The Windows System Tray shows you a number of icons for programs that indicate system status, offer menus, or let you launch the application or applet. You'll typically see the System Tray on the right side of the taskbar, and most often it includes the time and (sometimes) the date. The Windows Networking control panel can show an icon in the System Tray, but unfortunately Windows doesn't show this icon as a default. To view this icon, you need to turn it on. In Windows 2000 and Windows XP you turn on the System Tray icon by opening the Networking control panel or in the Network Connections folder. Each connection has a check box called "Show icon in the notification area," which you'll find in the lower left corner of the properties dialog. Click that checkbox and the icon appears in the System Tray.
With the networking icon available on your screen you can visually determine several things. First, you can see if your connection is active. Active connections show two computers (yours and your server's), but will have an X through the icon when there is a networking problem such as a disconnected cable or dropped Internet connection. The front icon is your computer, and the rear icon is your connected computer or gateway. To be accurate, what these icons show you are the state of your NIC or network interface card. If you have a multi-homed system (such as a proxy server) you will see multiple icons. For example, a proxy server will display one set of icons for your local area network connection, and a second for your connection to the firewall.
If you move your pointer over the icons you will see a tool tip appear that tells you which connection the icon is monitoring. Additionally, you will see information about the speed of the connection, as well as the number of packets sent and received. You can also click that icon to view a dialog box that displays this information and gives you access to the connection's Properties dialog box.
Finally, when you see each icon light up you get an indication of whether packets are being sent and received. This indication can help you diagnose which part of your network connection may be malfunctioning, and so has a lot of value.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.