Your laptop follows you wherever you go, and so do all your settings. When you move locations you don’t always want the same network configuration, default printer, security settings, file sharing options, and so on. Adapting to a new environment doesn’t have to be a constant annoyance. Here’s how to do it painlessly on a Mac.The idea is simple: you have a much different setup at home than you do at work, and maybe even other setups for your favourite coffee shop or your significant other’s apartment. Rather than altering your privacy, security, power management, and other system settings every time you change locations, you can make the change quickly and even automatically. There are plenty of ways to solve this problem but we’re going to look at two methods here. First we’re going to look at a software-based method that’ll make your Mac location-aware and adapt to its new environment automatically. After that we’ll also take a look at an OS X built-in method for a little added security and data isolation in case you want to compartmentalise your different environments on your computer (you know, so your files stay hidden even if you share your computer, for example). So, let’s get to it!
The Hassle-Free Method: AirPort Location
Mac OS X has some built-in location features (which you can find in System Preferences -> Network), but we’re going to look at something that gives you a lot more control over not only your network settings but a ton more. That something is called AirPort Location and it allows you to take a snapshot of your current settings and re-apply them manually or when your laptop comes near a specific location. A snapshot can include practically any setting on your computer from all your network settings, which menu bar icons are active, your desktop background, your Adium status, connected servers, practically everything pertaining to your dock, and a whole bunch more. You can save this information for multiple setups – home, work, coffee shop, etc – and have them automatically update when you arrive. This is pretty great, and we’re going to take a look at how it works.
To get started, just follow these steps:
- Download AirPort Location Note: You’ll need to be running Mac OS X 10.6.x for it to work. Currently it doesn’t work with older or newer versions of the operating system (although, presumably, it will be update to support Lion in the near future).
- Once downloaded, just move the app into your Applications folder and launch it. You’ll see a small + (inside a square) appear in your menu bar. Click the + and you’ll see you’ve already got an Unnamed Location chosen for you. Below that Unnamed Location will be a “Change Snapshot” option. Select that, then choose “Set a Name for This Snapshot.” Type the name you want and your current setup will be saved under that name. (You’ll want to do this for your location as well.)
- Next, click the + again and select Unconfigured Snapshot -> Configure Snapshot Elements. A window will appear that will let you select the different things you want to change when you change locations. For example, you can select a specific Wi-Fi network, the default printer you’re using, and any VPN settings. You can even re-arrange the dock, change active applications, and run AppleScripts and Automator actions to put everything just the way you like it. Pretty much any setting you can think of – including the translucency of your menu bar – can be saved in a snapshot. Select everything you want to be saved in this specific snapshot and then click the “Save” button.
- Now click the + menu item one more time and choose Your Snapshot Name Snapshot -> Update Snapshot for Your Snapshot Name. This will save all the settings you selected in the last step into your snapshot.
That’s all you have to do to get your first snapshot set up. To set up the others, just create a new one next time you’re in a different location and follow these steps. When you’ve got everything set up, you’ll be able to quickly go to the + menu item, choose your location, and watch AirPort Location put everything in order just the way you like it.
The Isolated, Added Security Method: Multiple User Accounts
If you don’t like the idea of having your work stuff mixed with your regular stuff, or just want a little added security, there’s another way you can have your computer easily adapt to your environment: multiple accounts. Your Mac makes it really easy to set up multiple accounts, plus you shouldn’t have to install any apps twice as they’re shared in the primary Applications folder on your hard drive. (In rare circumstances you’ll have a few apps installed in the Applications folder in your Home folder, but if that’s the case you can generally just move them.) You can also add a shared documents folder should you want the accounts to co-mingle in certain circumstances, but keep your work- or home-specific documents isolated by account. This is really easy to set up. Here are the steps you need to take:
- You already have your main account, so let’s consider that one your personal account and the one we’re going to add your work account. To add it, open System Preferences and click Accounts (if you’re running 10.6, or Users & Groups if you’re running 10.7).
- Click the + button on the bottom left. If you can’t, click the Lock icon to enter your password and unlock all privileges.
- A new account form should pop up and the type will likely be set to “Standard”. Unless you want to limit the capabilities of your new account, change this to “Administrator”. Then go ahead and choose a new username and password. When you’re done, click “Create Account” (or “Create User” in 10.7).
- Now you have a new user, but that new user needs to be set up. You’ll want to start by enabling Fast User Switching so you can go between these accounts quickly and easily. To do that, click on the “Login Options” button towards the bottom left. You’ll see an option to enable Fast User Switching and choose how to display it (by full name, username, etc). Turn it on, select what you want, and then you’ll see your choices pop up in the top right corner of your menubar. Click on it and choose your new user to switch to it.
- Upon selecting the new user, you’ll be prompted for that user’s password. Enter it and OS X will load the new user’s desktop. It’ll look a lot like a brand new Mac, but you’ll find all your applications are the same. You can go ahead and drag the ones you want for your new work user into the dock, set up your network (and other) preferences how you like them, and get things configured solely for your work environment. If you don’t need to set up a shared documents folder between your multiple accounts, you can just stop here. If you want to do that, however, keep reading.
- To share documents between your multiple accounts, you just need to create a folder on your hard drive that can be easily accessed by both. Mac OS X has a designated space for shared folders: Hard Driver -> Users -> Shared. Anything you put in there can be accessed by virtually anybody, so if you want to lock it down to just your two (or more) user accounts you should create the new folder elsewhere. So, make that new folder wherever you want it, and then go to the File menu and choose “Get Info.”
- Down at the bottom of the Get Info panel you’ll see a section called “Sharing & Permissions”. Expand it if necessary, and then click the lock in the bottom right corner to make changes. To the far left of the lock is a + button. Click on that, choose any users you want to have access to this shared folder, and then click the “Select” button.
- You’ll see those two users get added to the list, but likely with “Read only” privileges. To change that, click on “Read only” next to the user’s name and change it to “Read & Write.” When you’re finished, close the Get Info panel and both users will now be able to access this folder like it is their own.
Once you’ve got your multiple users set up, all you have to do is switch between them when you move from place to place. As previously discussed, this is really easy with Fast User Switching. The only thing you want to keep in mind is that keeping your other user logged-in with open applications can slow down your computer a bit, so if you’re using this method you may want to only use one user at a time or just shut down most applications before switching.