Do you have a network in your small office or at home? If so, you probably found setup easy, but now you could use some assistance in managing and troubleshooting the network, as well as in getting the most out of it.
We're here to help. We've rounded up ten great networking downloads--many of them completely free--that will allow you to manage your network effectively, solve wireless-networking problems, gain remote access to your network, and more.
(If you're ready to grab several of these programs, see our networking-downloads collection.)
General Network Tools
Looking to manage your network like an IT pro, even if you have no experience? With these downloads, you'll be able to troubleshoot and repair network connections, obtain the full technical details about every device on your network, measure network bandwidth, and even get remote access to your network when you're on the road.
Advanced IP Scanner
If you want a quick, no-fuss way to view all of the devices on your network, along with their IP addresses and other information, give this small, free, simple-to-use utility a try. It performs a lightning-fast scan of all IP addresses on your network, or of all devices in an IP range you specify. After the scan, it tells you what devices are at what address, and whether each device is currently live or idle. It also provides each device's status, machine name, NetBIOS information, ping information, and MAC address.
Also included are a few other nice tools, such as the ability to shut down PCs remotely. And the Wake-on-LAN feature can wake PCs containing network cards that support the capability.
Download Advanced IP Scanner | Price: Free
Bandwidth Monitor 2
With this exceptionally easy-to-use free utility, you can find out how much bandwidth any PC on your network is using. Install it on any PC, and it displays a chart that details your bandwidth use in real time, covering download bandwidth, upload bandwidth, and the total used. In addition, it keeps logs of your bandwidth use, so you can have a historical record. Customizing the software is simple, too; for instance, you can change its skin or alter the time span over which it measures bandwidth.
Note that setting up the software might be confusing, because you'll have to choose from a long list of network adapters, not all of which may be on your system. Your best bet is to click the Auto-Select button; the software will then choose the proper adapter.
Download Bandwidth Monitor 2 | Price: Free
Network Magic Pro
Network Magic is just about the best all-in-one tool you can find for managing a small network. Want to fix broken network connections, set up wireless encryption, share printers and folders among all your PCs, or get a report on the security of each PC on your network? It'll do all that, and much more.
Possibly the most useful part of the program is its network map, which is superior to the one that ships with Vista. It graphically displays every device on your network (including the printers and the router), shows you whether any of them are having problems (such as a lack of antivirus software), and provides extensive detail about each device. You'll be able to see the device name, its hardware and software configuration, its IP information, what security software it uses, and so on.
The software's Status Center shows the current state of your network at a glance, and it summarizes any issues. You can even see a history of each device's bandwidth use, as well as warnings about potential intruders.
Among other features you'll find an Internet speed tester, a wizard-based troubleshooter for fixing network connection problems. Parents will appreciate the ability to control Internet access on each computer, too. Network Magic can even send you daily e-mail reports about the activity occurring on networked PCs--which programs each computer runs, which Web sites it visits, how much bandwidth it uses, and when it is online.
At $50, Network Magic Pro isn't cheap, but it's well worth the money if you need comprehensive help with your network. If you're looking for something lower-priced, you might want to consider the $30 Network Magic Essentials, which supports fewer PCs and lacks network-attached-storage support and Internet-access controls. Also, if you have a Linksys router, even if you don't pay for any version of Network Magic, you can use Network Magic Basic, which includes the network map, some security features, and other useful tools.
Download Network Magic Pro | Price: $50; free 7-day trial
This nifty free networking tool, true to its name, crawls through your network, identifies every device, and gives you thorough information about each. It isn't suitable for networking newbies since it's somewhat confusing to decipher; but if you know your way around a network, you'll appreciate the level of detail it offers. For example, for each device you'll be able to view the NetBIOS name, the DNS information, the network subnet, and even the details about port numbers.
Note that to get information about your network you'll have to set up a free account with Paglo after you run the software--you then log in to your account to view your network information over the Web. The company also offers for-pay subscriptions that give you access to more information than the free account provides.
Download Paglo Crawler | Price: Free
If you have a small-business network and little or no IT staff, this network inventory and management utility may be exactly what you need. Free and browser-based, Spiceworks not only provides detailed information about all of your network devices but also serves as an IT management tool, letting you create and track help-desk tickets to fix any network problems that people may have. It has a surprisingly full feature set for a no-cost piece of software.
In addition to performing a network inventory, it provides extensive information about each device, such as available space, total disk space, and what antivirus software is present; it even reports server-connection errors, and gives an inventory of the software installed on each device.
Since it's far more difficult to use than Cisco's Network Magic, it isn't really suitable for home users. And on my network, Spiceworks was not able to properly identify and name all of the devices. Still, you can't argue with free, and the program has quite a few useful functions.
Note: Though the program is free, it displays ads in the interface. If you want to eliminate the ads, you'll have to pay $20 per month.
Download Spiceworks | Price: Free (ad-supported)
Have you ever needed to get access to your small-office network or home network when you're away from it--perhaps when you're at a Wi-Fi hotspot in a café, or when you're travelling on business? If so, you'll want to try WallCooler VPN, which promises to make a secure connection to your network and does so with ease.
If you've ever used virtual private network (VPN) software, you know that it's not always easy to work with. But WallCooler VPN is surprisingly simple. First, run the software on a PC on your network; then, when you're on the road and near an Internet connection, run the software on the PC that you want to use. You can then make the connection to your networked PC with a single click. The software invisibly takes care of the problem of dynamically changing IP addresses, an issue that often makes establishing remote connections difficult.
Once you're connected, you can take remote control of the PC on your network, just as if you were at its keyboard, and gain access to the network's resources, including shared files. The Personal Edition of WallCooler costs $5 a month. If you want access to remote printing and other features, you'll have to pay $16 a month for the Business Edition.
To take remote control of PCs, you'll first have to configure Windows' Remote Desktop Connection on each PC using the software; WallCooler VPN uses that to make connections. Also, if you run into problems, you may need to do some router configuration, but most of the time you shouldn't have to do that.
Download WallCooler VPN | Price: $5 per month (Personal), $16 per month (Business); free 14-day trial
Next: Network-Security and Wireless-Networking Downloads