As the number of PixoBebo readers increases daily, I need some way to make sure the web server is up and running, and some kind of notification when it’s not. The name of the Mac utility that kept popping up was Simon. What does Simon do?
The internet is a complicated place. There’s all these networks connecting to one another, and twenty gazillion web servers sending out web pages 24 hours a day, including the PixoBebo server.
What I wanted was some kind of notification to tell me whenever the server or connection goes down. It happens. That’s what Dejal’s Simon does.
Dejal Simon is the essential site monitoring tool for Mac OS X. It checks servers for changes or failures, and notifies you via e-mail, sound, speech, Twitter, or other means. You can use it to track updated sites, and to alert you when an important server goes down or recovers.
As much as I enjoy managing and updating PixoBebo, I don’t want to get into the messy server details. I have a partner for that. What I want to know is when things go wrong.
Simon is very versatile. It can be used to monitor your own website and servers, track posts and new comments on your or friends’ blogs, check for web mail, get notifications of updates to favorite news and entertainment websites, keep an eye on auctions, and many other uses.
On the surface, Simon is a simple Mac utility which runs all the time, checks web pages, sends out notifications when things are not as they should be. Behind the scenes, Simon is a top-notch server monitoring system with bells and whistles, and each of them have bells and whistles.
Getting started with Simon is easy. Download, unzip, drag and drop into the Applications folder, double click to launch (click on any image for a pop up, close up, detailed view).
Preferences are straightforward and understandable. The Advanced section provides sliders for interval checking, auto-save frequency, and length of time for caching preview pages.
Basically, Simon’s monitor window shows which web sites you want monitored, and the current status of each. Setting up a new web site is easy, though some of the settings can get complicated.
Central to Simon is the Monitor window. It enables you to see at a glance the current status of all of your monitored websites, servers, and applications. In addition to a colorful status icon and up-time percentage, the tests table displays how long ago the last change and failure occurred, and when the next check will occur.
So far, so good. The Monitor window is where the action is, but who wants to have that huge window staring at you from your Mac’s screen all day?
Simon knows that Mac users are busy. I want Simon to monitor my web sites, not have me monitor Simon all day. So, hiding Simon is OK.
Because sometimes you don’t want to have another window cluttering up your screen, you can hide the Monitor window if you wish, and/or use the handy Dock or Status menus. The Dock menu includes quick access to Simon’s windows, and some global functions. The Status menu includes all that plus displays all of your tests, complete with status icons, details via help tag, and the option to perform a favorite action or display a sub-menu of quick-access operations for each test, so you can visit the site or other tasks without even having Simon visible.
Simon says without Simon staring you in the face while you work on your Mac. Even when you’re away, Simon still says what’s going on and can send you notifications for web site or server status.
As they say, the Devil is in the details. Getting my three sites up and running on Simon was a breeze. Along the way I found that Simon could a lot more than just check on a web site’s status.
So how do you tell Simon what to monitor? That’s where the New/Edit Test window comes in. This window has lots of options to help you configure each test, but like Get Info in the Finder, you can collapse sections you’re not interested in. The window allows you to specify how often to check the test (when the previous check was successful or failed), choose which service to use and enter the URL or whatever other information it needs, and specify any needed username and password. You can also indicate which notifiers to use for changes, failures, and recoveries of this test.
My head started to hurt. Who knew that computer system administrators had to pay this much attention to what goes on behind the scenes. Simon has details if you want them.
This can get complicated, but what I needed was easy to set up on the first try. So, Simon checks out web sites for changes, or server status, or whatever is working vs. whatever is not working.
But what about websites that have banners or other irrelevant content? Won’t that confuse Simon into thinking the page has changed? Nope! Simon has a very useful feature called Smart Change Detection, where you can tell it what part of the page to look for, e.g. a comment count on a blog, or the lead headline area on a news site. It even works for Port tests, so you can use it to detect a change when the number of messages in your mailbox changes.
I’m impressed. Simon’s learning curve is gentle. Yes, it can be complicated, but only as I need to do more, try more, experiment.
What happens when a site disappears for awhile, or a server goes down, or a connection drops? Simon says.
Simon monitors your tests, detecting changes, failures, and recoveries. And it displays this information in the Monitor window, Dock icon, and Status menu. But you’re a busy person, and sometimes want important events to really catch your attention. You’re in luck: Simon also has a notifiers feature, with several ways of telling you about things you want to know. Each test can use any number of notifiers, with separate notifiers for each type of event. So, for example, you could play a sound and go to the web page when your favorite blog changes, but e-mail a text message to your cellphone when it goes down.
All this extra effort on Simon’s part sounds as if it should be ultra complicated, yet, step by step, I found I could fill in the blanks in the Edit Test window, and get Simon to do more. I especially appreciated the notifiers, email messages to tell me what was happening. Cool.
It’s hard not to be impressed by this $29.95 utility. There’s other versions available, too, especially for enterprise system administrators. For me, I just want someone to tell me when something has gone wrong or gone on PixoBebo. Simon says. Kate says, “highly recommended”.