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The Network Observer: Network Software You Cannot Live Without
Posted Jan 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

This time of year everyone is making lists. I've had a number of readers ask me what I use as part of my everyday job creating and maintaining networks. Naturally, I expect your choices will vary, but I know these have been helpful for me.

I know with today's voluminous storage devices (both CD/DVD and hard drive-based), it often doesn't seem worthwhile to bother with storage management. But I hate this "file-fumbling" where I have to dig through a mass of files in a given folder and on a deadline, conference call, or about to go to a meeting. Project file and asset management get the attention, but losing track of word processing or spreadsheet files can also have a critical impact as well. And I don't have time to do all this manually.

For this job, I find Knozall's delightful Filewizard absolutely essential. Part super-Windows Explorer, part hierarchical storage manager, it can read data from all workstations on the network (without agents) and compile reports on file usage. You can then move relevant old data to the optical library or tape archive for future reference. This can be set up to run automatically or by notifying the user. You can find version Filewizard 5.0 at www.knozall.com.

As someone responsible for keeping networks up, online, and secure, I prefer Netscape as a browser over Internet Explorer for two reasons. First, when Netscape crashes, I usually can restart it with no problems with Windows. When IE6.x crashes, either Windows becomes less stable or I lose some or all of my multimedia capabilities. (See my previous column, "Back to Multimedia Hell," www.emedialive.com/r9/2002/observer11_02.html.)

Second, there's a fundamental flaw in Windows SSL security that makes IE vulnerable to spoofing. This means that someone could hijack your supposedly "secure" session using a "man-in-the-middle" attack and steal your credit card number or other private information.

Since SSL is the security foundation for linking to many ecommerce sites, this causes me grave concern. Microsoft admits there's a problem—which extends through all versions of Windows up to and including XP—but they haven't announced when a patch will arrive. (See www.hideaway.net/ home/public_html/article.php?story=2002081022594996 for details.)

To be on the safe side, I use Netscape for all my online transactions. Since Netscape properly implements SSL, it is not vulnerable to this "man-in-the-middle" problem.

Troubleshooting unexplained crashes or just poor performance on a user's workstation can be extremely time-consuming. One invaluable tool I always use to check a workstation's vital signs is Wintop. This must-have from Microsoft runs on Windows 9x. It displays all modules currently loaded into memory and how many CPU cycles each uses. This is a fast way to eliminate various programs as culprits for system slowdowns. It also reveals potentially rogue programs or viruses running on your system. (Why is Notepad running? What is this update-dll.exe?) The tool also shows the loaded file's directory path, giving a valuable clue to identify unwanted resource hogs.

You can find your copy of Wintop at: www.microsoft.com/windows95/ downloads/contents/WUToys/W95KernelToy/Default.asp.  If you are using Windows XP, you'll need two tools. First, XP's Task Manager will show you the CPU utilization of each loaded program. (You'll need to be logged in with Admin privileges to see all of them.) To see where each program comes from, you'll then need the TaskInfo freeware from: www.iarsn.com.

Ever have a problem opening a file? For example, an application may say a file is corrupted. Word may say a document is in a format it doesn't know—yet the document is clearly a Word .DOC file. A media file may suffer the same fate, be it a JPEG, MPEG, or other. Does this mean you have to start all over to reconstruct the file? Arrgh!

Fortunately, I've had exceptional luck recovering these files using a brilliant tool called Lost & Found from Powerquest. Its seemingly magical ability to recover problem files is a fabulous time and aggravation saver. The trick here is that Windows will read a file until it comes to a corrupted bit. If there is one, the program simply stops and delivers the unhelpful "corrupted file" message. It cannot go beyond this. Yet for media, database, and word processing documents, that corrupted bit or two can easily be fixed.

Rather than force you to face the daunting task of recreating an entire file, Lost & Found will "skip over" failed bits and create a recovered file containing the good parts. This non-intrusive rescue still leaves your original file untouched if the restored version isn't what you are hoping for. But having even nine-tenths of my original file recovered only forces me to recreate that one-tenth (or even less) of the file. Hallelujah!

Unfortunately, Powerquest has opted to discontinue this product and it's no longer available from them. So you'll need to drop by Ebay or beg, borrow, or steal to get a copy. You won't regret the extra effort—Lost & Found is worth its weight in gold.

If you or your users spend much time online, you'll need a good pop-up ad blocker. There are lots of for-pay pop-up protectors (you've surely been spammed with emails about them), but my favorite is a piece of freeware called KillAd from FSC. It is very unintrusive (no registry changes, no proxies, no support files scattered between various directories.) It is also very small (under 50KB). Most importantly, it supports a variety of browsers including Netscape and IE. Since I use Netscape for all my online transactions (see my earlier mention on browsers), I need a blocker that works with both like KillAd. The current version, v0.11, is at: www.iomagic.org/fsc.

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