, digital photo frames and printers - show that all is well. If any of the green lines turn to red, the user knows there's a problem with the wireless connection, and this is where LELA comes into its own. There's a conveniently placed 'Help' menu to provide users with instant answers to the simple problems, or the software can transfer them to Linksys' tech support phone line (which is free of charge). Rather than having to explain the procedure to correct the problem, the support staff can then correct it remotely.
The demonstration looked impressive, and Linksys plans to provide LELA on all new routers shipping from April this year.
The first products in the UK to feature the software will be the Ultra RangePlus Wireless-N Broadband Router. This is the model with no external antenna (see picture below) and which features a modified design the Linksys spokesperson described as key to the "wife-acceptance factor". With no ugly antennas sticking out, the 802.11n device could sit relatively unnoticed in the corner of the study or living room. The company said it managed to build the antennas internally without sacrificing performance.
Other networking products that Linksys unveiled include dual-band wireless adaptors for PCs, laptops and gaming consoles. The adapters can use either the 2.4GHz or 5GHz spectrum. The 5GHz spectrum is less crowded and includes more non-overlapping channels, making it a good choice for sending video or gaming data that you want to make sure isn't broken up by interference.
The laptop adaptor, WEC600N ($80 - there's no UK prices as yet), uses the new express card format. The $80 PC adaptor, WUSB600N, uses a USB connection. The gaming adaptor is the $90 WGA600N.
Plus, the company has launched the Linksys DMA2200 media extender a Vista-compatible device with dual-band Wi-Fi and a DVD player. The DAM2200 will cost £219 when it's released in the UK next month. A version withouth the DVD player (the DMA2100) will be priced at £199.