I have a new hero--a Microsoft guy, no less. Who, you ask? One of the big names, such as Gates, Cutler, Ballmer, or Valentine? No, my new Microsoft hero is Tim Rains. He's the author of my three favorite Microsoft downloads--portqry.exe, dnslint.exe, and new this month, browcon.exe, which helps you troubleshoot browser (as in Network Neighborhood, not Microsoft Internet Explorer--IE) problems. He also created another tool called spcheck.exe that lets you verify the service pack level of files on a system. I haven't yet used Spcheck, but I'm guessing I've just been lucky not to need it. The first tool, Portqry, is a simple command-line tool that lets you determine whether anyone is home on a particular port on a particular system. For example, suppose you want to find out whether someone is running a Web server on the system with IP address 192.168.0.100; with Portqry, you simply type

portqry -n 192.168.0.1 -i -e 80

The tool displays a response of LISTENING, NOT LISTENING, or FILTERED. The -n option precedes the name or IP address of the system to examine, the -i option tells your system not to try to reverse-resolve the IP address to a DNS name (takes time), and the -e option says to check only one port, port 80. You can also test for a range of ports or a list of ports, control the verbosity of the output, and choose whether to test UDP, TCP, or both.

Portqry isn't a unique tool. Nmap has been around for a while, and my Linux buddies like it. But the Windows versions of Nmap are cumbersome and involve lots of files and a necessary wizard for installations. In contrast, Portqry is just one 217KB file that takes up little space on my "useful tools" CD-ROM or my "stuff that's good to have around" USB keychain. Nmap performs a variety of tasks, but Portqry is just what I need, particularly when I want to find out whether an ISP's servers are up. For years, Microsoft's Web servers and Earthlink's mail servers haven't responded to Internet Control Message Protocol (ICMP) requests, so pinging one of them to see whether they're running doesn't work. But running a quick Portqry to port 80 checks the Web servers or to port 25 shows whether the Earthlink mail servers are up. Read the Microsoft article "Description of the Portqry.exe Command-Line Utility" ( http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=310099 ) to learn more about Portqry and to download the utility.

The second tool, Dnslint, is a set of basic "sanity tests" of a DNS zone. Anyone who has set up an Active Directory (AD) domain knows that you can't get AD to run before you set up a DNS zone to hold the AD servers' SRV records. Furthermore, most administrators will want to set up a DNS zone that only intranet users can see--a so-called "split-brain DNS" setup--which is well advised from a security perspective but more complicated than a standard DNS setup. But if you don't set up DNS zones very often, you can easily forget something and end up with a poorly functioning DNS zone that causes Dcpromo to throw a fit. Dnslint can quickly check a DNS zone and point out errors in an HTML-formatted report. The tool even has an /ad switch that performs some AD-specific tests. I don't want to oversell this tool--it's a basic set of tests--but Dnslint is a useful basic set of tests contained in one small (144KB) no-installation-necessary .exe file. The Microsoft article "Description of the DNSLint Utility" ( http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=321045 ) describes Dnslint and provides a link for downloading the utility.

You can't call Rains's most recent tool small, because it requires an installation program and the Microsoft .NET programming framework, but it fits well with his other two tools. Browcon is a windowed tool that exploits an existing tool (browstat.exe), which is probably already on your system because it's in Windows 2000 Support Tools. Browstat is a powerful tool for troubleshooting browser problems such as, "Why isn't my computer in Network Neighborhood/My Network Places?" or "Why is Network Neighborhood empty?" But Browstat doesn't offer much in the way of troubleshooting advice; you need to know what you're looking for to take advantage of Browstat's power. Browcon acts both as a graphical front end to Browstat and as a guide to browser troubleshooting. (For example, I didn't know before running Browcon that creating a server comment longer than 48 characters could knock that server off the browser.)

I get a bushel of email every day from readers, and certain topics appear again and again. Probably the most common topics relate to name resolution, usually either a DNS or NetBIOS-related problem. I have pointed many people to Dnslint in the past and have heard many enthusiastic thank yous; it'll be convenient to now point people with browser problems (a subcategory of NetBIOS problems) to Browcon. You'll find more information about Browcon in the Microsoft article "Description of NetBIOS Browsing Console (Browcon.exe)" at http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=818092 .

Now we need a command-line tool that will do the equivalent of Nslookup or Ping for WINS and NetBIOS rather than for DNS. (And that isn't wincl.exe from the "Microsoft Windows 2000 Resource Kit.") Tim, are you listening?