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Belkin Home Base

Belkin Shares Printers and Hard Drives, Family Tracker Lets You Be Big Brother

By Jim Bray
January 30, 2010

If you have multiple computers but only one printer and/or external hard drive, it can be a real chore getting data to and/or from the various devices if you don't "have an in" with someone who can set up your network for you.

Sure, you can drag the drive around with you, plugging it into each computer as needed, or bring your portable PC's down to the printer when you need to use it – but wouldn't it be so much more convenient if you could leave the drive and printer in a central location and connect to them remotely?

That's the idea behind the Belkin Home Base, a product designed to let wireless network users print, share, and back up files over the network.

The $129 Home Base F5L049 comes with four USB ports built in and connects to your wireless network either wirelessly or via cable, while the other stuff (printer, drive, etc.) plugs into it. The Belkin box's front panel has little lights for power and wireless status notification and a WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup) button. The rear has power, network and USB connections.

Belkin says the Home Base is ideal for those who want to:

  • Connect and access up to four hard drives, printers or cameras over an existing wireless network
  • Back up files automatically to a central location (which will hopefully never fail!)
  • Share pictures on Flickr and Picasa automatically, and generate all the excitement hinted at thereby
  • Set up an external drive to act as a DLNA server for your media content
  • Access media files directly from Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and other DLNA client devices
Belkin Home Base

I'd be happy just sharing computer stuff like the printer and hard drives, but to each his own. Bottom line is that the Belkin promises to be a helpful and handy gadget.

I had trouble getting the Home Base to communicate with my networked printer, but I have troubles using that printer over the network anyway so I don't believe it was the Home Base at fault there. I was hoping the Belkin would somehow heal that condition, since my laying on of hands (and endless cussing) has been unsuccessful so far, but 'twas not to be.

You also have to install some Home Base software on each computer you want the thing to play with, but the process is straightforward. I had to attach an optical drive to my netbook temporarily for the purpose, but that's what such outrigger drives are designed for. Installation on my main PC and my notebook was accomplished using their built in optical drives, which was even more straightforward.

The Home Base software shows you the devices to which it has access, for example the external hard drive you all want to share. There's are tabs to click on for setting up your automatic back up routine and picture sharing.

The back up feature lets anyone on the network who has the Control Center software installed save a copy of their files to a central folder with no further thought on their part (until the back up drive gets full or packs it in). 

Big Brother Comes to the iPhone

As if there's a lot of privacy in today's world anyway, there's also a new iPhone app that lets you ride herd remotely on your husband, wife, kids, fiancée or on whomever else you might want to keep tabs.

Family Tracker is designed, apparently, for the paranoid, as its blurb outlines:

"Your husband tells you he’s going to be late tonight due to a business meeting. Is he really at the office, or is he having dinner somewhere else? Your wife told you she is going out shopping with her girlfriends at the mall. Is she really there or is she with her gym teacher? Your kids tell you that they are staying late with friends to study for their test. Are they really there, or did they go out partying? No more lies or excuses! You can now find out where they are, at anytime, as long as they have their iPhones with them."

Family TrackerThereby removing any incentive for the kids, or whomever else you want to track, to buy an iPhone. And I just bought shares in Apple!

According to the company's website, you simply install the Family Tracker app on the iPhone you want to, well, compromise. Then, they say, you can use either a web browser or your own Family Tracker app-shod iPhone to look over his or her shoulder virtually.

Again according to the company, you can "ping" the other iPhone, which Monty Python fans should find exciting since their iPhones will become machines that go "ping".  Said "ping", the Family Tracker folk say, means your iPhone or browser sends the object of your rapt attention a "(free) Apple Push Notification," which then causes an alert to sound on your victim's, er, ward's, iPhone, even if the receiving phone in is stand-by mode. At that point, his, her or its GPS position will be saved, and the location updated on a map.

Then you'll know where to send in the Marines!

Family Tracker doesn't send SMS messages for notifications so, they claim, the app doesn't even need to know your iPhone cell number; instead, it uses your email address, which I assume (since no one I know would let me stick the app on their iPhone) means you need either a data service or Wi-Fi capability.

The Family Tracker People are quick to point out that the product isn't just for perching over someone's shoulder digitally. "With our busy lives," Family Tracker developer Roberto Franceschetti says (and says "emphatically", according to their press materials), "Sometimes we don't have time to answer the phone and/or write an SMS text to our spouse/parents. With Family Tracker we can let them know we are "OK" by just turning on the iPhone's screen".

Or we could just all stay at home and not go wandering away all over the place, away from the safety of the nest.

I know that's what my Mom would have wanted…

Copyright 2010, Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

We welcome your comments!