Windows only: A good network scanner digs deep into any network it's pointed at and opens it up for you to get into. SoftPerfect Network Scanner does those things, can do them from a thumb drive, and is a good deal less intimidating than some other scanner apps out there. The small program lays out its network findings in an easy-to-grasp manner, and can be expanded to show you more than just names and addresses. Weighing in at less than 1MB, it makes a great addition to any thumb drive, especially for anyone often called upon to figure out what's up with the router. Check out some of SoftPerfect's deeper options and offerings below.
After grabbing and installing the stand-alone executable, you'll see that SoftPerfect can do some pretty basic system-finding and exploration. Head to "Options" and choose "Auto Detect Local IP Range" to save yourself the typing. On most home networks, if you're prompted for an interface choice, pick the one that starts with 192.168. Hit "Start scanning," and you're off.
If SoftPerfect finds a shared folder, you can right-click it to open Windows' native explorer view or map it to a virtual letter drive. Right-clicking a computer icon offers you wake-on-LAN sleep/wake-up options, along with HTTP, FTP, and Telnet connection. Where are the MAC addresses, though? And how do you know which workgroup a system belongs to? Head into the options (Options menu, choose Program Options) to unleash SoftPerfect's more powerful tools.
The General tab doesn't offer too much intriguing, unless SoftPerfect is timing out on you regularly. Under Additional, though, you can enable MAC address finding, which you'd need to remotely wake up or put a computer to sleep, or to lock down a network later. The Workstation tab has more useful tools, including look-ups of "LAN group" (i.e. the workgroup setting that's driven many a would-be Window file-sharer nuts) and others.
More powerful than any of those, though, is the Applications tab. Here you can set up quick pipes to unleash your favourite apps on remote systems, whether you're using PuTTY for SSH access, Total Commander to browse files, or just connecting to your streaming Jinzora jukebox with Firefox, while keeping Chrome your default browser (or vice-versa). Simply hit "New" and fill in the apps' details, and right-clicking on a system will let you work your custom-app magic.
SoftPerfect's great for anyone whose home router or cable modem regularly switches up their systems' IP addresses, or for travelling tech types who like to know what's on deck right away. Found a better use for SoftPerfect, or your preferred network scanner? Tell us in the comments.
SoftPerfect Network Scanner is a free download for Windows systems only. Thanks, MyTQuinn!