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Review: Making a little Magic on your Network

Introduction

Setting up a small LAN isn't always easy for the newbie. While both Microsoft and Apple have made big strides in their latest operating systems with respect to sharing folders and printers, it still can be a daunting task, especially if you are using earlier OS versions or mixing non XP and MacOS X systems into the network. Two companies are trying to make it even easier with some software solutions. And while they get points for trying, they both still have a long way to go before network setup is as easy as turning on your computer.

The two products are Network Magic from Pure Networks and pagebreak

Network Magic - Overview

Setting up Network Magic was simple, and the only issue we had was that it took some time for it to recognize the configuration, router models, and gather information for the network map. But once it did it worked fine. Also, if you install Network Magic on a laptop and that laptop travels between two or more networks, it will need to re-orient itself to the new network configuration, which is what you would expect.

When you install the product, you will see a screen with five buttons across the top: What's New, Network Map, Shared Folders, Net2Go Manager, and Printer Manager. All are fairly obvious and will take you through their associated tasks with a minimum of fuss.

The What's New screen (Figure 1) lists recent network activity (computers joining or leaving the network, especially handy for wireless networks), a list of shared folders and printer shares, and the network status box.. The latter is a nice feature - the product will constantly monitor your broadband Internet connection, and tell you when you aren't connected, handy for debugging cable and DSL modem issues.

Figure 1: What's New Screen
(click image to enlarge)

The software's main feature is a map of your network (Figure 2), where you can click on each device's box and find out more details such as IP address, firmware version, and even vendor contact information if the software recognizes your device.

Figure 2: Network Map
(click image to enlarge)

As you can see in Figure 2, the software almost recognized our router, a Netgear FR114P. But because the router was running somewhat older firmware, it couldn't detect the actual version.

You might think that keeping track of the dozens or hundreds of different low-end routers that consumers have installed on their networks is a huge task, and you would be right. Pure Networks has a list of several routers that they support, but we, of course, managed to find plenty of routers in our offices that weren't recognized by the software.