SAN FRANCISCO (02/22/2000) - With all the fuss about smart homes and Internet-savvy refrigerators, you'd think that decades-old home-automation technology would be ready for the scrap heap. But X10, a protocol developed more than 20 years ago by X10 Corp. (www.x10.com), isn't about to run out of steam. The technology uses signals over existing electrical wiring, so it's easy to install without additional construction. When it's in place, you can control almost any electrical device without leaving your chair and repel burglars by giving your house a lived-in look when you're away.
A basic X10 setup includes three components: hardware modules to turn lamps, appliances, and other electrical equipment on and off; a computer interface to send commands to the modules; and software to program the interface hardware.
While several companies sell X10-compliant hardware and software, Thinking Home 1.0.3, a $39 program from Always Thinking Inc., is one of only a handful of commercial X10 applications for the Mac.
Thinking Home supports most popular X10 hardware, including the defunct CP-290 interface from X10, as well as newer models such as IBM Home Director. If you don't own any X10-based hardware, Always Thinking offers a $59 bundle that includes Thinking Home, an IBM Home Director starter kit, and a Mac adapter cable.
We had no difficulty using Thinking Home to program our CP-290 or Home Director interface, but we were disappointed by the program's lack of graphical displays and controls. For example, Thinking Home forces you to enter each module's on and off times by typing them on the keyboard or by clicking on arrows; sliding controls would be a simpler alternative. We were also disappointed that we couldn't list the settings for all our modules at once. Additionally, Thinking Home doesn't provide a visual indication of each module's settings.
On the plus side, Thinking Home includes a remote-control function that lets you send On, Off, and Dim commands immediately to any module. There's also a handy screen that lets you monitor the status of as many as 16 modules, and this screen provides an estimate of the remaining life in the interface's backup batteries.
Macworld's Buying Advice
At $39, Thinking Home costs $30 less than MouseHouse, although the latter boasts a superior event display. Unfortunately, neither application uses graphics as effectively as the Windows software that ships with X10's hardware kits. Still, Thinking Home offers a cost-effective way to program an X10-based home-automation system with your Macintosh.
RATING: 3.0 mice
PROS: Inexpensive; understands voice commands.
CONS: Graphically challenged; limited display options.
COMPANY: Always Thinking (800/556-9559, http://www.alwaysthinking.com).
LIST PRICE: $39.