To really take advantage of your laptop’s portability, you need network access wherever you go. But to maintain that access when you move from one place to another, you have to change a slew of OS X’s settings. Fortunately, OS X lets you save specific combinations of these settings as network locations. By setting up locations for all the places and ways you like to compute, you can switch between them effortlessly.
Think of a location as the sum of all settings you need to connect to a specific network. This includes the network interface you want to use (Ethernet, AirPort, Bluetooth, FireWire, or modem), as well as the TCP/IP settings, proxies, phone numbers, user names, passwords, and more. Whenever you need to get online in a new location, whether it’s at home, the office, or your neighborhood café, OS X’s location switching lets you change all those settings at once.
To create a new location, open the Network preference pane and select New Location from the Location menu. (You need to be an administrator to create and edit locations, and you may need to click on the lock icon and enter your password first.) Enter a name, such as Office Network, for your location, and then click on OK. Next, click on the Configure button at the bottom of the Network pane to configure your location. Enter all the information you need in order to connect to your network—TCP/IP settings, AirPort settings (such as the name of a specific network to connect to) if necessary, and so forth—and then click on the Apply Now button. Your settings and location will be saved, and your Mac will change to the new location.
Alternatively, you can use the Network Setup Assistant to create a location. Click on the Assist Me button at the bottom of the Network preference pane, and the assistant will walk you through the process, asking questions and offering check boxes and fields where you select and enter settings.
You can also base a new location on an exist-ing one. Say you already have an Office Network location that you use to connect to the network at work via AirPort. Now you want to create a new one that connects to that same network via Ethernet instead. You can create a copy of the first loca-tion by selecting Edit Locations from the Location menu, picking the location you want to clone, and then clicking on Duplicate. You can then rename this location (Office Ethernet, say) and adjust the settings you want to change.
What Locations Can Do
When do you need a new location? You can create as many as you need for all the different places where you get network access, for connecting to different AirPort networks, or for using different network inter-faces. For example:
• If you use one AirPort network at home and another at the office, then create two separate AirPort locations for each network, as well as a third that looks for any available AirPort network, such as one in a café or another public space.
• If you sometimes connect directly through a cable or DSL modem and sometimes through a network hub or router, then create separate locations for each.
• If you need to transfer large files from your portable to a desktop computer, then a location that connects to your home or office system via a direct Ethernet connection (or even via FireWire) will provide faster throughput.
• You can even create a location that turns off all your network interfaces. This allows you to work offline and be sure that none of your applications try to connect to the Internet—and that no one can connect to you. Such a location is good when you’re really trying to save your laptop’s batteries: even if you’re not connected to a network, AirPort will still use up some of your precious power if it’s on, thus shortening your battery life.
Easy Ways to Switch
Once you’ve set up your locations, you have several ways to switch from one to another.
The simplest way is to go to the Apple Menu, select Location, and then choose a location from the submenu.
Command-line mavens have another option: using Terminal to see the current and other locations. (This is especially useful if you need to make a login change to a remote Mac that’s running as a server.) From the Terminal command prompt, type
scselect. This will return a list of all the available locations, with an asterisk in front of the presently active one.
Defined sets include: (* == current set)
4 (Office AirPort)
2 (Home network)
* 1 (Airport)
To change locations, run the
scselectcommand with the number listed before the location: for example, in the above configuration, you could switch to Ethernet by running
If you use Objective Development’s LaunchBar, the keyboard-friendly launcher, you can change locations with just a few keystrokes:press Command-space, type the first few letters of the location you want to activate, select it from LaunchBar’s list, and press enter. Or if you use Startly Technologies’ QuicKeys, you can create a macro to change locations with a single key combination.
The X Factor
But if you really want full control over your locations and the ability to change more than just network settings (or if you’re nostalgic for the powerful Location feature in OS9), you’ll want to check out Alex Keresztes and Greg Novick’s Location X. This $20 program lets you set up locations that include your network settings, as well as settings for Apple Mail or Micro-soft Entourage, a default printer, a time zone, Energy Saver preferences, and QuickTime.
Location X’s control over these additional settings is a real time-saver: when you go from home to the office, for example, you don’t use the same printer or mail server; you may need to switch the home page in your browser. Location X can do all this, as well as run shell scripts or AppleScripts when you change locations.
Working with Location X is simple. The program displays all available locations in its top pane. When you select one of these locations, a bottom drawer allows you to configure it. This drawer shows which options have been set, and a pop-up menu lets you reconfigure them as you like. Selecting an option lets you see which changes are available.
You can add, remove, and change locations from within Location X. While you can use the Apple menu or other means to change locations, doing so changes only your network settings. If you want to change the additional options, you’ll have to use Location X.
[ Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books, including iPod and iTunes Garage (Prentice Hall, 2004). His blog, Kirkville, talks about Macs, iPods, and much more. ]Location X’s drawers let you see which location settings you can adjust and what your options are for adjusting them.