To conclude our SysAdmin Week series, we thought of sharing 10 of the best free tools / packages for troubleshooting system issues – one of the biggest headaches for sys admins! These tools should help you, as an admin, to fix the problem or identify the root cause more quickly. You can either use these tools yourself, or provide them to a user who is experiencing the issue, for them to gather the information needed. Even if you may have heard of some of these tools before, I’m confident that you’ll find a gem or two on this list.
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The most essential tool for sysadmins:
- Automate multiple OS patching
- Scan for vulnerabilities
- Audit hardware and software
- Run compliance reports
Discover, manage and secure your network
- Monitor & control web activity
- Manage bandwidth & internet usage
- Secure downloads & web browsing
- Control of applications & stronger policy
The Microsoft Fix It Solution Center is an online tool that helps you to quickly find and fix common system issues. Once you’ve entered the symptoms, you can either download an executable to automatically fix the issue or be directed to a relevant Microsoft Knowledgebase Article that explains what the cause and recommend workaround is.
To use the Microsoft Fix It Solution Center, simply open http://support.microsoft.com/fixit/ in a web browser, select a problem area from “Step 1”, choose what type of problem you are trying to fix from the list in “Step 2” and then choose which solution you’d like to execute or learn more about from “Step 3”.
2. Problem Steps Recorder
Hidden away in Windows 7 / Windows 2008 and above is a neat little utility called Problem Steps Recorder (psr.exe). The Problem Steps Recorder will record the step-by-step interactions that occur while the user replicates the problem, taking screenshots of every action. It then bundles all this into a report with detailed information and any relevant error logs.
This tool is great if you have a user in your environment who is experiencing an issue that you want to gain more information about and the steps they took to reproduce the problem, or if you want to create a report to send to a third party vendor as part of a support case.
To launch the Problem Steps Recorder, go to the Start menu and type “psr.exe”. Click “Start Record” and the tool will record every interaction from then on. You can add comments during the recording process and then click “Stop Record” to save the report as an *.mht file within a zip archive.
3. Reliability Monitor
Windows Vista / 2008 and above include a tool called Reliability Monitor. This tool provides an overview of overall system stability and details about events that can impact reliability. The idea is to pinpoint any troublesome areas and take steps to improve system reliability based on what you learn (e.g. you might identify a trend in a certain application crashing when opening a certain file type).
To run the Microsoft Reliability Monitor, go to the Start menu and type ‘Reliability’. This will bring up a “View reliability history” shortcut. Clicking on this shortcut will launch the Reliability Monitor directly. You can also launch this tool from the Performance Monitor tool by right clicking on Monitoring Tools and selecting “View system reliability”.
Start by selecting whether you want to view information by Days or Weeks, and then click on a specific area within the graph to view information in the bottom hand pane. Once you’ve viewed reliability history for a specified period, you can choose to save the information to a file, view a list of all problem reports and check for solutions to problems.
When troubleshooting issues, you may come across Win32, HRESULT, NTSTATUS or STOP error codes which are likely to mean nothing to you or I. Using WELT you can find out what the error code means in plain English and what it relates to.
To launch WELT, simply execute Windows Error Lookup Tool.exe from the folder where you extracted welt.zip to. Enter the error code in the textbox and the error details will appear automatically.
5. PowerShell Troubleshooting Packs
As I mentioned in my article entitled Windows PowerShell™: Essential Admin Scripts (Part 1) the PowerShell Troubleshooting Packs (bundled with Windows 7/2008 and above) can be really handy when troubleshooting system issues. As such, they are a collection of PowerShell scripts that you can use to diagnose different aspects of your servers, clients or network. Different packages are available to troubleshoot printers, networks, performance, power, Windows Update, etc.
To run a PowerShell Troubleshooting Pack, open a PowerShell command prompt and import the modules associated with the pack by running the “Import-Module TroubleshootingPack” command. Then, run the following command to start the desired Troubleshooting Pack:
Get-TroubleshootingPack <TroubleshootingPackLocation> | Invoke-TroubleshootingPack
As part of the troubleshooting process, it is helpful to know as much information as you can about the machine where the problem resides to assist in finding a solution more quickly. WinAudit scans your computer and gathers a whole raft of information about Installed Software, TCP/IP settings, Drives, Error Logs, etc.
Note: At the time of writing, the download link available from the developer’s website was broken. You can download the latest version of this software from a popular application download site like CNET.
To start an audit of your local machine, simply execute WinAudit.exe to start the application and then click the “Audit” icon in the top left hand corner. Once the audit is complete, you can start to review the information from the different categories in the left hand pane, or save the information as a PDF / CSV / TXT / HTML file.
Joeware Utilities are a list of free troubleshooting and system information utilities aimed at making the life of an administrator easier. These tools are built by a system administrator from his own experience of not finding a tool out there that did the job he needed for whatever he was trying to solve. The tools available include anything from tools that dump user information from Active Directory, modify a user account’s expiration flag or perform TCP/IP port connection testing.
Note: Unfortunately Joeware Utilities do not come as a bundled package and will have to be downloaded individually from the website. However, using a small add-on for the NirLauncher application mention below, you can download and categorize the tools ready to be launched from the NirLauncher application itself.
Some of the tools available from Joeware Utilities include:
SidToName is a command line tool that resolves SIDs (Security Identifiers) to friendly display names. You provide it with a valid SID and it returns the object name associated with that SID.
AccExp is a command line tool that you can use to modify or read the expiration date of local user accounts.
NirLauncher is an application that bundles more than 170 portable freeware utilities. The tools available include password recovery tools, Internet tools, programming tools, and system tools – all of which can be used for troubleshooting and information gathering.
Some of the most popular tools bundled with NirSoft NirLauncher include:
USBDeview is a small application that lists all current and previously connected USB devices on a local or remote machine. USB device information includes device name/description, device type, serial number, the date/time that the device was added or last used, VendorID, etc.
CurrPorts displays a list of all currently open TCP/UDP ports on the local machine. Information about which process opened the port, the time the process was created and the user that created it is displayed. Using CurrPorts you can also close open connections and export the information to a file.
Using LastActivityView you can see what actions were taken by a user and what events occurred on the machine. Any activities such as running an executable file, opening a file/folder from Explorer or performing a software installation will be logged. The information can be exported to a CSV / XML / HTML file.
Microsoft SysInternals Suite is a collection of over 60 lightweight troubleshooting tools all bundled into a single download package. Whatever issue you’re trying to tackle, you are sure to find a tool in this package to help you manage, troubleshoot and diagnose your systems and applications.
Some of the most popular tools bundled in the SysInternals Suite include:
Autoruns allows you to view which programs and services are configured to run at system boot up or login, in the order in which Windows processes them.
Using Process Monitor you can troubleshoot application and system related issues by monitoring activity related to processes, threads, DLLs, the registry and file system in real-time.
Using AccessEnum you can quickly view permissions of file system directories or registry keys and then save the results to a text file and compare results with a previously saved log.
WSCC is not a troubleshooting tool per se, but it does facilitate issue troubleshooting by acting as an inventory for various system troubleshooting tool suites (such as those from Microsoft SysInternals and NirSoft). It allows you to install, update, execute and categorize the entire collection of tools in a single location.
When you launch WSCC for the first time, you are given the option to download and install the latest versions of the entire set of over 270 tools. If you choose not to install them locally, WSCC will download each application when you first click on it and store the file in a temp folder within the WSCC directory. To launch a troubleshooting tool, choose a tool from the category within the navigation pane on the left hand side. You can also add favourite tools to the Favourites folder or search for a utility by name.
Are there any free tools not on this list that you’ve found useful and would like to share with the community?
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