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Top free tools for Windows server administration

They say the best things in life are free, and that's definitely true for Windows tools. Our experts pick some of their favorite freeware and open source utilities for server admins.

What's the only thing better than a cool Windows administration tool? A free one, of course. We here at recently asked our experts to share some of their favorite open source tools and freeware utilities for Windows server and network administration. Check out our experts' choices below, and submit your own suggestions to add to the list.

Bruce Mackenzie-Low
Master Consultant, Hewlett-Packard

Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL)

One of my favorite tools is a performance analysis tool called PAL (Performance Analysis of Logs). It can be downloaded free from CodePlex. What it does is analyze Perfmon counter logs (from the standard Perfmon built into Windows) to provide a detailed analysis in the form of an HTML-based report. It alerts you to pre-determined thresholds and bottlenecks, explains the affected performance counters, and provides charts and graphs illustrating the usage and trends.

The reason I like it so much is that with the standard Perfmon tool, it's very hard to manipulate all the counters and correlate them. PAL has automated the process by applying triggers when counters reach certain values. It saves massive amounts of time by focusing on what the true problems are, eliminating the need to review each counter individually.

Will Schmied
Senior Systems Administrator


Without a doubt, my favorite admin tool is Robocopy, which was previously part of the Microsoft resource kits, but now ships with Windows Server 2008 and Vista. Robocopy is great for the moving, copying and/or mirroring of data between one Windows server and another, or between two volumes on the same server. I find myself using it quite often in our environment for all sorts of scenarios, including:

  • user data moves for when a user changes departments (we associate the home folder with departments for organizational reasons).
  • server expansions, retirements, replacements and consolidations.
  • most uniquely, deleting data that I cannot otherwise delete due to illegal characters or paths that are too long (greater than 255 characters). Simply use robocopy /MOVE /COPYALL to move that data somewhere else, then format the volume and the data is gone.

Laura E. Hunter
Identity Architect, Oxford Computer Group

AdFind and AdMod

I have to pick two -- as they're complementary -- written by Directory Services MVP joe Richards (capitalization intentional).

This pair of tools (one used for queries, one for modifications) is simply the most useful, fully-featured and flexible command-line toolset to manage Active Directory and Active Directory Application Mode. The developer of these tools takes obvious pride in their usefulness, and adds new features and functionality seemingly every time I turn around.

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest
Senior Enterprise Architects, Resolutions Enterprises


PowerGUI a graphical interface and script editor for Windows PowerShell developed by Quest Software. We are not advanced developers or scripters, so this tool is great because it easily allows us to script some common administrative tasks. In addition, the PowerGUI website supplies you with different add-ons and additional functionality in file systems, Active Directory Domain Services, network management, Hyper-V and so on. Cool Tool!

File Server Migration Toolkit

Last year when we were writing Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference, we went looking for migration tools in support of the various services you might have running in a Windows network — File Services, Print Services, Network Services, Web Services, Active Directory and so on. We even interviewed a group of program managers from Microsoft who were focused on network operating system migration, all in an effort to create painless migrations to Windows Server 2008.

We were very disappointed that Microsoft had not invested in many of these tools at the time. This is why we're so pleased about this tool. Microsoft has invested in the production of a great file server migration tool that lets organizations consolidate and migrate file shares from a variety of sources. If you haven't tried it, you should.

Do you have a favorite free tool or utility? Email us and let us know!


I would have to say that my all-time favorite is Hyena from SystemTools Software. I have been using it since version 1.85 in 1998 and wouldn't be without it. It allows you to view and actually modifycreate shares, directories, registry settings, etc. on servers without actually logging onto the console -- as long as you have administrative access. It also lets you view hotfixes and software installed on the server among other things too numerous to mention.
—Larry T.


I have used this tool [AutoIT] many a time to automate an otherwise clunky installation of an application. A must have for Microsoft SMS or Configuration Manager administrators. Super easy to use and learn.
—Rick C.


I have found the Specops tools invaluable as a network administrator. It easily allows one to start computers, shut them down, force a gpupdate to a group or individual computer and more. It is a wonderful tool that attaches right into your Active Directory menu. Only a right-mouse-click away! Can't beat that for free!

One other I must mention is the [Windows Server] 2003 support tools. It seems that the power is still in the hands of DOS. This toolkit has many powerful DOS commands that do things that just can't be done in the GUI interface. I have seen administrators and technicians go around and manually delete profiles on XP machines. The delprof utility is great and can run via a batch file on your administrative XP machine and go out and delete all those profiles older then whatever time frame you like. The psexec can not be underestimated either as it allows you to run commands against remote computers. These are just two of the tools. All I have to say is do not underestimate the power DOS still has in a server environment.
—Tom M.


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