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One common request from IT professionals is for a desktop utility that provides the system's current IP address, or other obscure system statistics, on demand. Usually the stats reside in the system tray or are run on demand. However, the most efficient and unobtrusive version I've ever seen for this sort of thing has to be Sysinternals' BGInfo.
BGInfo works by modifying the desktop wallpaper to display any number of system statistics that can be customized by the user. You can place it in the startup folder to run as the background for the logon screen or in the system tray and update the desktop wallpaper periodically or on demand. The program can be configured to display not only the system's network information, but also statistics like the last boot time, total physical memory, free/used hard drive space, service pack revision, IE revision and many more. In addition, the user can add freeform text and formatting using Rich Text controls (fonts, bold, italics, centering and so on).
The program doesn't require an installer; simply unpack it into the directory where you want it to reside and run it. When it runs, it displays an editable list of data fields, which you can preview non-destructively or change to suit. You can also reposition the text on-screen. The default is the bottom right corner of the desktop, but if you routinely place icons there you can put the text elsewhere to keep it visible. If you have an existing bitmap image you want to print the data into, you can specify that as well (i.e., a corporate logo or just your regular desktop graphic).
BGInfo can optionally log the information it generates into a database -- either a text file or a connection string to a SQL database -- so that historical information about system data can be collected and logged. This can be done without actually printing anything to the desktop. So, if you're looking for a lightweight solution for collecting certain basic system stats, this is a useful way to do it.
Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!