Today, a wide range of 802.11-based Wireless LANs (WLANs) have become dominant to provide wireless Internet access for file transfers. For engineering purposes, there is a need for very simple, explicit, yet accurate, models that predict the performance of WLANs under anticipated load conditions. In this context, several detailed packet-level models have been proposed, based on fixed-point equations. Despite the fact that these models generally lead to accurate performance predictions, they do not lead to simple explicit expressions for the performance of WLANs. Motivated by this, we propose a new analytic model that captures the highly complex combined dynamics and protocol overhead of the 802.11 MAC, IP, TCP and application-layer into an explicit expression for a single parameter which will be called the effective service time. Based on the effective service time, we define the effective load to describe the flow-level performance of file transfers over WLANs with an M/G/1 Processor Sharing (PS) model. Using the M/G/1 PS model properties we propose a simple analytic model to obtain WLAN AP buffer content distribution. Despite the fact that PS models are heavily used in modelling flow-level performance in communication networks, an extensive validation of such models has not been published in the field, or context, of WLAN. To this end, our model is validated extensively by comparing the model-based average response times against simulations. The results show that the model leads to highly accurate predictions over a wide range of parameter combinations, including light- and heavy-tailed file-size distributions and light- and heavy-load scenarios. The simplicity and accuracy of the model make the results of high practical relevance and useful for performance engineering purposes. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.