Top ten free Windows tools admins have never heard of

These Windows tools may fly under the IT radar, but they might provide the answers many admins are looking for.

I’ve always been a bit of a tool collector.  And while IT tools are obviously more logical than physical in nature, they accomplish the same goals as a plumber’s wrench.  Without them, doing the job is difficult -- if not impossible.  Yet, too often our employers don’t recognize the value in IT tools.  Rare is the IT pro with a budget for tools, forcing us to find free alternatives.

These ten IT tools are some of the best I have used.  They’ve saved my career more than once, so by sharing them, hopefully they will help yours. 

With a tip of the hat to our industry’s tool smiths who write and release with no expectation of return, I present the Top Ten Tools You’ve Never Heard Of.

1. Keepass

The average IT pro is responsible for close to a gazillion passwords and keeping them straight is our burden to bear.  That’s why Keepass exists -- an open source password manager that safely locks passwords beneath a master password. It can even copy and paste them into dialog boxes, which is a big help when time is short and passwords are long.

2. Notepad++

Scripting is (or should be) a friend to every IT pro, but scripting editors tend to be on the expensive side.  If an administrator’s scripting needs exceed Notepad’s capabilities check out Notepad++. This free source code editor is preloaded with over 50 popular languages, so you’ll never worry again if that single quote is actually a curly single quote.

3. TCPView

Have you ever used the Windows netstat command and immediately wished for something else?  Look no further than TCPView, an original SysInternals tool that can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website.  TCPView presents a graphical visualization of all the computer’s network connections and is indispensible for troubleshooting the most challenging network issues.

4. WinDirStat

My IT career’s most challenging difficulties have had little to do with technology.  It’s those darn users who are responsible for my biggest scrapes, such as when they store too much data and eat up expensive hard drive space.  You can’t just tell them to delete data -- you need to give them a how-much-you’re-wasting visualization.  WinDirStat is that graphical answer.  It highlights which files and file types are the biggest offenders and will quickly cause users to find and delete their excess of storage.

5. OldCmp

Do you hate those aged computer accounts lingering around Active Directory and dream of a report on those not in use?  Back in 2004, the first version of OldCmp delivered on that dream and is still one of the most useful IT tools.  This JoeWare tool can also remove old accounts and help kick out AD computer accounts after someone kicks out a computer.

6. WSName

Changing a computer's name is easy:  Move it to a workgroup, rename it and add it back into the domain.  What’s hard is the time wasted watching that machine reboot multiple times and repeating those steps for dozens or even hundreds of desktops.  So, why not automate computer renames with WSName?  With a little extra scripting admins can even rename remotely.

7. MSRemoteNG

Being an IT pro means connecting to lots of computers on any particular day.  But different computers require different connection steps.  With MRemoteNG, admins can collect every computer under a single interface with little effort.  This open source, tabbed, multi-protocol, remote connections manager also supports all sorts of protocol acronyms, including RDP, VNC, ICA, SSH, TELNET, HTTP, rlogin and raw sockets connections.

8. Memtest86

In Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008, click Start | Administrative Tools | Windows Memory Diagnostic and the system will run a hardware-level test on its RAM at the next boot.  That test determines if bad RAM is a source of bad behavior.  But what if you’re not using these operating systems?  Once burned to a bootable CD, Memtest86 will boot run an extensive series of tests against physical RAM and report whether new hardware is needed.

9. Specops Gpupdate

Specops Gpupdate is the only tool on this list that requires registration, but it’s worth the information disclosure.  This tool remotely executes a restart or shutdown, wake on LAN or Group Policy update from directly within the Active Directory Users and Computers (ADUC) console.  It can also perform an automatic WSUS client update, speeding up patch management and monthly update duties.

10. Safepasswd.com

This last tool is as much fun as it is useful.  Safepasswd.com is a simple website that generates random passwords with options for password length and type, such as Easy to Remember versus all manner of not easy. The website is also useful for user and service passwords, as well as users who “can’t think of a new password”.  After seeing what Safepasswd.com considers easy, they’ll think twice about whining when their account needs to be renewed.

You can follow SearchWindowsServer.com on Twitter @WindowsTT.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg Shields is a Partner and Principal Technologist with Concentrated Technology, an IT analysis and strategic consulting firm. Contact him at http://www.ConcentratedTech.com.

This was first published in May 2011
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