For the last couple weeks I have been using a freeware program called Network Magic to manage the resources on my network. Even though networks have become easier to set up and run, their ongoing administration can be a bit trying at times. However, by installing this program on each machine on your network, you can look at the overall system and see what maintenance has to be done.

The greatest feature of this program, in my opinion, is the Network Map. This gives you a comprehensive overview of every device on the network and its status. By looking at this, you can see whether any computer needs to update Windows, virus definitions, its firewall, and the like. It will also tell you what peripherals (such as printers) are attached to those machines (and whether they are available to other users on the network), whether your router is functioning properly, and whether there are any connection problems. To the right of the map is a Details window that will give you more specific information about the device highlighted on the map. These details include: its name on the network, IP address, type of connection (wired or wireless, and info on the network card), MAC address, operating system and version, amount of RAM, and type of processor.

Then there is the Network Tasks screen. From there you can test your Internet connection speed, troubleshoot a network connection problem, add a device to the network (Network Magic’s Instant Device Discovery (IDDI) recognizes and enables management of hundreds of devices with IP addresses, including VoIP adaptors, network storage devices and scanners), share a printer, manage wireless connections (from a laptop), or view recent activity on the network.

There is also a Premium version of the software (available for $29.99) that can give you remote access to files via a secure web site, a daily Internet use report (for keeping an eye on employees), management of shared files, and the like. This version comes with licenses for 3, 5 or 8 computers, so you don’t have to buy a separate copy for each machine. This program is also designed for smaller networks (thus the license stopping at 8 machines), and the publisher warns that, “in the testing we’ve done with Network Magic, some performance degradation has been seen in network configurations containing more than 8 PCs. We’re working on improving the performance of Network Magic on these networks for upcoming versions.” Thus this program is meant more for us solos and small firms.

Download the software onto one of your machines and see what you think. I have been running it for a while with no hitches, and it has been quite helpful.