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We mined Microsoft's CodePlex repository to unearth 15 invaluable Windows admin tools -- and they're all free
Microsoft CodePlex: 15 open source gems for every Windows admin
All the talk of Microsoft thawing lately to open source misses one detail: Microsoft has long hosted CodePlex, an extremely useful resource for open source projects aimed at Windows and Mircosoft’s server-side products. Here, developers can provide, free to the public, a diverse set of tools that enhance your experience with the Microsoft ecosystem.
CodePlex is no afterthought. It houses nearly 400,000 open source projects. If anything, it can be a bit overwhelming to keep on top of, even for the most seasoned Microsoft pros. The following 15 projects are some of my personal favorites. I consider them an essential part of any Microsoft IT pro’s toolbox. While this list leans more toward IT than development, know there are thousands of offerings that can benefit both IT and dev pros alike. Feel free to post your favorites to the comments.
Note: One thing to watch out for within CodePlex are “demo” copies of software that only demonstrate a product that you have to ultimately purchase from another site. Microsoft should do a better job of removing those kinds of entries from CodePlex, as that’s not the purpose of the site.
SharePoint Client Browser for SharePoint Online and SharePoint on-premise
SharePoint Client Browser is a CodePlex gem if I ever saw one. This tool greatly helps speed up development of SharePoint 2010/2013 and SharePoint Online instances by showing the hierarchy of your entire site collection structure -- including hidden lists, items, or documents -- in an easy-to-navigate (and visualize) interface. You can work directly with site collections, create new ones, add tenants, and so forth. You can also open PowerShell and run queries against your remote site collection. Anyone developing with SharePoint will want to play with this tool.
Note: In our previous roundup of CodePlex tools, we mentioned SharePoint Manager 2013, which is still a valid tool for browsing every SharePoint site on the local farm and viewing every property.
ExPerfWiz (Exchange Performance Data Collection tool)
ExPerfWiz is a PowerShell-based script to help automate the collection of performance data on Exchange 2007/2010/2013 servers. The latest version (1.3.8) collects all counters for Exchange baselining and troubleshooting, although you can taper this down to collect just what you need. It runs for eight hours by default to capture enough data without exhausting disk space, but you can alter the script to run as long as necessary for your install. The resulting files, stored in the Perflogs directory, are BLG files, but you can convert them to CSV.
RBAC Manager R2 for Exchange 2010/2013 and Office 365
This has been one of my favorite tools from CodePlex for a while now. RBAC (role-based access control) is often difficult to get a handle on, given the difficulty in visualizing which role groups have which roles and, correspondingly, which role entries are included through PowerShell. RBAC Manager R2 allows you to see all this visually -- an invaluable service to any Exchange admin. Whether your environment is on-premises or in the cloud, RBAC Manager R2 can map out your roles and role entries visually for you.
Simple Azure Virtual Machines Manager
The name of this next gem, Simple Azure Virtual Machines Manager, says it all. It really is a simple Web portal for accessing your Azure VMs, enabling you to quickly shut down, start up, and connect to your virtual machines. Because Azure VMs are pay for use and much of your work within Azure is likely to involve dev/test, you don’t want to accidentally leave VMs on indefinitely as if they are production VMs in those scenarios. Having a way to jump in and stop VMs, and to give folks who don’t have full Azure Portal access the ability to shut down VMs, is a good thing.
Note: The project is moved over to GitHub.
Data security is fast becoming an increasing concern for users and organizations alike. If you’re among the many who are looking for an easy, effective way to ensure the safety of your data, check out VeraCrypt. This disk encryption software is based on the well-known and trusted TrueCrypt. Not only can VeraCrypt work with volumes created with TrueCrypt, it has addressed some TrueCrypt vulnerabilities and added several enhancements to improve the security of your data.
Windows USB/DVD Download Tool
We carried over Windows USB/DVD Download Tool from our previous list of CodePlex gems because it continues to shine. The top downloaded tool on all of CodePlex, Windows USB/DVD Download Tool enables you to copy your Windows 7/8 ISO onto a USB drive or DVD to create a bootable DVD or USB flash drive from which to perform installations. Microsoft even mentions this tool directly on its Windows Store site to assist with the install of Windows.
Virtual Router: Wi-Fi Hot Spot for Windows 8, 7, 2008 R2
Virtual Router is a free, open source software-based router. With Virtual Router, you can share your PC’s Internet connection (connected through LAN, Wi-Fi, cable modem, DSL, and so on) with any Wi-Fi device (mobile, laptop, and the rest). As shown in the figure, you give your Virtual Router install a name, provide a password, and start the service. It then shows up in your devices Wi-Fi settings. Connect them, and you’re good to go.
ScreenToGif is a fun but practical tool. It allows you to quickly record your screen actions and save them as a GIF looped animation. It has a variety of intuitive options (screen size, frame rate, and more) but also allows you to go through your screenshots and edit them to choose or alter transition types. Where this can be very helpful is when you need to demonstrate something for users within your environment. Rather than taking screenshots or making a whole video, ScreenToGif provides an in-between method for training folks on how to do something quickly and easily. It's a great little tool for IT admins.
Another tool carried over from our previous list of gems, Terminals remains one of the top downloaded tools on CodePlex, and it’s easy to understand why. Terminals provides IT admins with an easy way to manage multiple RDP connections. This effective alternative to the built-in Remote Desktop Connections tool is a secure, multitab terminal service/remote desktop client that supports a variety of server protocols (Windows RDP, VNC, VMRC, SSH, Telnet, RAS, ICA Citrix, HTTP, and HTTPS). In addition to providing great remote desktop connectivity, Terminals offers an array of networking tools -- ping, tracert, DNS, port scanner, and more -- so you can troubleshoot remote servers on your network.
Setting up test environments can be a pain. You may have all the ISOs you need, then you have to go in and set up all the Hyper-V VMs for your lab. Enter AutomatedLab.
AutomatedLab’s scripts help you set up lab systems using PowerShell cmdlets like Install-LabSoftwarePackages. The array of scripts available is impressive. For example, there is a medium-lab script that gives you two domain controllers with a parent/child domain structure and 7,000 precreated users, an Exchange 2013 server, a SQL 2012 server, and a Windows 8.1 client with Visual Studio 2013 installed. Think of the time you save not having to set all that up yourself. Figuring out the nuances of AutomatedLab is a bit tricky, but plenty of clear instructions are included to help.
AD Magic Restore
You never know when you might accidentally delete an object or attribute from your Active Directory and want it back. AD Magic Restore to the rescue. AD Magic Restore is written in PowerShell and has the ability to collect data on AD and restore granular data back to AD. Note that AD Magic Restore runs only on Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 2012.
Remove Windows Store apps in Windows 8
Windows 8 offers a lot of great new features you might never want to part with, but you may find a few that are more trouble than they're worth. If any of the Windows Store apps happen to be among the Windows 8 features you’d rather do without, there is now a simple, straightforward script for removing multiple Windows Store apps for an individual user account.
Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) Tool
Initially I wasn’t going to carry over this tool from our previous set of CodePlex gems, but when I saw its recent update (version 2.7), I knew it still held value and admins would benefit from knowing about it. The Performance Analysis of Logs Tool, aka PAL, helps quickly analyze performance data using a PowerShell script. One of the cool features of PAL is that it includes built-in threshold files for most known Microsoft products, such as IIS, SQL, SharePoint, Exchange, BizTalk, and Active Directory.
Free language translator and file converter
This free language translator and file converter is both very easy to use and installable, enabling you to import documents and translate them with a click. With more and more contributions coming from around the globe I find at times that the article I want or need is not in a language I can read. It’s nice to an installed translator to help glean expert knowledge, no matter what language it is written in.
Office 365 Drive Mapping for Enterprise Desktops
Office 365 Drive Mapping for Enterprise Desktops allows users to utilize folder redirection for SharePoint Online, and it is especially helpful for Windows 7 desktops or higher with no local storage being used in the process. With this tool, you can map drives directly to your Office 365 storage options, such as OneDrive for Business, which is based in SharePoint Online.