A WLAN optimizer is a software application designed to improve performance on a wireless network. It can do this, or at least attempt to do this, through a variety of methods. The most common is to disable background scans for wireless networks.
A WLAN optimizer works with wireless local area networks. These allow multiple devices to exchange information wirelessly through a central device, usually a router. In most cases, this router will also connect to the Internet. Strictly speaking, a WLAN optimizer isn't always used with a multi-device network. It may instead be used where a single machine such as a laptop connects wireless to a router.
One potential problem with wireless networks is the way the wireless adaptor, the hardware in a device that deals with wireless data transfers, is set up. It will usually be designed to scan the surrounding areas to discover wireless networks that are available to join. Many adaptors are set up to continue scanning at regular intervals, often every 60 seconds, even after a wireless connection is made. This can be useful, as it may find a stronger connection that was not available when the user went online.
The drawback of this system is that the scanning temporarily takes resources away from the existing connection. In normal use, this is only a momentary "blip" and won't have any noticeable effects. However, in some computing activities such as online gaming or video streaming, it can cause disruption. This is because, although the scanning does not affect the speed of the data transfer from the connection, it slows response time between the computer and the Internet, an effect known as lag.
A WLAN optimizer will most commonly simply disable this background scanning. It may also offer other options, such as disabling the way the computer automatically configures itself to connect to known networks, or offer a special streaming mode that blocks other actions that might interfere with the smooth data transfer. In many cases, these extra options may be unnecessary for most users.
Depending on the operating system in use, it may be possible to achieve the same effects as a WLAN optimizer simply by changing system settings. This can be complicated, however, and may also make it difficult to automatically connect to the user's own wireless network in future. While a WLAN optimizer may be easier to use, it is important to check carefully that the software comes from a legitimate and reliable source.