Monday, June 18, 2007
10 Favorite Windows Admin Tools
Let's face it, we live in a Windows/Microsoft world. As much as the online community likes to bash Microsoft and their products, they still retain the lion's share of the Operating System business. For most medium and small businesses, at least in the U.S. Windows is their operating system of choice, both as servers and workstations. Capitalizing on this monopoly, there is a vast array of software (free and commercial) meant to expand windows network administration capabilities. A lot of these applications are actually useful, most of them, however, not so much. Having a bit of experience managing Windows Networks, I found these to be my top ten choices (not in necessarily in this order):
1. Process Explorer: Process Explorer, developed by Sysinternals (who later on was bought by no other than Microsoft) is a very useful expansion of the Windows Task Manager. Among the things I love about this application the most are its versatility, customizability and simplicity. It's versatile because not only does it show you what processes are running in your computer, it tracks dependencies, dynamic libraries, and footprint of the processes among other things. It's also extremely customizable. It allows for a large array of running and viewing options, which makes finding your rogue process of choice easier than with other process explorers, including the built in Windows Task Manager. Finally, the Process Explorer is so simple that there is no need for installation, it's a single executable file that can be carried in a handy dandy USB stick.
2. Cygwin: What can I say about Cygwin that hasn't been said already. Cygwin is essentially a port of the Linux command line environment to Windows. It blurs the Windows and Linux Universes to the point where you can run DOS and Bash commands on the same virtual console. For those not familiar with the Linux shell (Bash) it is one of the most powerful computing tools out there.
3. Python/Visual Basic/Shell scripting: OK, fine, this is not an application, but knowing Python, Visual Basic, and shell scripting has saved me hours in automated tasks that would have otherwise taken too long and killed too many braincells to perform manually.
4. UltraVNC: The best VNC Server/Client out there, period. If tried most of them, including RealVNC, TightVNC, or Remote Administrator. UltraVNC I found is the fastest, most complete, and easiest to use of the lot. They even have a standalone client and a standalone server that do not need to be installed. The Java web client has also come in handy a couple of times.
5. Partition Magic/Gparted: Gparted is not technically a Windows application, but it saved my life when a user's hard drive started to fail and I had to copy its content onto a new hard drive. Partition magic is Gparted's commercial counterpart, and although it does offer a couple more tools, I like gparted better. Besides, I like the possibility of running Gparted from a live CD, and not need to install an additional application.
6. Ultra-Edit: Best text editor ever. It will open almost anything you throw at it.
7. PsExec/BeyondExec: Really nifty couple of programs. PsExec was developed by sysinternals, which, like I mentioned earlier, was bought by Microsoft. BeyondExec is based on PsExec. PsExec/BeyondExec. The best way to describe these two applications is they are SSH's lesser cousins. They allow you interact with a remote system via console, send commands and run processes. Beyond Exec has a few more utilities than PsExec has, including an interactive SSH-like DOS prompt, but I have found it to be slightly less robust than PsExec. I personally use both, depending on whether I need to send a single command or if I need to run a full DOS prompt.
8. Angry IP: I first found Angry IP Scanner while looking for a tool that would help me track down a static IP conflict in the network. Angry IP will ping IP addresses in the range that you determine. It can also be configured to scan NetBIOS information, DNS, logged in users and ports! Used properly you can determine IP/DNS conflicts, which IP addresses are in use and which ones are dead, get a list of logged in users, MAC address, or ports open in a particular server or workstation! The best part about this application is that it's another standalone that you can carry in your trusted USB drive.
9. OpenVPN: A fast, powerful, easy to use and install, platform independent virtual private network server and client. Best of all, it's open source, which means it is free (as in speech AND beer)! Now someone needs to figure out how to make it a portable client....
10. VMware Server: I want to mention VMware as a pose to other virtualization tools like Qemu or Parallels, because I've found that, regardless if VMware is not the fastest virtualization tool, regardless if its a closed source application, I have found it to be the most reliable and stable virtualization software out there, ideal both to deploy virtual servers on the fly, or sandboxing when testing new/unstable software.