It's a beautiful network

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I saw one of the most beautiful pieces of Mac software I’ve ever seen today. Unfortunately, unless I wake up someday changed into a network administrator, it’s not something I’d likely ever use.

Lithium, an Australian software vendor, has one of the booth-ettes in the Developer Pavilion, that out-of-the-way collection of small software companies where there’s always an unusual concentration of interesting stuff. I was strolling past the booths when a widescreen display caught my eye.

In one window, a series of four graphs with beautiful bright blue lines scrolled along smoothly, updating live. In another, there was what looked like the back of a stack of routers and network switches, with all their connecting cables rendered in vivid, fluorescent green. In a third, there was a clickable list of network addresses, rendered on a sleek brushed aluminum backdrop.

The booth guy explained to me that it was a network monitoring platform (called, fittingly, Lithium Network Monitoring Platform ) for keeping track of all the routers, switches, and other appliances installed on a LAN. It’s the kind of thing an IT guy would use to keep an eye on all the virtual plumbing connecting the Macs and PCs in an office to the servers and the Net.

That window showing the cables snaking between the routers and switches on the screen? Monitoring real-life cables snaking among real-life routers and switches in a rack. (In a beta version of the software, those cables go live, with packets snaking up and down the lines depending on how well the various ports and switches are behaving.) Those pretty blue graphs? Keeping an eye on network traffic and CPU utilization in real time.

It’s a beautifully crafted Mac client in a software niche where visuals don’t usually count for much. And it’s not just empty eye-candy: The Lithium guy showed me how you could arrange all those graphs to get a constant, easy-to-understand, heads-up display of your network’s status. Click on any of the visuals and you get all the mind-numbing network gobbledygook you could possibly want. It was simplicity and beauty on the surface, with all the power you could want just a click away. I only wish I had some reason to use it.

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