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If you have a notebook computer, you probably use it all over the place and on lots of different networks. Windows XP usually doesn't have any access problems when hopping from network to network (at least, not if you use DHCP) but wouldn't it be nice if you could customize your Windows environment for each network you were connected to? For example, have a different browser start page, mapped drives, and default printer for home, work, the hotspot across town or the network of a friend or family member?
I've come across a freeware utility called Net Profiles that does that and more. Net Profiles is a small utility (a mere 320 KB) that you can download at netprofiles.danielmilner.com. It's compatible with Windows XP, but the author hasn't tested it with Vista so it may or may not work with the newer operating system. (I used it with XP.) Net Profiles requires Microsoft .NET framework version 2 or higher, though the installer will helpfully offer to download it if necessary.
When you fire up Net Profiles for the first time it will prompt you to create your first new profile. After giving the profile a descriptive name (e.g. home, work and so on) you can select the relevant network adapter to the right. For example, you may use wireless access while at home or a hotspot, but switch to a wired network at work. (A network adapter that's disabled in Windows won't show up in Net Profiles' list, so be sure to enable it before you try to use it for a profile.)
On the IP Settings tab, you can configure the profile to use DHCP (which would be appropriate for most people most of the time) but you also have the option to use specific network settings for things like DNS, Default Gateway and so forth. If your system's already configured with the settings you want to use, the Get Current Settings button will handily pull them into your profile automatically.
The next tab is Internet, where Net Profiles starts to get very useful because here you can specify proxy settings and a default browser home page for your profile. This is nice because at work you may get access through a proxy and want your home page to be say, a company Intranet, while at home you likely don't use a proxy and might prefer to open your browser to something like Google, Yahoo or an e-mail account. You'll notice that you can make the settings on this page apply to Internet Explorer, Firefox or both.
It's a given that the network drives you use will vary between networks, so the next tab, Mapped Drives, lets you determine which drives you want to connect to for each profile. This will eliminate the common error messages about Windows not being able to connect to drives that are located on another network. Similarly, if you've ever inadvertently printed to an unavailable printer (I do this more often than I should admit) you'll appreciate the Printer tab that lets you set up a different default printer for each network you frequent.
The next two tabs aren't networking related per se, but are useful nonetheless if you typically use different applications depending on where you are. Net Profiles' Run tab will let you specify apps to run automatically, and can launch them minimized or hidden if you want. The Desktop tab in turn will let you configure profile-specific settings for display resolution, color depth, and desktop wallpaper (so you can easily alternate the photos you use as background).
Finally there's the Wireless tab, which lets you associate your profile with a specific SSID. Net Profiles will automatically use that profile when it detects you've connect to a particular network.
Once you've created profiles for all the networks you use, you can easily select the one you want by clicking the appropriate icon each time you change locations. To make manual switching of profiles more convenient, highlighting a profile and then selecting File|Create Desktop Shortcut will let you load a profile right from an icon on the desktop. (Remember that if the network is wireless, Net Profiles can switch between profiles for you.)
If you frequently move your system between networks and want to customize your environment for each, you should find Net Profiles a useful tool and worthwhile download. Even though you can use it for free, if you like Net Profiles and plan to keep using it, you might consider making a small donation to the author via the PayPal link on his site.
Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.com.