Microsoft's Windows Server infrastructure has been the IT standard for the past two decades. Not surprisingly, during that time a substantial supporting ecosystem has developed, offering a plethora of tools to help you manage your Windows Server environment.
In this column, I'll review 10 of the coolest free tools that are available to help you with your Windows administration. As you might expect, there are more powerful commercial versions of most of these tools. However, for each case, the free version performs a useful function on its own. There are actually so many good free tools that it's difficult to cut the list off at 10. However, here are my top 10 free Windows Server management tools for 2013.
10. Remote Desktop Manager—If you're like me, you do a lot of management using RDP remote desktop connections. It doesn't take long before your desktop is cluttered with all sorts of RDP connections—each one requiring its own settings and a different authentication. Remote Desktop Manager from Devolutions lets you centralize all your remote connections, passwords, and credentials.
9. Enable Remote Desktop Remotely—Windows Remote Desktop is an invaluable remote management troubleshooting tool. However, you need to have remote desktop management enabled on the target computer before you can connect to it, and not all users are able to accomplish that task easily. IntelliAdmin's Enable Remote Desktop Remotely tool lets you enable RDP remotely.
8. EasyBCD—Working with the old boot.ini file was a piece of cake. However, that changed when Microsoft moved to the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) boot environment in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. BCD made the boot process more secure but also more difficult to manage because of its arcane command-line BCDedit tool. EasyBCD from NeoSmart Technologies provides a simple-to-use graphical editor for your Windows BCD boot files.
7. Win IP Config—Like EasyBCD, Win IP Config might be more of a system utility, but if you get tired of running the text-based ipconfig command, you might want to see a graphical equivalent. That's what Win IP Config is. Win IP Config provides the same type of information as ipconfig.exe and route.exe and can also renew IP addresses.
6. Wake-On-LAN—Wake-On-LAN from SolarWinds does just what its name implies. If your networked PCs have Wake-On-LAN enabled in their BIOS, you can send them a packet over the network, causing them to boot up exactly as if you pushed the power button. Wake-On-LAN requires you to input the MAC and TCP/IP addresses of the remote system you want to boot up.
5. Viewfinity Local Admin Discovery—Managing administrator rights can be a problem, and it's possible that sometimes admin rights can be granted and then neglected to be removed. Viewfinity Local Admin Discovery lets you find all users that have been given membership in the local Administrators group.
4. Wireshark—Formerly known as Ethereal, Wireshark is an open-source network protocol analyzer. Sometimes you can encounter tough network questions, and an analyzer such as Wireshark that lets you dig down into the raw network traffic can be a valuable tool to help you answer them.
3. Desktop Central 8—ManageEngine's Desktop Central 8 provides a host of desktop management features, including software deployment, patch management, mobile device management, remote desktop control, service pack installation, and USB device management. ManageEngine offers a free edition for small businesses that can be used to manage up to 25 desktops and 2 mobile devices.
2. Spiceworks—Since it was first released back in 2006, Spiceworks has been adopted by thousands of IT professionals. Spiceworks is oriented toward the SMB and it's the Swiss Army knife of management tools. Spiceworks provides inventory management, monitoring, change management, virtualization management, and IT Help desk support. You can check out our review of Spiceworks 4.5.
1. Sysinternals Suite—Perennially number one on my list of free tools is Sysinternals Suite. If you're new to the Windows platform or to IT, you might not have been exposed to this super-valuable set of tools. The Sysinternals Suite offers an impressive array of tools for tasks such as viewing active TCP network connections, managing open files, viewing opened registry keys, and working with active processes. Many of the Sysinternals tools can be run directly from the website without any installation. The Sysinternals Suite is a must-have for Windows administrators.
Related: Windows 8 Deployment Tools