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Product Review: A Bandwidth Simulator for Testing Streaming Media

For those of us who deliver streaming media content over the Internet, bandwidth-worry is the beast that haunts our sleep, makes our palms sweat, and limits our creativity from reaching the least connected among our audience. The way streaming systems handle bandwidth is one of their major defining features. Real's SureStream, Windows Media's MBR, QuickTime's alternate movies, squeezier and squeezier codecs -- it's all about managing bandwidth (or the lack of it).

As content providers, we have choices. We can aim for the high-bandwidth connected customer and the heck with the rest. Or, in most cases, we'll opt to make our content degrade gracefully for the customers on dialups and other shaky connections. It's more work -- we give up features, drop to lower resolution, and sometimes cook up fancy bandwidth detection scripts to direct users to the correct stream. The testing of all the various connections alone can be a bear of a job. But it pays off with more viewers getting our message.

Recently I came across a useful tool for testing that simulates low bandwidth connections. I was fine-tuning a bandwidth-detection program for a client, and needed a way to drop my home cable modem connection down to lower bandwidths. A quick Googling turned up a bunch of enterprise-level and server-side solutions, as well as some personal firewall products that weren't what I wanted. I have a firewall at my wireless access point, and don't want a bunch of extra firewall stuff to configure and run on my laptop.

Enter Netlimiter 1.30. NetLimiter is a simple tool that lets you throttle the bandwidth available to any Windows application that's using the network. Available for most Windows versions (98, NT4, ME, 2000, XP), it's a quick 544kB download and an easy install (reboot required). The product has a 28-day free trial, with a $29.95 registration required after the trial period expires.

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