Free Tools That Every (SMB) Windows Administrator Should Install
August 18, 2011
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Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones whose IT budget lets you have every management, maintenance, and diagnostics tool you ever dreamed of. You might even be lucky enough that you’re at least somewhat specialized: there are other people in IT that are responsible for other things. For the rest of us, we might hear about how valued IT is as a department, but we know that they know that every time the CFO reviews the company’s numbers, everything related to IT is colored red. If that’s your company, this list is for you. We’re also either alone in IT or share a room with one or two other generalists, all of which are expected to do anything that any of the others can do.
Everything on this list is free. Only a few are freed. If such things matter to you beyond the fact that you don’t have to spend any money on them, you probably don’t need further explanation.
- 7-Zip — Opens just about every type of compression and storage archive format there is, including ISOs. For the first run, don’t forget to go under Tools->Options and establish file associations (on Vista/7 with UAC enabled, you have to “Run as Administrator” or you’ll get errors)
- CCleaner — This oft-updated software cleans up browsing history, temp files, logs, MRUs, and several other things. It also includes a good registry cleaner. It is so thorough that you’ll definitely want to scan the options before allowing it to run. The software itself has no cost but you can purchase a support package.
- Codecs — It seems like you just can’t play any type of media without downloading something, assuming that you don’t just get a cryptic codec error. My personal choices are the XP Codec Pack, the K-Lite Codec Pack, and QT Lite (the first two overlap).
- HxD Hex Editor — For when you just have to take that deep dive and edit raw bytes, this is what gets it done. It can do a byte comparison of individual files.
- ImgBurn — Create and burn ISO images, convert data CDs/DVDs/Blu-Rays to ISOs, etc.
- KeePass — You know you’re not supposed to use one password for everything, but you’re also not supposed to write them down. This tool can help you maintain the balance with a great deal of options to overcome the fact that you are effectively writing your passwords down. It saves far more data than just passwords and can handle multiple passwords for a single entity. Note that it is a very, very bad idea to have a database linked to your user account; if anything happens to the copy of your Windows profile on the computer it is installed to, that database is pretty much lost forever. There are also several unofficial versions that run on other platforms (as in, your smartphone).
- Notepad++ — Just about everything you’ll ever need for handling text files in a free app. It can color-code keywords in recognized files types, handles source and script code, change encoding and convert between character sets, use regular expressions, record and run macros, and use plugins for just about anything not already listed.
- Paint.Net — Since we all know that “Systems Administrator” secretly means “Graphic Designer without the budget or training”, it’s nice to have a tool that acknowledges both shortcomings. The tool itself is impressive enough, but the vibrant community and the rich offering of plugins it provides make Paint.NET a true gem.
- Winamp — Not for them; for you.
- WinDirStat — Want to know where your disk space is being used up?
- Windows Server Remote Administration Tools — This tool can manage most of the roles and features on your Windows servers from 2003 onward, including Active Directory, without the need for Remote Desktop.
- WinMerge — Compares individual files and the contents of folders.
- Wireshark — Packet sniffer and data analyzer. It can capture data sent from routers and switches.
I welcome suggestions for other tools in the comments section. The requirements for a tool to be listed are: useful, reasonably bug-free, no cost, and without requirements to install any other software or sign up on any lists.