Configure, save, and apply multiple network profiles

The time I spend performing everyday computer chores must add up to several days of lost productivity. Among these rote tasks are configuring and reconfiguring my laptop’s network adapters when I go from home to work to client sites. Although Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) and Windows 2000 made modifying a machine’s network properties easier than before for mobile users, the multistep process remains inefficient. PhatWare offers a product that eliminates the need to manually configure network properties each time you and your computer relocate. PhatWare NetProfile 2000 looks and functions like a Control Panel Network applet tab that Microsoft forgot to include. It lets you create custom network profiles for Win2K Professional, Win2K Server, and Win2K Advanced Server. You can then dynamically assign these profiles to any network card installed on your machine.

I installed NetProfile on my IBM ThinkPad 560X laptop, which connects to my home LAN through a 3Com EtherLink III LAN PC Card. Downloading is the only distribution option. The 600KB Windows Installer (netprofile2000.msi) file installed almost instantly after I keyed in the required registration number that I obtained when I ordered the product online. Installation didn’t require a reboot. I configured NetProfile to start when the OS starts.

Finding NetProfile’s Help file was a small challenge. When you select the program from the Start, Programs menu, the Help file isn’t a menu item; and the program’s main window, which Figure 1 shows, doesn’t have a Help button. I needed to navigate to the installation directory to open the file. Ironically, Help taught me a better way to access Help: Simply right-click the NetProfile icon that appears in the system tray, and select Help from the resulting menu. This menu also lets you access and apply network profiles and offers options (e.g., profile importing and exporting) not available in the main window. In my zeal to begin creating profiles, I had forgotten to explore this menu.

When I first launched NetProfile, the program let me make a default profile for the 3Com EtherLink III LAN PC Card. I configured the default profile as my home network with a standard private IP address range of 192.168.0.X. I named the profile Home Net (192).

Configuration tabs include Identification, IP address, Gateway, DNS Configuration, WINS Configuration, and Proxy. You can access these tabs from the main window’s New and Edit buttons. The Proxy tab, which lets you configure a profile’s Web proxy server settings for a profile, is one of NetProfile’s most useful features. When users manually reconfigure their network profiles, they often forget to reconfigure settings for their networks’ proxy server; then they’re perplexed when they can’t access the Internet. With NetProfile’s Proxy tab, you can make sure you’ve configured all necessary settings. I created a profile, Work Net (206), and used the Proxy tab to configure settings that would let me use my company’s proxy server when I took my laptop to work.

When I applied the Home Net (192) profile to my laptop, a pop-up message gave me the option to apply the profile immediately or wait to apply it on a reboot. However, the dialog box gave no option to cancel the action. Because changing network identification properties such as computer name or domain name requires a reboot, I was a little puzzled about why I wouldn’t be able to cancel at this point. I could have applied the profile, then reapplied a different profile to, in effect, cancel the first profile application. However, no Help file entry suggested that reapplying profiles was the best way to cancel profile applications. When I chose to apply the profile immediately, NetProfile stopped the NIC driver and restarted it with my Home Net (192) profile configurations.

My next task was to lug my laptop to work and test whether my preconfigured Work Net (206) profile would save me time. When I work from home, I log on locally: Although my laptop is a member of my company’s domain, I choose not to log on to that domain from a dial-up connection. At work, I log on to my domain account, which coincidentally and imprudently uses the same account name as my laptop’s local account. When I tried to use my Home Net (192) profile to log on to my domain account, my laptop couldn’t find a domain controller (DC): My IP address hadn’t been updated to a work IP address. When I logged on to my local account, I could then apply the Work Net (206) profile. Because I had configured the profile to receive an IP address from my company’s DHCP server, I could then log on to my domain account and continue testing.

NetProfile runs only if you’re logged on with administrator privileges. After I discovered this requirement, I granted my domain account the privileges to run NetProfile. I then discovered that because NetProfile stores its profile information in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\PhatWare\PhatWare NetProfiler 2000\Profiles registry subkey, the profiles that I had created when I was logged on locally weren’t available when I was logged on to my domain account. However, I finally developed a workable strategy for using NetProfile: Log on locally to my laptop so that I can access the profiles I’ve configured, apply the profile that’s appropriate to the network I’m on, then, if necessary, log on to the domain (fortunately, you don’t need to log on to a domain to perform Internet-related tasks). To modify or reapply a profile, I need to log on locally again.

The sparse documentation did little to explain best practices; I needed to tinker with NetProfile before I could figure out how to use it most effectively. Some procedural quirks, such as the necessity of logging on as an administrator to run the product, are unavoidable side effects of OS interoperation; others, such as not being able to cancel the application of a profile, are simply disconcerting. Nevertheless, NetProfile is a must-have for hard-core mobile users who frequently homestead on different networks with different proxy servers. For only $14.95, NetProfile should pay for itself in its first week of use.

PhatWare NetProfile 2000
Contact: PhatWare * 510-796-8949
Web: http://www.phatware.com
Price: $14.95
Decision Summary:
Pros: Profiles are interchangeable between all NICs installed on your system; the product doesn’t require a system reboot when you change most network configurations; profiles include Web proxy configurations
Cons: Effective use isn’t instantly intuitive; the online Help file is difficult to find and doesn’t explain best practices; canceling a profile application is an indirect process