WildPackets is a great company, with some lovely technology, but does it have what it takes to compete with the likes of Ethereal and its successor Wireshark?

Like its rivals, the company has recognised for some time that open source is eating up the protocol analyser market. Put simply, most of us have limited budgets for hardware and software, especially if it's for stuff that we're not going to use all the time - even if when we do use it, for troubleshooting say, it temporarily becomes mission-critical.

So WildPackets has responded by introducing a free "for personal use" version of its flagship product, OmniPeek, in the hope that students and others will try it, like it, and later on persuade their employers to buy the full version.

The company has also opened up the APIs for OmniPeek, in the hope of building a community of developers around it.

The problem is that OmniPeek Personal is stranded in no-man's land. It is officially restricted to personal and educational use - although somewhat bizarrely the install program asks you to type in your company as well as your name; thankfully it accepts "None", and you can opt-out from registering for emailed product news and updates.

Perhaps potential users will try OmniPeek Personal as well as Wireshark, but as soon as they discover the former is functionally-limited in ways that makes it less suitable for corporate use (or in my case, once they discover that it really only supports one brand of 802.11 chipset, and it's not the one in my laptop), they're likely to lose interest fairly rapidly.

WildPackets' earlier reaction to the Ethereal threat was to go up-market, seeking to leverage its strengths in distributed analysis, forensics and so on. I hesitate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but for now, that still looks like the better move.