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Home Automation: Controlling Your House with Computers
We’ve looked at what you can do with home automation and what sort of methods exist for installing automated functionality, and now it’s time to take a look at some of the popular software applications out there for controlling your home automation system.We’ve looked at what you can do with home automation and what sort of methods exist for installing automated functionality, and now it’s time to take a look at some of the popular software applications out there for controlling your home automation system.
I haven’t included any software that ships with various systems in this list; you’ll find out about those when you’re looking at individual systems and deciding on one. What’s listed here are some well-respected and popular choices that enthusiasts around the world are using.
Indigo is Mac OS X software, but as long as you have one Mac in the house you’re okay since it comes with web server functionality — you can control things through your PC or phone’s browser as well as from your Mac. There’s also a Dashboard widget available if you like to control things that way. Indigo offers compatibility with Insteon and X10 systems, and you can extend its functionality using AppleScript.
MisterHouse is an open source application written in Perl, which means you can run it on pretty much any operating system—including, of course, Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. It is incredibly flexible and extensible, but that comes at the cost of ease-of-use. While the AppleScript used for extending Indigo is accessible and easy to learn, Perl has something of a reputation for being hard to grasp. MisterHouse supports most popular home automation systems.
Despite having an eyesore website that makes it hard to find useful information, XTension has a good reputation. XTension works with X10 hardware (get it? XTension?) and like Indigo, it uses AppleScript for extensibility. Also like Indigo, XTension is a Mac application (I can’t help being biased) and the bonus for the recyclers among you is that versions of the application from OS 7.5 up on to OS X are all supported. If you have an ancient Mac gathering dust that you’d like to put to use, here’s the app for you, though you might want to ensure you have a USB-to-serial adapter if your hardware’s that old.
HomeSeer is Windows software (“Finally!” I hear you gasp) that supports Insteon, X10 and Z-Wave home automation systems. Being proprietary Windows software, it’s not extensible via Perl or AppleScript, but VBScript. I’m not a Windows user, so I haven’t tried this software, but it is popular amongst those who are game enough to leave their home in the hands of a Windows computer. Apparently its voice capabilities are pretty good — it can understand your commands quite well, and synthesize vocal responses and alerts back to you. It’s not cheap software like some of the other offerings here, and will drain your bank account of around $200.
Thinking Home is donationware (what else do you call a commercial application where the trial never expires?). It has a fairly polished look that fits in well on its native OS X. The software starts at $79. It does offer a web-based control (via OS X’s Personal Web Sharing), and works with Insteon and X10 standards. It’s the first application I’ve seen that explicitly states that it can be extended not just with AppleScript, but almost any other scripting language installed on your Mac — Perl, Python, etc, etc. Thinking Home’s main selling point seems to be that it takes advantage of specific Mac OS X features better than other applications that try to be jack-of-all-trades and cater to everyone.
CeBotics offer the HouseBot software, which is another Windows application. It retails for about $70, making it a fair bit cheaper than other commercial home automation applications. It’s true blue Windows software, with native applications for every version of Windows for the desktop computer as well as for handheld devices stretching as far back as Windows CE. It’s certainly no resource-hog, requiring a machine with only a 200Mhz processor and 128MB of memory to be content.
Choosing an Application
There are a few factors to consider when choosing one of these applications for yourself. Operating system is the obvious variable. The other thing you need to check out is whether the application you have in mind is compatible with your hardware. You also need to consider extensibility versus ease-of-use, and your own level of familiarity with the scripting languages each application supports. All-in-all, there’s an option for everybody, whether your decision is motivated purely by an application’s price (or lack thereof, most likely), or its capabilities.
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