20 Great, Free Networking Utilities
By Joe Moran
It's easy to get lost in the aisles of shrink-wrap software at the big-box tech store, but you don't always have to pay a lot to get a lot of functionality. Here's a list of 20 great apps and services that provide lots of features for no money up front. Most of these utilities are Windows-only unless otherwise specified. Also, there may be more advanced pay versions of some of the items listed here, but any of the features mentioned are available in the free version we cite.
1. Find all network shares with NetResView
When shared network resources are strewn across multiple systems, keeping track of them can be a chore. NetResView displays all shared printers and folders (including hidden ones) from an entire workgroup or domain in a single comprehensive list.
2. Monitor shared files with ShareMonitor
To keep tabs on files you're sharing over a network, use ShareMonitor--it will tell you when files on your system were remotely opened (and closed) and by whom.
3. Manage your network with Spiceworks
It's overkill if you only have a few networked computers, but if you have a few dozen (or a few hundred), Spiceworks is a godsend. It offers a provides hardware and software inventory network monitoring and mapping, and even includes an integrated help desk application. (Read a review.)
4. Check your PC's network traffic with MyPorts 2010
At any given time, your computer can be running myriad programs in the background, each with multiple open network connections. MyPorts scans your system's TCP/IP ports and tells you which are in use, the IP address they're connecting to, and which program is using them to communicate.
5. Indentify Wi-Fi Interference with inSSIDer (Windows, Linux)
Wi-Fi performance problems are frequently the result of multiple wireless networks interfering with each other by trying to use the common or adjacent frequencies. inSSIDer can tell you how crowded your airspace is; it scans for nearby wireless networks and reports--among other things--the channel used by each so you can relocate your equipment to an area with a bit more elbow room.
6. Improve DNS Performance with NameBench (Windows, Mac, Linux)
DNS latency is often responsible for poor performance when Web browsing and using other Internet services. NameBench benchmarks your DNS response time when contacting popular sites (or it can use your own Web history), then recommends new DNS servers that are faster than the ones you're currently using.
7. Access passwords from anywhere with LastPass (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Password manager LastPass helps you create and manage complex passwords for every site you visit on the Web. It's available for virtually every operating system and Web browser known to humankind, and it stores passwords (securely) online, so you can get to them from anywhere.
8. Master your HOSTS file with HostsMan
Editing the Windows HOSTS file can be an effective way to prevent your system from accessing specific IP addresses or Internet domains (e.g. those belonging to ad servers/trackers) . Editing the file manually can be tedious, but HostsMan makes it much simpler by automatically checking entries, allowing you to easily enable or disable the file, and identifying questionable entries that may have been made by malware.
9. Make online storage look local with Gladinet Cloud Desktop Starter Edition
If you use Amazon S3, Google Docs, Windows Live SkyDrive, or other forms of online storage, Gladinet Cloud Desktop Starter Edition will mount that storage as a drive letter in Windows Explorer so you can treat it as if it were on your local network (drag and drop files, etc.) The software will also let you schedule and pause/resume file transfers to and from the cloud.
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