10 must-have utilities for small networks

If you have a small network at your business or at home, you need help -- and lots of it. For your home network, you are by default the network administrator. You may also be the de facto network administrator at work, in addition to the other job titles you could claim. And if you are the acknowledged network administrator, you probably have little or no backup staff.

We've found some reinforcements for you. These ten downloads -- most of them free, and none of them expensive -- will make managing your small network much easier.

Overall Network Management

Network Magic Essentials and Network Magic Pro

Anyone who has a home network will welcome Cisco Systems' free Network Magic Essentials, a software collection full of useful tools designed for home network users who don't have IT experience. You'll find a network map for displaying all of the devices on your network, and vital information about each one, including its IP address, hardware configuration, and software configuration. You also get some very good troubleshooters for fixing broken network connections and performing other maintenance tasks.

If you manage a work-related network, you may want to step up to the $50 Network Magic Pro. In addition to including all of the Network Magic Essentials tools, it offers support for a larger number of PCs and for network-attached devices, and it provides ways to control Internet access. The Pro version also makes available some excellent network security tools and a network history report that shows bandwidth use by computer.

Spiceworks IT Desktop

Here's another free, all-in-one network management tool. Spiceworks' IT Desktop is browser-based and offers lots of details about each device on your network -- free space, total disk space, what anti-virus software is in use, and even server connection errors, among other information. IT Desktop is harder to use than the Network Magic programs, but its advanced features make it more useful for IT professionals. It also provides an inventory of software on each PC. There's even a Help Desk ticket system for IT staff.

Network Scanner

For a quick and simple way to assemble an inventory of all of the devices attached to your network -- and to find vital information about each one of them -- Network Scanner by LizardSystems (free for noncommercial use, $40 for business use) is hard to beat. The utility scans your entire network, and then provides details, including IP addresses, about all of the devices. Network Scanner is particularly helpful if you're concerned about security, because it reports whether remote administration is enabled. The program also lists any publicly shared folders, so you can quickly identify security holes and then close them.

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