Toolbox: New Products for IT Professionals
The pair of tools in the spotlight this month helps facilitate virtual meetings and track file logs for troubleshooting and monitoring.
Have you ever been on a conference call when someone references a document you don’t have? It can be frustrating. With today’s increasingly virtual and global business environments, there are a number of different ways companies are trying to help you “be there without really being there.” Sharing desktop screens is one way to stay connected and has become an indispensable tool for the modern enterprise, but sometimes setup costs and the time required to get going just aren’t practical for impromptu or offsite meetings.
One company has simplified the process of sharing desktops regardless of the type of machine or environment. The product and service called join.me from LogMeIn Inc. aims to provide a secure and easy-to-use collaboration tool with “minimal technical requirements” and “zero user training.”
The company has definitely hit the mark with ease of use. To get started, go to join.me.com and select either “pro” or “basic” to share your screen with others. This will download the join.me executable and launch your first session. There will be a shortcut to join.me automatically added to your desktop, so you can just double-click and go the next time you want to start a session.
To have people join your shared session, copy the viewer link and send it to any desired participant. When they click the link, it will launch a browser, bring them to the URL and start the join.me Adobe Flash client viewer. There are client viewers available for Windows, Mac and mobile devices such as the iPad, iPhone or Android. With no client to install or manage, it’s much easier to use in remote or “only once” environments such as a sales pitch at a client office.
For secure communications, join.me uses SSL with AES256 for data encryption. There’s no session data stored on the join.me servers. The presenter control panel is straightforward. The top line includes the session link you can share with others, along with a button bar for controlling the various features of join.me.
The phone icon is for “Internet calling.” It will use your designated audio devices for one-way presenter to audience communication. The chat icon lets presenters and participants chat back and forth. Presenters can direct chat to either all or select participants. The presenter can also hit the “radio tower” icon in the center of the button bar to pause the screen-share instantly without terminating connections. The person icon shows you who is currently connected. It also lets you share mouse and keyboard control with anyone in the session.
You can also click on a participant and send a file to that user. Other features of the free version of join.me include support for multiple monitors, sharing with up to 250 viewers and calling into an audio conference number via join.me. The LogMeIn “pro” edition gives you all the features of the free edition plus some notable extras.
With the pro edition, you get unified audio, the ability to swap presenters, a meeting scheduler, user management and access to international conference lines, among other features. You also get a personalized link for your join.me sessions, making it easier to conduct meetings. The pro edition is priced on a subscription basis at $149 per year or $19 per month. Next time you need to share your screen or give a presentation, join.me is a handy screen-sharing and conference tool.
Watching log files in real time can be helpful when troubleshooting. In the Linux/Unix world, there’s a familiar command-line utility for watching files as they change called the “tail.” One simple and easy-to-use Windows utility to watch log files in a similar graphical interface is Olivier Philipp’s mTAIL. The mTAIL log file viewer is distributed as a single executable, making it easy to add to your collection of portable utilities.
To start watching a file, double-click the executable, browse to the log file in question and click the start button. If you find yourself opening the same log files with mTAIL, you can use the “Add to File Manager” button to add them to a list of known files. Each will have an alias for easy access. You can assign a command string to the file manager list if your watched log file is process output or if you need to preprocess the data before use. You can define whether or not to auto-offset the read file, set the file encoding (such as UTF-8), or define both the size of the read buffer and the periodicity of the reads/refresh rate. The mTAIL viewer supports UTF-8, UTF-16, Big and Low Indian, and standard Unicode.
In terms of the file view, you can set a single-line filter that either includes or excludes a pattern and set the highlight colorings. You can save all these settings within two mTAIL .ini files. You can also set the file location to custom locations for security or portability. Once you start watching a file with mTAIL, there’s a status bar at the bottom with useful information about the file size, age and type. There are also statistics on the refresh rate, how many lines you’ve read and how many lines were filtered out.
Much like the file manager, within the main interface you can change the read buffer or line offset, or add an inclusive or exclusive line filter. There’s an additional filter called “Alert” that will highlight, play a sound or send an e-mail when that text is encountered. Enabling Alert but leaving the input field blank will cause an alert when the file contents change. This is obviously useful for error-only log files. When an alert is triggered, the suspect lines of code pop up into the alerts window for easier viewing. Within that view, you can also have mTAIL launch an application upon receiving an alert.
Within the main text-viewing area you’ll see a number of context menu options you can use on a particular line, including adding the selected text as a filter or alert and sending an e-mail containing the target line. For relevant types of text, you can also open a path or file noted in the log line, do a trace route, ping an IP or domain, or open a URL in a browser.
You can configure mTAIL options such as defining SMTP server, credentials and the “from” address for alert e-mails. You can also define the colors for various states within the tail text area, set the font for the text area to make it easier to read, and define the actions to take when an alert occurs, such as choosing to play a sound, send an e-mail or bring the application to the front. You can also choose to tail the file on a different thread and set the thread’s priority, add mTAIL to the “send to” menu, and choose to have mTAIL started “Always on top.”
The mTAIL viewer is free for personal, non-commercial use. For commercial or professional use, the author requests PayPal donations starting at $30 for a single license. If you’re looking for a simple file-watching tool similar to the Linux/Unix command “tail,” try Olivier Philipp’s mTAIL.