Our Weekly Utilities Update report is a list of all the updates for many Mac utilities that have been released in the past week. This week we're taking a look at "VisualRoute", which graphically represents network activity and problems.
Topher KesslerMacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Our Weekly Utilities Update report is a list of all the updates for many Mac utilities that have been released in the past week. While utilities can be any tool that helps you perform a routine task (including image manipulation and synchronization), our main focus in this column is to bring you those that help in troubleshooting Mac hardware and software problems.
Weekly Review: VisualRoute
My home internet connection regularly suffers from network problems. Many time Web pages will pause on loading, or not load at all. Sometimes its quite apparent my DSL modem has reset itself, but other times the connection seems to be fine but the computer is not communicating with Web resources.
I generally allow the problems to self-correct, but periodically I take the time to take a look at them and analyze the problem. There are a variety of tools available for doing this, and one that has some promising features is VisualRoute.
VisualRoute takes the functionality of common command-line tools such as "ping" and "traceroute", and graphs the results in ways that clearly show where the weak or slow connections connections are. It conveniently shows where firewalls are blocking access, and information such as packet loss and route length, displaying them in graphs and mapping them.
I have always been a visual person, so having statistics graphed and colorized really helps me pinpoint problems. Despite this, however, VisualRoute is quite obviously a port from another platform (Windows) and while it works, the program is very choppy for what it does and the interface is very out of place. Menus are in the VisualRoute window instead of in the menu bar, and input fields are oddly sized.
The poor performance is primarily due to the fact that it is a PowerPC application, which is only an issue for those running Intel Macs, and which unfortunately is probably the majority of Mac users these days. I hope the developers release an Intel version soon, because it would be nice to see the program running in more native code and not requiring Rosetta.
These aesthetic and performance problems make it a rather odd program to have around; however, the functional features of the program are still quite appealing. Hopefully in future releases the program will become more Mac friendly, but until then it will still be quite useful to visual network troubleshooters.
VisualRoute is currently at version 14.0a (2010), and is available for download at the Visualware website.
Keep in mind that while utilities can help in a vast majority of cases, as with any software, they can be buggy. Since these utilities were recently updated, these are actively being developed and are currently assumed to work. However, developers cannot take into account all system configurations, so be sure to back up your system before running any utilities for the first time. Additionally, double-check with the developer's Web site to be sure they are compatible with your system version. Incompatibilities with system software are the main reason why utilities and programs function improperly.