The network manager's (free) toolkit

10 great free downloads for your network

Got a small network, home network, medium-size network -- even an enterprise network -- and want to get the most out of it? Then I've got good news for you: 10 free pieces of software that can make your network easier to use, troubleshoot and maintain. These freebies will help everyone from networking pros to networking newbies and everyone in between.

There's plenty here for you -- great free tools for keeping your network secure; creating a quick, navigable network map; scanning networks and putting together a list of all connected devices; checking to see if your servers are up and running; even designing networks and more.

Note that I'm leaving out extremely popular and well-known free downloads, such as the Ethereal network protocol analyser or WireShark and am concentrating instead on lesser-known downloads.

And as a bonus, I'm including a review of an extra, for-pay, try-before-you-buy download that can help your network as well.

Network Magic

If you're looking for a simple, free, all-in-one network management tool for a small peer-to-peer network, this is the one to get. It handles all the basic network chores, including adding new devices to the network, fixing broken network connections, setting up wireless encryption and protection, sharing printers and folders, reporting on the state of the security of each PC, and much more. Wizards guide you through all these tasks and others. If you've got network experience, the wizards may or may not be useful, but those with moderate or less network experience will certainly find them helpful. But even if you're a network pro, there's a lot in this simple program you'll find worthwhile.

For example, the network map displays every device connected to your network, shows whether it's online or offline, and displays details about each, including the computer name, IP address, MAC address, operating system being used, shared folders, and system information such as its processor and RAM. It also lets you change the machine name, and it displays alerts about each device, such as if it isn't protected properly. Overall, it's far superior to Windows Vista's Network Map.

The software's Status Centre is also useful. It displays overall information about your network, such as whether there are any problems with overall security or with an individual PC. It also lets you troubleshoot connections, shows whether there are any intruders on the network, and displays information about wireless protection.

Parents will appreciate some of Network Magic's features. For example, the software can monitor the use of any individual PC on the network for the websites it visits, the times the computer is online and which programs are being used, and then mail a daily report about it to an email address. So it's ideal for parents who want to keep track of their kids' computer use. There's much more as well, including a bandwidth tester to show you your current Internet broadband speed.

Note that there are both paid and free versions of the software. The free version includes most basic features, such as repairing broken connections, issuing security alerts, monitoring network activity and the Network Map. The paid version, which costs from US$24 to US$40 (depending on how many PCs are on your network), delivers daily reports of Internet activity, supports remote access to your network's files and includes other advanced features.

When you install this program, you may need to tell your firewall to let this application access your network and the Internet.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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