From monitoring tools to troubleshooting software - 19 free apps to help every sysadminIn the United States, the Fourth of July is a national holiday – celebrating the birth of our nation, summer vacations and the inalienable right to launch explosive pyrotechnics into the air without regard for personal safety. In that spirit, we put together a list of the best 19 free applications available for sysadmins and power users. All are free and must-have apps that I install on every machine I use. Check out the list and see if there are any you haven’t run across yet, but could find useful.

1. PuTTY

For any network sysadmin who needs to use SSH or TELNET to manage network gear, or the Linux/Unix admin who live at the command-line, PuTTY is the go-to client for Windows.

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2. Remote Desktop Connection Manager

What PuTTY is to the command-line, RDCMan is to Windows. With multiple session views, groups, and management features, you can manage multiple remote connections using RDP to your various Windows servers and workstations easily.

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3. 7-Zip

One of the best compression tools available. It has shell integration, can work with any archive format, can do encryption, and is simply free.

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4. DiskCryptor

This open tool can manage encrypt for entire volumes with AES 256, Twofish, and Serpent.

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5. Err tool

The Microsoft Exchange Server Error Code look-up tool is for much more than Exchange, as it can read the errors from the headers of the operating system as well as other installed products. Just drop to a command prompt and enter “err #” where the # is whatever hex error code you get, and see what that code really means.

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6. Wireshark

This is the protocol analyzer that sets the bar for all others, is still free, easy to use, and extremely well documented. Wireshark is to protocol analyzers what Xeroxes are to photocopies. It’s also an app I add to my base image!

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7. PSTools

This suite of tools from the guys who first created SysInternals contains tools to troubleshoot practically any aspect of the Windows operating system or programs running on Windows. A combination of command-line and GUI tools, you can download any or all of them to your workstation, or even run them from the available online repository at http://live.sysinternals.com!

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8. PSPad

For when you want to use a text editor that has syntax checking, automatic saving of previous versions, and yes, DIFF, PSPad is my go-to text editor and is another app that is in my standard images.

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9. WinDirStat

You can never have too much money, too much bandwidth, or too much disk space. When your disk is showing red, and you can’t find those giant files that are clogging up your spindles, use WinDirStat to give you a graphical layout of your disk and find everything that is taking up space. I love the PacMan animation during analysis!

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10. Iperf (direct download)

If you’re trying to troubleshoot network throughput, there’s really no better tool than Iperf.  Set up the client and the server and you can stress test your network to its maximum bandwidth, evaluate throughput over both TCP and UDP.

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11. TamoSoft Throughput Test

Another great tool for testing network throughput is TamoSoft’s Throughput Test. It is very similar to iPerf but with a really nice GUI. The charts can make it easier to explain to non-network types what is going on too.

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12. GeekUninstaller

Way too often, stuff you install leaves behind remnants you just want to go away. Enter the GeekUninstaller, which is the best way to dust off and nuke it from high orbit… it’s the only way to be sure.

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13. Patch My PC

Running Windows Update is a great way to check and patch Microsoft apps, but this tool can quickly and easily identify unpatched and out of date third party applications and help you find and install the required updates. Often, a problem stems from an out of date piece of software, and being able to take care of that immediately can save you hours of hunting online. Check out the list of third party apps it can check and update at https://patchmypc.net/supported-products-free-updater and notice how many of them are also on this post! If you have one or two machines, this is a great tool. If your network has more than 10 PCs, you’re better off going for a professional patching solution; which allows you to automate all patching activity for Windows and third-party products.

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14. Recuva

Recuva is an incredibly powerful tool for recovering data from Linux and Window partitions. With support for all Windows versions from XP through Windows 8.1, this is a great tool for bringing the dead data back to life. With both free and professional versions available, it is one tool that has saved me multiple times over the years. The paid version comes with support and automatic updates, but the free version has proven to be all I have needed, time and time again.

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15. Dropbox

One cloud storage solution to bring them all together and in the cloud bind them. There are lots of cloud storage solutions out there, but Dropbox is an all-rounder for simplicity and cross-platform compatibility, and performance.

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16. ADModify.net

The one tool every Active Directory admin must have, it can find, fix, and update practically anything in AD and handle single changes as easily as it does global changes. It hasn’t been updated since 2009, but I use it every week with customers, even those whose AD is FFL 2012.

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17. VLC

The BEST video client. It’s cross platform, light weight, and plays just about every file format and codec imaginable.

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18. PowerShell Collection

Not a single tool, but a collection of modules for PowerShell all in one place including modules for using PowerShell to manage SharePoint, work with zip files, manage scheduled tasks, perform network diagnostics, monitor files, and integrate with BizTalk.

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19. Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN)

When it absolutely and positively has to be wiped, grab an ISO of DBAN, burn it to CD, boot from it, and run autonuke.

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Pay attention when installing some of these applications. They are all solid and reliable, but the authors have bills to pay and some of the installers offer optional software that helps to defray their costs. You can opt-out of any of those extras, but you have to pay attention to the installs so you don’t get any extra toolbar or change to your search engine choice. If you just do a NEXT>NEXT>NEXT>ENTER install, you will get some extra stuff.

While there are many great applications on this list, I bet there are some you are wondering why weren’t included. Well, that’s probably because I don’t know about them, which means some other readers may not either. If there’s a glaring omission or a personal favorite you think belongs on this list, leave a comment and share the love. Thanks and happy Fourth of July.