Many people have bandwidth limits with their ISPs, and with the amount of tempting content on the web these days, it can be hard to stick within these limits. Software such as SurplusMeter is great for tracking your bandwidth usage, but there’s no way of seeing what is using up your bandwidth.
Enter Rubbernet, a new app from Conceited Software which tracks what apps are accessing your network connection, and how much bandwidth they are using. If some third-party software is accessing your network without your permission, you can find out and try to stop it.
Not only is this useful for monitoring bandwidth usage, but it can be used to detect any software which might be secretly sending out personal data of yours. A great concept for an app, but does it work in practice? Let’s take a look.
Rubbernet is available as a free trial, so you can determine if you like it before you fork out €29.99 (around $45). At 11MB, the DMG will download relatively quickly, and the installation process is pretty straightforward – just drag the app into your Applications folder, as you would most other apps.
Upon first opening Rubbernet, you will be greeted by a panel asking what device you want to monitor (it’s possible to install the RubbernetDaemon on other machines and monitor them remotely. However, despite being wirelessly connected to my iMac via AirPort, Rubbernet couldn’t find it from my MacBook Pro, so I had to settle with installing the daemon on the MacBook.
Having looked at several of Conceited’s apps, there is no doubt that their designers are of the highest quality. It’s clear that they put an awful lot of time into the interface, and that certainly pays off, as it is very intuitive to use.
It doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, and sticks to the tried-and-trusted sidebar format, known well to anybody who has ever used Finder, Mail, or countless other apps.
What sets it apart from the rest, however, is the details – the beautiful black patterned background displaying the main details, the pixel-perfect, vibrant icons, the simple-but-effective graphs. It’s impossible for me to fault this very polished design.
This is the first place you will be brought to when you open Rubbernet, and provides a nice summary of what you need to know – what apps are connecting to the internet, and at what rate they are doing so. You can also see the individual connections, which are constantly fluctuating in speed.
If nothing else, it can be quite interesting to see what actually connects to the internet – you’d expect your browser, Twitter client, and mail client to do so regularly, but the system itself connects more often than you might think.
My main issue with the dashboard is that it shows the connections in real-time. This is excellent, but when it’s most active will be when you are using another app, and therefore won’t be looking at the Rubbernet dashboard. A great feature would be a panel which displays all of the day’s connections, so you can see all of the apps which have connected throughout the day, and not just those which currently are.
For example, occasionally, whilst looking at the dashboard, I’ll see Notational Velocity pop up, syncing with SimpleNote. Within 30 seconds, it’s gone, with no trace of it ever being there. If that was something I didn’t want connecting, I might never have noticed it.
Individual App Activity
You can also see the connections by individual app, which can help you to figure out what specific connection is wreaking havoc on your bandwidth. You are given the IP addresses of each connection, which might look like it serves little purpose, but enter the IP into an IP lookup service online and you can find out exactly what is connected.
Were an IP lookup feature possible, that would be an excellent addition to the app, as I found looking up IP names much more useful than a sequence of numbers.
In addition to the list of connections, you are provided with a couple of nice graphs to show you exactly how much it has been connecting, and at what speeds. This is actually very useful, and it can be interesting to see graphs such as the regular intervals in Mail.app’s mail checking, or your browser’s sudden surge whilst you were streaming a video.
Another handy use for it is determining the upload/download speed of an app. For example, I can check how quickly Dropbox or CloudApp uploads my files using Rubbernet. If you like graphs, you won’t be disappointed.
As I said earlier, I was unable to get this feature to work. This could be a hardware issue (although I doubt it), or a fault of my own. As there is no documentation for this app, I couldn’t find a way to make it work. However, I’m sure it works for some people, and could be very useful.
One potential use is to monitor your child’s network usage – make sure he was researching fossils on Wikipedia rather than playing World of Warcraft, etc. There are more possibilites than you might think.
Rubbernet does a few things very well, there’s no doubting that, and I never came into any issues with performance. My main problem with the app is that what it does, well, isn’t much. To me, it feels like a great feature of a bigger app, rather than an app in its own right. Are you willing to spend $45 on a feature? Personally, I’m not.
That said, this is only v1.0, and I hope Conceited will bring more features to the app. If they manage to combine SurplusMeter and Rubbernet, I would snap it up without a second thought. The two apps feel like they belong together: seeing how much data you’ve used throughout the month, but also what apps have used that data.
So, while Rubbernet doesn’t really do anything wrong, it just hasn’t done enough right for me to buy it just yet. I’ll hold out for 2.0.