Freeware tools for gleaning system information abound, but few that I've come across are as compact or as complete...
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(and powerful) as SIW (System Information for Windows).
SIW reports back on dozens of categories of information about a local machine, such as available hardware devices, its operating system, installed software and the network neighborhood. Since SIW is a standalone .EXE, and you don't need to install it, you can place it on a USB flash drive and run it anywhere -- which makes it an ideal addition to any administrator's on-the-go toolkit.
Here are some of the categories in which SIW gathers its data:
Open files: A complete manifest of all open files in the system along with which processes are holding them open. I've written before about how Windows has no built-in way to let you know who's got a file or removable drive that's locked for access; this is a good way to see, at a glance, who's blocking what.
Secrets: Use this one with care. It delves into many, many protected sections of the system and comes up with things like IE password-protected sites, AutoComplete form password data, product keys and other bits and pieces that are normally kept from prying eyes.
Protected files: This gives you a list of all files in the system that are classified as system-protected files. If you have doubts about a given component, you can call up the details about it here (although it doesn't tell you if the files in question have valid signatures).
Open ports: See all open network ports, including hosts, port state and the host application responsible for each.
Extended network information: Connects the computer to a number of external servers for gathering additional details about the network connection. Use it for doing extended troubleshooting when you're trying to determine if a computer has trouble interacting with outside networks.
Pipes: In this category, you'll see all open pipes in the system, including the number of instances for each.
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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!