NetSetMan: Network Switching as Easy as Ready, Set, Go!

By Joseph Moran | Posted December 05, 2008

Let's say you have a notebook you regularly use to connect to lots of different networks. If all you need from these sundry networks is Internet access, connecting to one involves little more than getting an automatic IP address from the network's DHCP server, and voila, you're in business.

But when you need particular configuration settings — maybe a static IP address, or specific DNS servers, default printers or mapped drives — for a given network, changing these settings can be time-consuming. Plus, since the settings for one network may not be appropriate for other networks you frequent, they likely must be changed again and again as you move between networks.

But not if you have NetSetMan (short for Network Settings Manager), a freeware Windows utility that can take the tedium out of having to change network settings whenever you change networks. With it, you can set up profiles with custom settings for up to six different networks, but just as important, NetSetMan lets you to switch between profiles with ease.

Profiles in Networking

NetSetMan's network profiles can contain a dozen different parameters, including IP address, default gateway, DNS, PC and Workgroup names, default printer, mapped drives, and login scripts. When you install NetSetMan, you're presented with a six-tab interface for profile configuration and selection. Settings for each profile are displayed in the same window, so you can view or modify them without having to navigate through different menus. In lieu of entering settings by hand, there's a feature that lets you customize a profile by pulling in all of the system's current network settings. This is a real time saver.

You can label individual NetSetMan profiles for easy identification, and switching between profiles is a quick two-click affair — select a profile, click Activate and the profile is loaded. (The process took around five seconds on our XP and Vista test systems.)

You can also right-click the NetSetMan's tray icon to easily change profiles without having to open the main application window. If you hover the mouse over the tray icon instead, you get a pop-up window displaying basic network settings — like IP, default gateway, and DNS addresses (for each network adapter if you have more than one active). This eliminates the need to run IPCONFIG or delve into layers of Windows menus to obtain this oft-referenced configuration information.

For added convenience, when you have the NetSetMan application open a Tools menu serves as a jumping off point to eight or more frequently used Windows configuration areas. This includes obvious choices like the network browser and adapter settings but also some handy ones that aren't even networking-related, like display options and power management. On Vista, menu options include the Network and Sharing Center as well as the Windows Mobility Center for notebooks. The ability to export and import NetSetMan settings to a file allows you to easily backup your profile configuration info or move it over to a new system.

Special Considerations

Because administrative access is needed to change network settings in Windows, it's a prerequisite for NetSetMan to work as well. Therefore, if you normally operate from a Windows account that lacks administrative privileges, additional steps must be taken to use the software.

When you start NetSetMan from a non-administrator account, it will prompt you to enter the username and password for an administrator account, which it encrypts and stores to use for subsequent launches. On the other hand, if you use NetSetMan on a Vista system with User Access Control (UAC) turned on, you'll need to provide confirmation to launch the utility even if you have an administrator account.

A workaround for either of the above scenarios is to download an additional component that allows NetSetMan to run as a Windows service; this makes it part of the operating system and eliminates the need to run it under a user account.

One final item worth mentioning is that NetSetMan's freeware license agreement allows it to be used only in a home or other non-commercial context. To use NetSetMan in any business or commercial environment (like on a work PC), you must pony up some cash for the Pro version. Fortunately, with a price of 12 euros (approximately $15 as of this writing) the cost is minimal, and the Pro upgrade tacks on several features that might be of interest to business users, including support for an unlimited number of profiles that add domain and proxy server settings.

If you find yourself frequently having to change network settings when you move between networks at home, work, school, or elsewhere (or even if you sometimes need to configure your computer with different settings for the same network), NetSetMan will make those transitions fast and easy.

Product: NetSetMan 2.5.1
Price: Basic version is free; Pro version is 12 euros
Pros: Easy to set up and switch between network profiles
Cons: Free version can't be used for commercial purposes; using without administrator account or on Vista with UAC requires additional configuration steps

Adapted from PracticallyNetworked.com, part of the EarthWeb.com Network.

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