capsule review

Path Analyzer Pro Premier 2.6

People who spend a lot of time working on networked computers can end up spending a lot of time trying to figure out what’s wrong with their network. Path Analyzer Pro Premier 2.6, from Vostrom, can help you find the trouble spots.

Mac OS X ships with Network Utility, which does a perfectly reasonable job of running traceroute, a Unix utility that shows every hop—each stop your data makes between computers on your network and across the Internet—and how long it takes. Given that Network Utility (located in /Applications/Utilities/) comes free with your OS, do you need anything more? If you want more detailed information, the answer is yes. While Network Utility is fine for light research, Path Analyzer Pro does considerably more.

Path Analyzer Pro can show you your network data in a variety of ways: as a standard traceroute; as a chart showing latency (the time between each hop); as a summary of the route taken; as a log of every command sent; as statistics; and even as a geographical map showing the route your request took on its way to the server. You can trace IP addresses, URLs, and even e-mail addresses. The program also allows you to customize your traces in ways that only serious networking gurus might imagine. For example, along with a single trace, you can do continuous or timed traces, which lets you see more than just Network Utility’s single snapshot. You can also choose which ports and protocols you want to use for your traces.

For a program that has so many options, there’s a dismaying lack of documentation on what many of these options do. The program does not come with a manual. Clicking on Help in the application brings up a Web page with links to a few pages: a FAQ, installation instructions, a video demo, and a feature overview. If, for instance, you want to know which of the two geocoding (indicating geographical location) data sources is preferable or what a candles type graph is, you’re on your own. The insufficient documentation means that most of the power of the application is locked away and inaccessible to people who don’t have advanced networking knowledge.

The weakest part of Path Analyzer Pro is its mapping. No matter which of the two geocoding data sources you pick, a traceroute that starts and ends in Northern California can find itself displayed as visiting Massachusetts or New Jersey, a path contradicted by the geographically tagged names of the routers listed in the trace.

Macworld’s buying advice

The benefit of Path Analyzer Pro 2.6 is that it brings guru-level trace analysis to Mac users, but the program’s easy-to-use Mac interface is stymied by the minimal documentation. Path Analyzer Pro is a good choice for networking geeks who want a visual tool that goes further than Terminal commands for analyzing traceroutes. But for the rest of us, Path Analyzer Pro’s potential remains out of reach without a guide to its power.

[ Dori Smith is a co-author of JavaScript and Ajax for the Web: Visual QuickStart Guide, sixth edition (Peachpit Press, 2006) and Dreamweaver CS3 for Windows and Macintosh: Visual QuickStart Guide (Peachpit Press, 2007). ]

Even the shortest distance between two points on the Internet is never a straight line, as indicated by Path Analyzer Pro.
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