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NetInfo 5.7 from Tsarfin Computing is a handy tool that aggregates a host of system- and Internet-based network utilities into a single easy-to-use package. Indeed, with 15 separate components, NetInfo contains more network tools than you can shake a NIC at. This includes Ping [define], Trace, Lookup, Whois, a port scanner [define] and an e-mail address verification utility, just to name a few. Virtually all of the NetInfo components would be invaluable for a systems administrator or anyone who spends lots of time working on networks, but the majority of tools are also excellent diagnostic or investigative utilities for just about anyone who regularly accesses the Internet with a PC.
Some of NetInfo's tools provide much the same information as built-in Windows utilities like IPCONFIG, PING, TRACERT, and NSLOOKUP. NetInfo's Local Info tool is analogous to Windows IPCONFIG for each network adapter installed on the system, NetInfo displays basic configuration data like MAC [define] and IP addresses [define] along with subnet mask [define], default gateway, and DNS and DHCP servers. NetInfo's Ping and Trace tools, in turn, serve the same functions as PING and TRACERT Ping lets you test the connection to an IP address (or a Web site or domain name, for that matter), while the Trace tool outlines all the router "hops" between two points, allowing you to pinpoint bottlenecks or broken connections. Finally, the Lookup tool mimics the capability of NSLOOKUP and lets you perform forward and reverse DNS queries to find the IP address (or addresses) for a given domain name, or the domain name of a particular IP address.
So why use NetInfo when you can access all four of these functions via the utilities included with Windows? Mainly because NetInfo is a lot easier and more convenient than those crude command-line utilities. Instead of having to know various forms of arcane command-line syntax, you need only to type and click. You also get the advantage of having multiple tools in a single tabbed interface without having to juggle multiple open windows. Another nice feature of NetInfo is that you can jump between different tools and perform successive tests without wiping away the results of previous ones, which makes cross-referencing information during complex troubleshooting a lot easier. (When you close down NetInfo all the results are lost, however.)
One more benefit of using NetInfo is the way it formats information, making it easier to digest. Test results are presented in the form of a hierarchical tree, which lets you expand each line to see only as much detail as you want that beats having to sift through a long block of text. If you want to save any results, you can easily print them or save them to a HTML page. (Although we found that the graphic elements of saved results didn't display properly in FireFox, all the network info was saved intact.)
But Wait, There's More...
Beyond those that duplicate the function (if not the form) of the built-in Windows utilities, NetInfo includes many other useful network tools as well. For example, if you've ever wondered what kind of network traffic was being sent and received by the myriad applications installed on your system, you'll appreciate NetInfo's Connections tool, which provides a detailed and list of all of your systems inbound and outbound traffic. This information includes things like the type of connection (i.e., TCP [define] or UDP [define]) the source and destination ports and addresses, the status of the connection and the application or process responsible for the traffic, and is constantly updated. You do need to at least have some familiarly with TCP/IP [define] in order to make use of this data, but it can be invaluable for identifying rouge applications or just learning more about what your software is doing behind your back.
Aside from letting you see what's going on with your the system it's running on, NetInfo lets you check up on other network devices too. If you need to find the IP address of network devices without checking them directly (or if you just want to know which addresses on your network are active), the Scanner tool can scan a range of addresses and report what it finds. There's also a Services tool that provides more detailed information on what network services are running at a particular address, letting you know when things (i.e. a Web server) are present that you may not be aware of.
The WHOIS tool, which is normally available via the Web sites of domain registrars (or from those of organizations like Network Solutions or ICANN) is a great way to discover the true ownership of Internet domain names. NetInfo's WHOIS tool lets you quickly and easily check on the registration data and contact information for a domain. Conversely, if you type an IP address instead of a domain name, the tool will consult the ARIN database and report the organization or ISP responsible for it. NetInfo also includes a nice E-mail tool that will let you verify the validity of any e-mail address. This can be helpful when you receive a NDR (non-delivery report) after sending a message or if you're trying to track down a source of spam.
Rounding out the list of NetInfo components is an HTML tool that will pull the header information and source code from a Web page. There are also tools for lesser-used Internet services like Quote and Finger, as well as Time and Daytime tools, which, respectively, let you synchronize your PC's clock to a time server or check the local time of the system running at a given IP address.
Our main complaint about NetInfo is its interface's fairly inefficient use of desktop space. Most programs with tabbed interfaces and a large number of tabs stack them into several rows so they're all still visible within a small window. By comparison, NetInfo places the tabs for each of the 15 tools in a single horizontal row, requiring you to scroll to access many of them. The only way to avoid the scrolling is to maximize the application or drag the window to almost full screen width on a 1024 x 768 display, and this results in lots of unused white space which needlessly consumes precious desktop real estate. Therefore, stacked tabs or at least the ability to hide the tabs of unneeded tools would be helpful.
NetInfo runs on any Windows version from 95 through XP and requires Internet Explorer 5.5, and you can download it from netinfo.tsarfin.com. The free download version doesn't have a "time bomb" and can be used indefinitely, but if you choose to ante up the registration fee (which ranges from $40-$70 depending on the type of license (home, academic, or commercial) you get several added features including a bandwidth meter, the capability to plot network traces on a world map, and links to networking-related news and information (that would be mainly of interest to those who monitor networks for a living).
Most of NetInfo's features can admittedly be found in other places such as Web sites or in the operating system itself, but nevertheless the utility serves to put all that information in one place and within easy reach. Since you can use the unregistered version indefinitely, there's a lot to like about NetInfo 5.7.
Joe Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.com.
Price: $39.95/$59.95/$79.95 (Home/Academic/Enterprise)
Pros: includes 15 different network tools in a single interface; unlimited use for unregistered version
Cons: inefficient use of desktop space