Pure Networks' Network Magic 2.0
January 17, 2006
Home networking, even today, is harder to set up and manage than it should be, but this software delivers some easy tools (as well as remote access) for your in-house administration.
Price: $40 (for up to 5 PCs)
Pros: Simplifies folder and printer resource sharing; provides remote Web-based access to folders; helps monitor network activity.
Cons: Cant force unauthorized systems off the network; remote file access feature provided on a subscription basis only.
These days, home networks are extremely common a fact made possible not only by cheap and ubiquitous hardware, but also by the user-friendly networking features introduced back with Windows XP. And while theres no question that networking with Windows XP is easier than with any previous version of Windows, many non-technical users still often find it a challenge to share resources across multiple systems.
Network Magic 2.0 from Pure Networks aims to give these users some relief, in large measure by consolidating and simplifying a variety of network management and troubleshooting functions into a single application that most will find easier to understand and navigate than the motley collection of network-related dialogs, wizards, and utilities that are strewn about the Windows OS. Network Magic also includes a feature called Net2Go which provides remote Web-based access to specific files and folders on your computer. (It doesnt provide the kind of comprehensive desktop access you get from GoToMyPC or PCNow, however.)
Network Magics interface is divided into five main sections. The Network Map displays a comprehensive graphical representation of your network and all the devices that have been detected on it, including your PCs, router, and other connected devices like game consoles or DVRs. Devices connected over wireless indicate the approximate signal strength via a five-bar scale that updates continually. When an item is highlighted, various hardware and software details about the device are displayed, and you can perform certain device-specific tasks via a context menu. When a PC is displayed in the Network Map, any sharable resources attached to it (like printers) are shown as well, though if sharing isnt enabled for a particular device, it will be grayed out.
You can also use Network Map to monitor when devices (wired or wireless) join your network. All the items displayed on the Network Map fall into one of three categoriesThis Computer (the one being used), Other Devices and Intruders. By default, any new device on the network is placed in the Other Devices category, though you can reclassify any device as an intruder. That should probably be the other way around, but as it turns out, labeling a device as an intruder doesnt give you the ability to force it off the network, only to monitor its comings and goings.Resource Sharing
Next up is Printer Manager, which displays all the printers found on the network and indicates whether theyre available for use. You can share or un-share a particular printer with just a couple of mouse clicks, though you must still do so from the machine that the printer is physically connected to. The process works well; printer makes and models were automatically detected, and the appropriate drivers were installed with little fanfare.
What the Printer Manager is to Printers, the Shared Folders section is to files. This area lists all the shared folders present on the network, including those that predate the installation of Network Magic. Highlighting a specific folder displays pertinent info like the size and number of files and subfolders, as well as the local and/or network path to the resource. New folders can be shared through a wizard (usually in only two mouse clicks), and you can modify share settings (i.e. making it read-only) by right-clicking a folder.
One of the neat things about Network Magic is the fact that it advertises all the folders and printers available on the network in a single place. This saves you from having to know what system hosts which resource and having to browse though a lot of hierarchy to get to a shared resource.
Resource sharing on peer networks is often made difficult by software firewalls, but Network Magic seems to do a good job playing nice with most of them. It can automatically modify the Windows XP SP2 firewall as needed, and the softwares help feature includes step-by-step directions (including screen shots) outlining how to configure third-party firewalls from McAfee, Symantec and Check Point (ZoneLabs).
Network Magics Whats New section lists the folders that have been most recently shared, as well as any existing shared folders that contain new files. This area also displays a running log of each time a device joined or left the network, highlighting the activity of potential intruders (you can also choose to be notified about these events by a pop-up dialog). Ever present in the upper right hand corner of all five sections is a box that continually displays the status of your networks link to the Internet.Remote File Access
Network Magics Net2Go feature will be immensely useful to anyone who wants to get Web-based access to their files from a remote location,, or to provide specific folder access (for instance, that latest batch of digital family photos) to outside users. Net2Go requires a compatible router (supporting UPnP) so that Network Magic can automatically configure the ports required to facilitate sharing, but the list of compatible hardware includes about 100 devices from more than a dozen different vendors.
When you set up Net2Go, you can specify a personal portion of the remote URL (i.e. fredsmith.net2go.com) so its easy for you (and others) to remember. And to improve security, when its time to select a password the software provides helpful tips (make it at least eight characters, mixed-case, and include a number) and it helpfully ticks off each rule as the password you create satisfies each requirement. (It wont force you to abide by the password guidelines, though.) When sharing a folder, you can specify either public or private access.
If setting up Net2Go is easy, using it is just as simple. Accessing public folders requires little navigation, because theyre displayed right on the main page. You can sort the list of folders by computer, and when a folder contains photos, you can display them as thumbnails or as a slide show.
Net2Go is arguably the most compelling feature within Network Magic, but it follows a rather unfortunate trend these days: simply buying the software doesnt entitle you to use all the programs features in perpetuity. The Net2Go feature is provided on a subscription basis, so after one year, youll need to open your wallet again to continue using it.The Bottom Line
Those who want to take advantage of the functionality of a home network beyond simply sharing Internet access, but are intimidated by the complexity of resource sharing, will definitely find a friend in Network Magic. You can download a fully-functional version for a 14-day trial period, and the company offers a 30-day money back guarantee if youre not satisfied after paying the registration fee. (As of this writing, Pure Networks was offering Network Magic for special price of $29.99.)