We love tools, whether they are hardware or software. We suspect it is something to do with that Tim Allen guy thing. Anyway, a few tools have landed on our desks with a delightful thud and we decided we needed to share them.First up are two updates from Tsarfin Computing:\u00a0NetInfo 4.9\u00a0and\u00a0IPMonitor 4.9. We\u00a0mentioned NetInfo some time ago, and while it is essentially the same tool it has been polished.NetInfo is a Windows 95\/98\/ME\/NT\/2000\/XP\/2003 Swiss army knife kind of utility that provides a suite of functions for discovering TCP\/IP network information. Presented with a tabbed interface - one for each function - NetInfo provides tons of useful information.There's local info (such as host name, user name, media access control address and IP address); connection data (active socket addresses, protocol, address connected to and socket state); ping; traceroute; lookup (which returns forward and reverse DNS lookups, lists aliases and provides mail exchanger or MX records); finger; whois; daytime (time from other network hosts); time (time from time servers); and quote of the day. And you can retrieve raw data, including the header, from a URL.NetInfo also can scan an IP address range for hosts; scan a host for active sockets; test an e-mail address; and, as if that weren't enough, once you register the software (for a mere $25 for home use and $50 for enterprise use) you can use the online services of what Tsarfin calls the Web Center.The Web Center is a collection of news services and tools. Many of these duplicate the functions of the local tools but run on remote servers. This is useful for problems that make you wonder if whatever is wrong with a machine or service causing you trouble is just wrong from where you sit.Back in the application you can select and send URLs, IP addresses and host names from one feature to another. You could run a traceroute, select one of the hops and send that to the lookup function. You also can export data to Web pages but (and this is our only complaint) you can't copy the data to the clipboard.The other Tsarfin tool, IPMonitor, is priced identically to NetInfo (you also can buy the two bundled for $40). IPMonitor, which, like its sibling, runs under Windows 95\/98\/ME\/NT\/2000\/XP\/2003, can keep tabs on the health of up to 500 network devices or services using TCP, User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Internet Control Messaging Protocol, and although IPMonitor is simple to use, it is really quite powerful.It can run as a system-tray application that is loaded on start-up, support customized alerts for each monitored resource, raise audible alarms, send e-mail alerts and run other applications when server outages are detected. It also provides real-time reporting and status logging.Again, we have a complaint - we'd like to be able to establish hierarchical relationships between monitored hosts so that if, for example, our gateway goes down and generates an alert, any other hosts we monitor that are accessed through that gateway don't also raise alerts.Our final tool in this roundup is\u00a0LanHound\u00a0from Sunbelt Software. LanHound is a network monitor and protocol analyzer tool for Windows 98\/NT\/2000\/XP. You can use LanHound As a monitor to baseline your network, find traffic bottleneck points, segment your bandwidth by protocol and rank hosts by bandwidth use. LanHound's protocol analysis lets you monitor exchanges between devices, resolve routing and compatibility issues, and diagnose application and service problems. In short, LanHound is another Swiss army knife but one focused at a lower, more detailed level.LanHound also offers remote agents - software running on remote machines that gather communications data from network segments not visible locally to LanHound.LanHound's decoding abilities are impressive. You can decode by Layer 2, Layer 2\/3, Layer 3+, address, TCP\/UDP port and voice-over-IP protocol; and you can filter packet capture to include or exclude pretty much any traffic you specify. And the reporting! Talk about slice and dice.We have only just started to come to grips with what this product can do, but it already has proven hugely useful in helping us understand how some of the network products we've looked at work.What is exceptionally cool about LanHound is that all this functionality costs only $744, including three remote agents. What a deal.Send a value packet to firstname.lastname@example.org.