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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  • foo

    $29 for a location switcher is way too much from my point of view :-(

    i used to use marcopolo for this in leopard – unfortunately it doesn’t work properly on snow leopard. although there is an unofficial patch for this it’s sad that the project seems to have died.

  • Ales

    I still use MarcoPolo on Snow Leopard without a problem.
    It is a very powerful tool. I haven’t tried NetworkLocation but as far as I can see the functionalities are the same as in MarcoPolo it just comes in a neater package with a price.

  • foo

    do you have wireless connections or use cabled connections only? whenever I use marcopolo on snow leopard with wireless lan i have packet loss. that’s why it’s unusable for me :-(

  • http://www.danblee.com Dan B. Lee

    Yeah, sorry, but adding more software and having to make custom settings changes so I can access certain networks based on my location sounds like the exact opposite of simplifying things. Granted, once its all set up I’m good to go, but if I’m sitting in an apartment complex with a dozen available wi-fi networks around me, my mac does just fine at understanding what I want to connect to automatically without throwing new software at it.

  • Runar

    I simply go to the Location menu from the menu bar ( > Location) to change my network location. But this is probably too simple for you guys?

  • foo

    is this what the tool is supposed to do? from my understanding network location, marcopolo, … are tools to trigger actions as soon as your mac has found the network to use, e.g.:

    if i’m at work: disable bluetooth, disable wlan, set volume to 0, set default printer to work printer, change OSX network location (proxies, …), set ichat location to “home”, …
    if i’m at home: enable bluetooth, enable volume, set default printer to home printer, …

    from my point of view this is extremely useful!

  • foo

    @runar: and this sets your printer, starts application based on location, etc.?

    • Runar

      As I said, my method is probably too simple for some people.

  • Inket

    Took me an hour to configure it completely. I think it’s too complicated but overall the app is not bad.

    One problem though, it doesn’t seem to mount my SMB shared folders correctly.

  • Jeffrey

    I also vote for MarcoPolo. It’s more than just detecting network though. I use a laptop so I have it change settings based on which monitor I connected it to.

  • Rob M

    Try Airport Location: http://airportlocation.wordpress.com/

    Seems a lot more advanced and takes ‘snapshots’ (location and hardware) rather than requiring the user to configure a lot of actions; as is the case of Network Location.

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