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technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Net.Medic: Super-sleuth for your connections

Bit Player for May 4, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

For most of us, the only thing we really know about our Internet connections is whether they work or don't work. If we had to find out whether those dialup connections are working well or working badly, we wouldn't have a clue.

Nor would we know anything about the connections on the other end of that Internet pipeline—about the computers and servers we've linked up to or the lines in between. Nerds and power users know how to find software that will spy on these connections, but the rest of us have to sit and wonder.

But not any more. I've been using Net.Medic from VitalSigns Software. It's a new program that monitors your Internet connections, checks the links from one location to another on the Net, keeps track of your modem performance, warns you if your PC is being overtaxed by everything that's going on—and shows you all of this in colorful graphs and LED-style readouts.

Net.Medic also works if your PC has a direct Internet connection (through your school or office network) or if you access the Internet through a proxy server or firewall.

And it's free.

Let me explain the "free" part first. Net.Medic is available for downloading from The free version is supposed to include all the features of the $40 commercial version, but only for 30 days. VitalSigns says the basic features continue to work after 30 days.

That's what the company says. However, in the version I downloaded, the advanced features didn't work, despite the 30-day trial period. That wasn't a problem—the features that were disabled are mostly frills—but it was puzzling.

Net.Medic works only under Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0. It can operate alone, as a program on the screen, or can show its readouts inside Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Netscape's Navigator. Any of the readout windows can float by themselves on your desktop, too.

Those readouts show how well your modem is doing, how many "hops" your connection to a remote site took (each link is a "hop"), how much memory is being soaked up, how quickly (or slowly) everything is being sent and received, and a lot more.

One really cool feature is a scrolling message that gives you updates about everything Net.Medic is keeping track of. If you tell Net.Medic to put this ticker-tape window inside your browser, you can get warnings and information without needing extra space on your screen.

The ticker-tape window can even show you e-mail sent out by your Internet service provider to alert you about changes in service. Net.Medic also is designed to show any other message addressed to you if the first word in the e-mail letter is "VitalSigns." And it is supposed to show all e-mail messages, regardless of content, picked up by an e-mail program that uses the official Windows mail interface. (This is called MAPI.)

The mail-display function didn't work in my setup, which in some ways is non-standard, so I can't tell you what it actually does.

Check out the VitalSigns Web site for information on ordering the commercial copy. The site is often busy, so try to get to it during off-peak hours.

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