Last time i was playing around with wireless networks, trying to set up a mesh, which is apparently still in a very geeky level of development—meaning it works if you are a linux nerd and can and want to hack your way all down to the kernel, but even then it might be buggy. Now, on Windows that’s obviously not as easy as on linux, as there is no make to change the problem lines. Also, the mesh thing would need to be implemented easily and quickly, possibly natively, which is out of question for now. Or at least if Windows could (simply) set up an ad-hoc network without having to share an internet connection… On the other hand, since we’re moving out of the dorm, and will be spread all over Japan, it’s a natural question how to continue playing together. Using a server would be an option, but that wouldn’t give the other lan options of file sharing, and would probably work with one or two games only. The other option is to set up a virtual network. And i honestly tell everyone, it’s a pain in the ass to find one that knows exactly what i expect of it. That is, to handle networks just like Hamachi does, but without the 16 client limit, for free. Today i took my time and checked out “a few”: Leaf Networks, LAN on Internet, NeoRouter, OpenVPN, Remobo, tinc and Wippien. And naturally i’ve been using Hamachi for over a year now.

The problem lies at the word free. Hamachi has all i want, but something more as well, that i definitely don’t: a sixteen user limit on free networks. And that’s quite a tight budget. So i’m expecting something that’s kind of the same as Hamachi, without a limit. Couldn’t really find it yet, though there are worthy candidates. I was testing most of the above parallel, so at the top i had around eight-nine virtual connections in addition to my wired, wireless connection and 1394.

Leaf is one of the best and simplest candidates. All it takes is registration at the website and logging in. Which, to be honest, can be quite problematic on occasions, for unknown reasons. Sometimes it takes four-five tries to connect. I couldn’t test creating network and stuff, thus the actual functionality, because i don’t have any contacts so far.

NeoRouter is also one i couldn’t test hardly at all. It needs a server to connect to, and unlike Hamachi or Leaf, there is apparently no central server. Correct me if i’m wrong. And since i can’t ssh into my own server to make it run there, there is no computer that could constantly and publicly host a network domain. Of course, if someone had a router that could run the NR server, it’d be a different story, but that’s still just theory.

LAN on the Internet is totally different from what i expected it to be. As far as i could see, it can only tunnel certain types of traffic, between users manually connected. When i saw the dropdown menu to choose which app i’d want to tunnel, i instantly clicked uninstall. Sorry.

OpenVPN seems quite badass, and lots of services use it, but it has the same problem as NeoRouter: it’s too pro. There’s no central server to connect to, always available, and like this it’s again the problem of availability. Else it’s free and strong, though seems a bit troublesome to configure for people not familiar with lower level computing. (I think i can coin that phrase as a politically correct version for noob.)

Remobo seems good. It’s simple, very simple, just an installation, registering (though it didn’t work from the installer, had to do it on the website) and adding contacts. I don’t really know how it would work later, since again i don’t have any contacts to test with, but if everyone has to add each other as a contact for the network to work, that would make it very troublesome to set up with that many people joining.

tinc is more of network hacking than a solution for what i want. It’s a virtual mesh, that’s exactly why i wanted to try it. It requires lot of manual typing and configuring, so it’s out of question. Also, a configuration file for all the computers on the network need to be manually added on each other computer, making it way too complicated to use.

Wippien is another good choice. It uses an XMPP client as front end, more or less the same as Remobo, just with support for GMail and other XMPP accounts. It’s also a built-in instant messaging client, making it quite appealing, but for me it’s not needed like that. Luckily it has a simple and clean VPN-only GUI as well. It automatically creates a network with XMPP contacts who have it installed, but again i didn’t have anyone like that so i couldn’t test network performance.

And last, of course there is the etalon Hamachi, which knows everything i want, has the speed problems everyone knows, and that annoying 16-user limit. Yet, its network management, simplicity and usability make it an ultimate tool. If we won’t be more than 16, this is definitely the way to go.