June 27, 2005

Command your network with Kaboodle

Author: Dmitri Popov

Quite often setting up a local network is much easier than managing it. Even technically challenged users can figure out how to connect a couple of computers and a printer. However, tasks like maintenance, troubleshooting, and remote secure connections require more than just "which-cable-goes-where" knowledge. You need something like Kaboodle, a nifty tool that can help you to manage your local network like a pro.

Kaboodle allows you to visualize your local network, control computers on it via VNC, and connect to other Kaboodle-enabled networks. Kaboodle was developed for Windows, but according to its Web site, it will happily run under Wine on Linux and FreeBSD.

Kaboodle basics

When Kaboodle first starts up, it scans for devices attached to the network. Once Kaboodle discovers a device, it detects the device's operating system. Based on this information, Kaboodle assigns the device an appropriate icon and places it into an appropriate group. Kaboodle can distinguish between Windows-based machines, Macintosh computers, network printers, and network appliances, such as a DSL router or wireless access point.

All discovered devices are identified by their IP addresses or device names, but you can give them more descriptive names (e.g. Acer TravelMate 243LC-40 instead of acer-311vpbceh0). To do this, click on the device's icon and enter the name you want in the Display Name field in the System Info tab. Similarly, if Kaboodle has classified the device incorrectly, you can change the device type in the Icons Properties tab. Kaboodle remembers the network's profile and all the settings and customizations, but if you need to reset the application, launch it while holding the Shift key down.

By default, Kaboodle organizes the discovered network devices into four groups: My PCs (Windows-based machines), My Macs (Macintosh computers), My Printers (network printers), and My Appliances (routers, wireless access points, etc.). However, you can add your own groups and regroup the devices. For example, you can create a group called Servers and move your file and Web server machines into it. To create a new group, click on one of the default groups, press the Add New Group button, and give the new group a name.

When Kaboodle finds a new device on the network, it checks to see whether it can control the device remotely. Kaboodle supports both Microsoft's Remote Desktop and VNC. If the device can be controlled via VNC, Kaboodle places a tiny V label on top of it. To connect to the device, double-click on it and click on the VNC Setup tab. Enter the VNC password, if necessary, and press the Connect button. If the target machine doesn't run a VNC server, Kaboodle will attempt to install the server, activate it, and then initiate a session.

GetEngaged

Kaboodle allows you to connect to other Kaboodle-enabled networks. When connected, you can visualize the remote network, control computers, and send files to other Kaboodle users. To securely connect two networks, Kaboodle uses a feature called GetEngaged Personal VPN. There are two partners in every GetEngaged connection, and each partner needs its own registration file to establish a GetEngaged digital identity. To create the registration file, you need to create an account on the GetEngaged file server.

Once you've created an account and signed in, click on Download Registration File. To install the file, double-click on it. Next, you have to create a partnership with another registered GetEngaged user. Click the Create New Partnership button on the GetEngaged Web page. Enter your partner's email address and a common password (something you and your partner have agreed to use for GetEngaged purposes). Once the partnership is created, it will appear in the Active Partnership Requests list. You then have to download the partnership file and install it by double-clicking on it.

Before you establish a GetEngaged connection, you need to give your network a name and specify a master node (the machine on your network that does most of the work of coordinating Kaboodle's features). To do this, choose Setup > Network. Enter a descriptive name for the network in the Display Name field, and select the computer you want to use as the master node from the Kaboodle Master Node drop-down list.

Now you are ready to establish a connection to a remote Kaboodle network. Choose Actions > Connect to Another Network and select your partner from the drop-down list. Select Specify an Internet Address from the How to Find this Partner list, type the remote network's IP address, and press Connect. The remote network will open in a separate tab. If you want to hide a group or groups on your network from the GetEngaged partners, tick the Conceal this Group and its Contents from my VPN Partners check box.

Quite often, networks are hidden behind firewalls or NAT-enabled routers. This means that if you want to establish a GetEngaged connection between two Kaboodle networks, you must tweak firewall or router settings. If this is not an option, you can connect using KaboodleProxy. Although it's not free, there is a demo server available for you to try. Choose Setup > GetEngaged, click on the Proxy Status tab, and press the Add button. Enter demo.kaboodleproxy.com in the IP Address field and demo2005 in the Password field, and click OK. (To get the most up-to-date demo server address and password, check the KaboodleProxy setup page). To establish a connection via the added proxy, choose Actions > Connect to Another Network, select your partner from the drop-down list, select Proxied Search from How to Find this Partner list, and press Connect.

Transferring files with Kaboodle

Kaboodle's file transfer capability allows you to exchange files with other Kaboodle users across their networks. Since the whole file transfer process is encrypted, this feature is handy when you need to transfer large files securely. To send a file to another Kaboodle user:

  1. Choose Send File from the Actions menu.
  2. Select the recipient's machine from the drop-down list.
  3. Choose a file from your computer that you want to send.
  4. Add an optional comment that the recipient will see with your transfer request.
  5. Click OK.

When the transfer begins, the recipient will see a pop-up message asking permission to accept the file. If the recipient accepts it and chooses a place to save the file, Kaboodle transfers the file. You can monitor the progress of the file transfer activity by choosing the Status tab in the File Transfer window.

Now, who said that network management has to be complicated?

Dmitri Popov is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Russian, British, and Danish computer magazines.

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