Network Location: Simplify Your Network Config

With the days of the static desktop almost in the past, moving around with your computer has become easier than ever. However, getting everything set up right at home, work, Starbucks or an airport can be time consuming and repetitive. Enter NetworkLocation, an application with the goal of automating this process.

NetworkLocation aims to to adjust your settings when you might forget to – like muting the volume when in a coffee shop, or changing the timezone when you head out across the country. Through the use of Apple’s Core Location technology, first seen in the iPhone and recently implemented in Snow Leopard on the Mac, the application is able to detect your location via nearby Wi-Fi networks, internet connections and connected devices. Hopefully this $29 application can save you enough time every day to make the price worth it.

Basics

Menu Bar

Menu Bar

NetworkLocation installs as a standard application, however it acts as a menu bar applet. From the applet, you have the ability to manually adjust your current location, open up the “chooser,” (which seems redundant as it only allows you to adjust your location) access the preferences, and even open up your current location on a Google Map.

Locations

This application almost duplicates the functionality of the System Preferences’ Network pane, having the ability to pair a NetworkLocation “location” with a Network preference pane “location.” I found this incredibly confusing, and wonder if there would be a way to make this a tad less difficult.

The AutoLocate feature takes a few minutes to set up, selecting the address that you are currently at, range of accuracy, nearby WiFi networks, Ethernet port status and hard drives or other devices that can be connected.

Autolocate

Autolocate

NetworkLocation also uses Skyhook technology, which utilizes a database of known wireless networks to determine your location. This technology, also used in the iPhone and iPod Touch, works great in urban environments, but some more rural areas are not widely covered in Skyhook’s mapping system.

Once you have the AutoLocate feature set up, NetworkLocation will automatically adjust your settings based on your set criteria. For instance, when you are sitting on the couch, you’ll probably be connected to your WiFi network, which will trigger NetworkLocation to adjust your “location” to Home. However when in your office, connected to an ethernet cord and an external keyboard, mouse and hard drive the “location” will automatically change to the Work setting (coupled with a pretty Growl notification).

Growl Integration

Growl Integration

Actions

While understanding where you and you computer are at any given moment, having functions applied based on your location is the strong point of this application. For instance, when at home you can have it adjust your background to your favorite band, start an iTunes playlist, and crank up the volume.

Actions

Actions

When at work, you can have it close your RSS reader, iTunes, and your BitTorrent client, while getting the To Do list open, right after it changes the desktop picture back to the standard “Aurora” background. It can even mount servers, set default printers and adjust SMTP servers for Mail.

System Actions

System Actions

Should you be traveling or in an unknown location, NetworkLocation can also set up a default “Location,” so that you can be secure in knowing that your screensaver will pop on in a few minutes, prompt for a password should you need to leave it for a moment and trust that your keychain will be locked down to prevent any super sleuths from getting at any of the important stuff.

Other Features

Should NetworkLocation become confused about your whereabouts, it may open up the “Chooser” window, that gives you about 10 seconds to manually set a location. The “Chooser” window also has a variety of color options. While none really strike me as unobtrusive, it will certainly get your attention should the application need some manual input.

Chooser

Chooser

You can also install several “Extras” to control third party applications (like 1Password, Adium, and Entourage), and even build new Actions on your own using their Developer SDK.

Extras

Extras

Verdict

I definitely think that NetworkLocation is a cool application. However, it is not marketed at the basic user as much as the “prosumer”. It’s really designed for someone that feels the need to constantly adjust their settings so their Macbook can function perfectly in any situation.

It helps that it works in tandem with Skyhook’s wireless position system, and can make accurate assumptions on your location based on the devices you keep plugged into your computer.

I would like to see an expansion in the number of actions and settings it could adjust, and it would be great to have even more third party support for NetworkLocation plugins. Right now, NetworkLocation requires Snow Leopard (Mac OS 10.6+) but does offer a version for Leopard users.

If you’re on the go, it’s definitely worth looking into. Let me know what you think by leaving a comment, and feel free to offer any other suggestions for adjusting settings on the fly!


Summary

NetworkLocation makes it easy to have your Mac be location aware, and adjust accordingly, from changing backgrounds, to volume, to opening applications. There are a few design hiccups and confusion, but if taken as a prosumer application for someone always on the go, its a great time saver.

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