10 great free downloads for your network

They're useful, easy to learn ... and you certainly can't beat free

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Spiceworks IT Desktop

This freebie can help small or one-person shops with small and medium-size networks, although the complexity of its interface and some anomalies don't make it particularly useful for home networks. It's an all-in-one network inventory and management tool with a surprising number of features for a free piece of software.

Spiceworks IT Desktop provides a substantial amount of information about each PC connected to your network.

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The program will inventory your network and provide information about each device on it. It goes further than Network Magic and provides a significant amount of detail about each PC and device, including free and used disk space, antivirus software being used, problems on the device (such as server connection errors), and other information, as you can see in the nearby figure.

It will even provide an inventory of the software installed on each PC, in quite a bit of detail, finding not just popular applications such as Microsoft Office and Adobe Reader, but lesser-known ones such as the FileZilla FTP client. I discovered, however, that it had a more difficult time than Network Magic finding all of my network devices; you may need to fine-tune permissions and log-ins to get it to work properly.

Note that when you install this program, you may need to tell your firewall to let this application access your network and the Internet.

The program includes a variety of other tools, such as easy access to ping and traceroute functions. And it attempts to be a help desk application as well. You can create help tickets with it, assign the ticket to others or yourself, and include due dates, priorities and so on. It's certainly no replacement for a full-blown help-desk application, but for a small office with a small IT staff, you can't argue with free.

Because the program doesn't always easily find all devices attached to the network, and it has some anomalies (some antivirus software may flag one of this software's components as a virus, for example), this isn't a perfect application. But it's free and simple to set up -- and for that reason alone, it's worth the download.

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