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As a Windows administrator, what tools do you feel you cannot live without?


locked by Mark Henderson Dec 3 '12 at 4:50

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50 Answers 50

3rd party tools are great, but before I start there, the basic ones you get with the system:

  • Computer Management
  • Event Viewer
  • Services Console
  • Perfmon
  • Active Directory Users and Computers
  • Active Directory Domains and Trusts
  • Active Directory Sites and Services
  • Group Policy Management Console (okay, so you download this one)
  • The command line itself with
    • netstat
    • nbtstat
    • ipconfig
    • net
    • findstr
    • netsh
  • Internet Explorer/Firefox
  • Scripting tool like VBScript/PowerShell/Perl
  • Notepad

Other Tools:

I love OneNote. I'm astonished that MS only made it available in Office Enterprise; it should be in every downlevel edition! – dmoisan Jun 3 '09 at 3:20
Notepad itself isn't worth much. Notepad2 or Notepad++ offer greater options and much more possibilities, even for everyday users. – KdgDev Oct 20 '09 at 0:54

I can't live without PowerShell.


WinDirStat is great for finding out how all your disk space it getting used.


I always post this one, but it remains true. Beyond Compare is the best folder & file diff program. It is so ridiculously useful for maintenance work and updating, plus it does built-in FTP

I held out against the move to Beyond Compare, sticking with WinMerge for years. Recently I tried an old copy of BC and have been kicking myself for weeks that I didn't change sooner. BC is hands-down the best merging/compare tool I've ever seen. – Chris Porter May 5 '09 at 2:58
Try Araxis Merge. Costs more, but if you can afford it, it's worth its weight in gold.. or it's filesize in gold, at least – Mikeage May 31 '09 at 10:42


Recursive copying with solid reporting and allows you to update changed only. Used to be part of the windows resource kit, but i think it's distributed with Vista now.

Just confirming that it is distributed with Vista. – Mike Powell May 15 '09 at 3:01
Try RichCopy, also from Microsoft, but GUI-based and more options than RoboCopy. I've used the fcopy tool on a number of occasions as well to good effect when copying ridiculously large files over the WAN. – Ryan Fisher Jun 12 '09 at 0:29

Never underestimate the power of a really good text editor. I've used UltraEdit for years and couldn't live without it. I've tried moving to Notepad++, Editplus, and a few other text editors and I always end up frustrated and back using UltraEdit. You can also get a U3 version that lives on a flash drive.

UE is a great text editor plus it includes syntax highlighting, hex editing and diff tools... – Mark Nold May 5 '09 at 3:32
The UE developer is also extremely responsive to requests to add features. Definitely on my list of apps I can't live without. – Helvick Apr 5 '10 at 11:43
  • ProcessExplorer
  • PS Tools
  • Perl
  • Perfmon
  • TextPad/Notepad++
  • Terminal Services
  • Cygwin

A Linux LiveCD (Knoppix preferably)

And processexplorer


The SysInternals suite, live edition:

hexedit or another hex editor.


WMIC lets you do pretty much anything to any networked windows computer.

Some fun things to try:

wmic computersystem get name

What user is currently logged into the system:

wmic netlogin get name,lastlogon

Users who have logged into a system, and when they last logged in:

wmic os get lastbootuptime

When was the last time the machine booted; (do you have a machine not getting updates?)

wmic product get name,verion

Finds applications installed with a specific name:

wmic product where 'name = "%Product Name%"' get name

Also remember you can run these on networked systems:

wmic /node:"computername1" os list brief

I'd throw 7-zip into the pool. Free/Open source and opens most compression formats. I use it often for moving files from one server to another (updates and/or images).


These are more for the desktop/laptop power users:

  • safarp: small and fast Add/Remove Programs
  • launchy: keystroke launchyer
  • console: multi-tabbed cmd.exe, (and then some)
  • jkdefrag (portable):lite-weight defragger
  • AnVir task manager: manager for running processes, services, and startup programs (commercial but has a lite free version).
  • Notepad++: Probably best text-editor available for windows.
  • WinMerge: visual diff/merge tool

Batch files :-)


shutdown - can shut down a non-responding host remotely

shutdown -r -t 0 -f -m <machine>

taskkill - kill processes from the commandline

taskkill /pid <pid>

psexec - the windows equivalent of ssh (from sysinternals, as previously noted)

Psexec is not the windows equivalent of ssh. It provides no encryption, no interactive session, no arbitrary port forwarding, etc. Useful but not ssh. – Brian Reiter Jul 6 '09 at 22:12
eek, standing corrected... – Cawflands Jul 7 '09 at 11:32

Total Commander - Norton Commander look-a-like for Windows. I use this all the time, it's simply the best (!) file manager. Also it's shareware, so if you can live with a startup nag-screen it's free.

Ultraedit - Not free, but nothing beats this text editor. Once you go down the path of ultraedit, there's no turning back.

putty - It just works.

+1 for total commander and utraedit, first thing I install. – Egil Hansen Jun 5 '09 at 10:58

TreeSizeFree for figuring out what's using all your storage space.

How does this compare to WinDirStat? – Dan Dascalescu Dec 3 '12 at 3:49

Windows Installer Cleanup Utility - saved my bacon multiple times.

Visual C# Express - really! The .NET framework has a LOT of useful classes for automating admin tasks, and I've rolled my own small army of useful utilities.


Ultra Vnc SC a free remote desktop tool. Some features: You only need one exe to pass to client, no install, Can be customized and You also can translate this tool, got a file transfer and chat.

You don't even need an exe. Just use your web browser. – John Gardeniers Jul 6 '09 at 21:52

I find Agent Ransack or its non-free version, File Locator Pro, to be much much more effective than the basic "Search" function of Windows (which was/is broken on XP)

Its broken on Vista, still, as well. – SmartMethod Apr 17 '10 at 3:15

A new open source to alternative to ProcessExplorer is ProcessHacker.

You can install it or just run it off a thumb drive. If you install it you can take advantage of some of the special features. On such feature is a kernel mode driver that acts as a proxy to query process information. This is apparently to avoid UAC prompts in Vista. Another feature is the ability to launch ProcessHacker instead of task manager from the ctrl+alt+delete menu. Finally, you can set ProcessHacker to run at login.


If for some reason you don't want to get and install the whole Cygwin GNU utilities for Win32 are useful. It's nice to fire up cmd and use grep, wget, tail, etc.

sniffer to see what exactly is happening on the wire [ unless you can tap somewhere on the switch with port mirroring].

Far Manager for those like me who still prefer console rather over Windows Explorer. and yeah - it's open source now! Ready to use builds are here.

Notepad++ was already mentioned, but Notepad2 - not. It's very useful Notepad replacement. It has syntax hilight, block operations, different encoding.

+1, as I'd just posted (now deleted as it's a dupe) the exact same thing regarding GNU Utilities for Win 32 and not needing Cygwin. – Bryan Apr 5 '10 at 9:40

I have been testing Spiceworks for IT management (inventory, monitoring, reporting, tracking). So far, made my life easier, so let's toss it on the pile.

+1 for Wireshark. – Dan Dascalescu Dec 3 '12 at 3:56

I live by TaskInfo, an integrated utility that beats Task Manager and Systems Information hands down.


testdisk - saved my ass a when my raid screwed up, was able to copy the data off it to another drive even though it wasn't showing up in windows. now i can't live without it.


Logparser is a must.


Remote Desktop / Terminal Services


RD tabs is a great RDP replacement. It allows saving connections like bookmarks, tabs, pop-outs, screen capture! Works really well!


Well I'd say but then I would say that, wouldn't I :-)

Lots of those tools seem like reimplementations of consecrated tools. For example, how is httpgrabber different from wget -S? reconcile seems like a particular case of BeyondCompare. Etc. – Dan Dascalescu Dec 3 '12 at 3:55

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