If you need a utility, the $25 NetScanTools likely has it

NetScanTools, a $25 shareware program, fits the bill.


NetScanTools organizes many common and esoteric diagnostic utilities under one
interface. Most of them began life in the Unix world, such as the ping command that
verifies communication with another IP address.


You can't troubleshoot TCP/IP networks without lots of information, and gathering it
all into one place is a big help. Power users will appreciate the utilities for
connectivity testing, too.


The 30-day shareware version has all the features of the registered version. Either
version takes only a few minutes to install and then presents a tab-style interface that
will be familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft Windows 95.


The online help system works for any of the tabs. You click on the question mark in the
upper right corner to see a help page from NetScanTools' World Wide Web site. Your
documentation is never out of date, and any errors can be corrected immediately on the Web
site.


Under each tab appears a utility or configuration screen. Under Database Tests, for
example, you can test the protocol and services database translation of the version of the
Windows Sockets application programming interface on your network.


The test establishes that the databases are present and gives the number listing of the
protocol or service.


Network support tools are complicated, but the nice thing about NetScanTools is that it
only gathers information. There's no danger it will change any network configurations.
That makes NetScanTools an excellent learning resource.


Utilities such as Traceroute help you out in WAN environments. Ping simply verifies the
presence of a device with an IP address, but Traceroute can tell you the paths between
computers on IP networks.


For example, if I run Traceroute to http://www.nasa.gov,
I can see seven stops along the route between my computer and NASA's Web site, plus the
travel time in milliseconds for each leg of the journey.


Traceroute reports all the Internet host names and IP addresses along the way.


Another good utility is the Time Sync function, which lets you synchronize your
computer's clock with any network time server. You can enter your own or choose from the
default listing, which includes many government, military and university time servers.


For troubleshooting, the Echo utility sends packets to a server and has them reflected
back. The test lets you verify a connection and look for dropped packets.


It won't work for some Internet sites, though, because hackers could abuse it to mount
a denial-of-service attack.


One of the best tools in the package is NetScanner. Any IP network manager needs to
know which devices are out of service. NetScanner lets you set a range of IP addresses to
poll.


Whenever NetScanner spots a dead device, it reports back the numerical address and, if
applicable, the machine's name.


NetScanTools has many other utilities, all geared to find information on everything
from your current version of WinSock to whois queries for identification.


Microsoft Corp. should have built something similar to NetScanTools into Win95 and
Windows NT. Luckily, you can get the program for free for the first 30 days, and if you
like it, pay only $25.


In the early days of the PC industry, such shareware was common and invaluable. As the
industry has matured, these tools have become superfluous or operating systems and suites
have subsumed them.


NetScanTools marks the return of small utilities that still make a difference--this
time in a far larger, networked world.


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