An article on Slashdot about open source hotspots has a lot of information that I was unaware of. Most importantly, there are two livecd Linux distributions for Wi-Fi infrastructure that I did not know about. First, Knoppix begat Morphix which begat PublicIP, which makes setting up and administering a free hotspot as easy as possible. The second, LESS Networks, allows users to download and install a hotspot on their hardware. LESS seems to be a bit more techie oriented, but that’s okay too.
Also of note in the linked article is a French hotspot distro called Sesame. It looks like at least some of these distros are building on top of well known free Wi-Fi projects like NoCat. If mesh networking is more your bag, don’t forget to check out the Meshbox. A less sophisticated version of a lot of the wi-fi hotspot distributions can be accomplished on a Linksys WRT54G and third party firmware.
I’m so glad that we live in a world that includes niche Linux distributions for free wi-fi hotspots.