September 25, 2000

By Karen Kenworthy


Don't you just love this time of year? Here at the secluded Power Tools workshop, the heat has finally broken. The days are warm, but not hot. And the nights are cool and clear. Perfect sleeping weather. Makes me wish I had a good, old-fashioned sleeping porch.

On the other side of the world the weather is getting warmer, though not as warm as its people. Australia has been putting on a wonderful show, and playing a gracious host to the world's best athletes. To my friends down under, "Congratulations!" Sorry I couldn't be there to enjoy the party.

Changing Size

Instead, I've been hard at work, reading my e-mail, writing new programs, and changing some old ones. Most of my time has been spent working on and updating the 'Net Monitor, thanks to several helpful readers.

One of the first messages to arrive last week came from reader Riccardo Francavilla. As you may recall, the 'Net Monitor periodically tests selected Web sites. The results of each test are displayed in a text box on the program's main window. Riccardo suggested people be allowed to resize 'Net Monitor's main window, and the text box that appears on it.

Being a programmer, Riccardo even provided VB source code that implemented his suggestion. And being a programmer, I took his code as a starting point, and eventually wrote my own code to do the same job. Now, thanks to both our efforts, the 'Net Monitor window can be enlarged as much as your computer's screen will allow. All its "controls," (button, list boxes, checkboxes, and other gadgets) move appropriately as the window changes size. And the window's size and location are remembered from one run to another.

By Proxy

Riccardo made another good suggestion. Earlier versions of the 'Net Monitor attempted to determine how best to communicate with a Web site, based on the URL, or Web address, that was provided. If the URL began with the prefix https://, a secure, or encrypted, communication link was tried. Otherwise, the monitor attempted to make an unencrypted, "normal" connection to the Web site being tested.

Thanks to Riccardo's suggestion, the program now lets Windows decide how best to make the necessary connection. This has two advantages. First, it makes connections to secure sites more reliable. Second, it may allow you to use the 'Net Monitor via a "proxy."

In ordinary English, a proxy is someone who takes the place of another. Until the age of the Internet, proxies were most often encountered at corporate stockholder meetings. There, many of the attendees are proxies, people authorized to cast the votes of shareholders unable to attend.

But today, a proxy is more apt to be a bit of software. Standing between you and the Internet, this sort of proxy requests information on your behalf. In the process, it hides your identity, and protects you from hackers and other outsiders.

Earlier versions of the 'Net Monitor didn't use proxies. Instead, it always tried to directly communicate with any web site being tested. But the newest version will use any proxy, if you first configure Microsoft's Internet Explorer (MSIE) to use it too. That's because 'Net Monitor uses the same underlying Windows Internet services as Microsoft Internet Explorer. So configuring one (MSIE) to use a proxy, enables proxy access by the other ('Net Monitor) too.

Stopping Time

Reader John E. Haynes made another good suggestion. Why not be able to start and stop the testing timer? That way tests could be temporarily suspended without changing the interval between tests. I knew John had a good idea, because I'd been manually starting and stopping the timer myself, while testing new 'Net Monitor versions. A simple checkbox on the program's main window would sure make that task easier.

So now 'Net Monitor sports a checkbox simply labeled "Enabled," just above the place here the interval between tests is specified. Clear this checkbox and testing is suspended. Place a checkmark here and testing resumes. Like other program settings, the state of this checkmark is saved when the program ends, and recalled the next time it is run.

Several readers, including Steve Sodman, Chris Szilagyi-Jones, Steven Wolf, Alan Rankin, and Kathryn Duffy wrote to report problems with earlier versions of the 'Net Monitor. Most of these bugs appeared when adding new URLs to the program's list of Web sites to be tested. This portion of the program, in fact, was so badly mangled, that I eventually gave up trying to fix it, removed it, and built again from scratch.

Along the way I added a new feature I've grown to like. Several readers mentioned "pasting" new URLs into the program's configuration window, adding them to the list of URLs to be tested. Finally, it dawned on me that that may be the most popular way to transfer long, often complicated, URL strings to the 'Net Monitor.

To make this task easier and more reliable, the program's setup dialog now has a button labeled "Paste As New." Now, to add a URL to the 'Net Monitor's list, just copy the URL to the clipboard then click this "Paste As New" button. Automatically the URL is retrieved from Windows' clipboard added to the monitor's list.

If you'd like to try this new version of 'Net Monitor, just drop by my Web site at And if you're a budding programmer, or one who's already gone to seed, download the monitor's Visual Basic source code too. As always, it's all free.

As for me, until they add programming or bug fixing to the Olympic games, it looks like I'll be spending my time at the secluded Power Tools workshop, and on the 'net. So if you see me either place, be sure to wave and say "Hi!" Or wave and say "G' day!" I'll figure it out. :)

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