Test New Magic for Your Home Network

By Eric Griffith

October 19, 2006

The 4.0 release of Network Magic adds some improvements, but overall, it sticks to what works: a graphical way to run your network.

Seattle-based Pure Networks has a request to make: please download their new 4.0 preview of Network Magic for home network monitoring and management -- and bang on it.

"We hope to get tens of thousands of downloads and get feedback, so when we go gold, we know the features are usable," says Martin DeBono, the company's vice president of sales and business development.

Just what can you expect from the preview version? A change in the interface moves the network map lower on the screen and puts the tasks you can accomplish through the graphical user interface (GUI) at the top.

"We used to have lots of status information, but we've trimmed that down to just what you need to worry about," says company CTO Brett Marl. Tabs along the top make it easy to access tasks, view the network map, or use other features. The map got moved from the top after usability testing told the company that it didn't help people get things done. "You could spelunk around and find a task, but we needed to bring those tasks to the surface," Marl says.

Changes made on one system, such as setting up sharing on a printer, are instantly shared with all the other Windows PCs on the network running the software, right down to remote driver installation. Same with sharing a folder.  

The software also has a network speed test built in, powered by Ookla, the same tech you can find online at SpeedTest.net, but coupled with a test that runs just between your computers to compare the local network throughput to the Internet connection throughput.

What's new for wireless? Network Magic 4.0 will now replace the Windows Zero Config manager many laptops use to run the connections made to wireless networks (it was tried with 3.0, but the feature had some issues with third-party cards and was pulled). The interface changes things like making sure preferred networks are those you've connected to previously, instead of the preference being the last network you connected to (which could be a one-time hotspot stop). Microsoft Windows XP always adds the latest to the top of the list.

They also use the BSSID (basic service set identifier) of your router rather than just the SSID (service set identifier). The BSSID includes the MAC address of the router, making it unique, even if your SSID is generic (like "Linksys" or "default").

While the software will communicate with many routers, Network Magic 4.0 still lacks any kind of configuration tools for setting up encryption like WEP or WPA. They're working on it for the next release. DeBono says the MAC filtering which is built in is much easier for consumers, and mentions WEP's notorious failings and the lack of WPA support on even many new Wi-Fi products like cameras and game console adapters.

That said, the company is part of the Wi-Fi Alliance and is working with them on the new Wi-Fi Protected Setup project to simplify turning on encryption -- which it has to, as Network Magic provides the router setup tools for routers from D-Link in exchange for getting its 30-day trial installed at the end. Eventually, that feature will come to the client software. (Network Magic software also ships with routers from ZyXEL and TRENDnet.)

Like the company's regular free trial of the current 3.3 version, the 4.0 trial includes all features. However, it turns off automatic file and printer sharing features after 30 days if you don't purchase the software. However, if you buy it, the software now automatically upgrades. And if one PC upgrades, it sends the upgrade out to all the other versions of Network Magic running on the network.

Perhaps the best news of all? Network Magic is no longer subscription-based. You pay $30 for a three-PC license, and you can use that version forever — you don't pay again until the next major revision, say from 4.0 to 5.0. Previously, you were forced to upgrade every year. It's now the Microsoft model, not the Symantec model.

"Check our blog: we might get one or two comments per post, usually," says DeBono. When the company announced the price change, the entry got 140 comments. "It gives an insight into how consumers buy," he says. "Wall Street likes the subscription model, but consumers don't."

For a five-user license, the cost is $40, and for eight users it's $50. If you never pay, you can still use the software — you just don't get the GUI for managing sharing.

And for those of us with a mixed network, where's the Macintosh version? Marl says they're hard at work on it and plan to ship it sometime this quarter, with a heavy launch at the January 2007 Consumer Electronics Show. He says the company had an extra incentive to intro a Mac OS version when new CEO Jeff Erwin showed up and all he had on his desk was a Macintosh.

Originally published on .

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