Few years ago a little-known feature called Virtual Wi-Fi was crafted by Microsoft's research group as a way to "virtualize" one wireless card as several separate adapters in Windows. The project was discontinued in 2006, but some of the code apparently made its way into Windows 7, and now at least one company is taking advantage of it with a new application that can turn any laptop into a wireless access point.

Developed by military consulting firm Nomadio, Connectify lets a laptop "tether" other wireless devices to a single Internet connection by effectively turning it into a software-based wireless router. Windows 7 is required on the notebook acting as a wireless hotspot, but any wireless-equipped device, including handhelds and other notebooks running whatever operating system can jump online without any additional software. The program even encrypts traffic to and from the software hotspot using WPA2-Personal (AES) encryption.

While the Connectify beta is free to download, Nomadio expects to charge users once the complete version is released in about six weeks. A free, ad-supported version might also be released down the road.