For several years now I have taken spells of dabbling with Home Automation. Here is what I have found and some of my experiences.
I first developed an interest in this stuff when I discovered X10 technology. You probably know the stuff I'm talking about, but if not you can read about it here. In my early forays into this technology I used X10
control modules with stand alone timer/controllers and that worked pretty well at an elementary level. You can get into this for around 50$ startup, and purchase one of the Active Home Kits to see if its for you.
I really wanted more control, and a little more intelligence on these devices so I started searching for computer interfaces and software. I've settled on the CM11A controller that comes in serial or USB interface. This unit is included with the Active Home setup kit from X-10. Over the years I've also acquired numerous light modules, appliance modules, socket rockets, and motion sensors that use X10. My requirements are not extremely complicated, I just need to control lamps on a schedule and by motion, with local control and web based control.
There is quite a bit of software that is designed for this hardware and to accomplish what I had in mind. I will discuss two of them. My first choice and still a favorite is an open source project called MisterHouse. The developers have done a fine job with this code, and I was enthralled with it for some time. There is quite a bit of functionality built into the MisterHouse, but I always stumbled when I had to modify the perl code, to customize for my individual needs. I'm just not a programmer, and I never pretend to be. I have rudimentary knowledge of several programming languages, and that's all I want to have thank you :) MisterHouse does have all that I needed though, including speech technology. So if you're geeker than I and enjoy perl programming, then this is the package for you. I applaud the developers on a nice piece of work, and hope they continue.
I am now using HomeSeer, a commercial product that has matured over the years and works very nicely. I now have a nice easy computer interface, that will let me put together complicated macros and scripts all in a Windows GUI interface. Web control is good, and it has all the bells and whistles I will probably ever need, and no programming involved. Homeseer will announce sunrise and sunsets, motion detection and control all the X10 modules I can throw at it. If you want to quickly go into X10 home automation, this is my choice... but be advised that it is expensive, but justifiable if you need or want reliable X10 home automation.