Windows

10 tools TR members consider essential

We recently asked the question "What's the one tool you can't live without?" Here's a roundup of some of your responses -- which took an interesting turn.

Several weeks ago, I asked TechRepublic members to tell me which tool they rely on the most in their work. Between the responses in the discussion thread and the ones sent to me directly, there were a great many from which to choose. Further, although I had originally intended to focus solely on software tools, a number of really good non-software responses came in as well.

So without further fanfare, here are the 10 "best tools" I've picked from the entries, along with some thoughts on each one.

1: The simple NAT router -- the hardware kind

When you really think about it, the rise of the simple home router that provides routing, wireless access, DHCP services, an Ethernet switch, DNS services, and much more has enabled a whole slew of other things at home. Good or bad, it's made it easier for people to work from home and has transformed how we interact with our devices there. People think nothing of connecting their smart phones, iPads, laptops, and TVs to these devices and getting on the Internet.

How many of you don't have a router in your home? If you have an Internet connection, I'd be willing to bet that a vast majority of you do have one.

2: PuTTY

Believe it or not, there was a day when getting a terminal emulator was an expensive proposition. When I started working in IT, we needed a tool that could emulate a Data General terminal, and we spent hundreds of dollars per license.

With more and more servers requiring terminal-based remote access -- think Linux -- there was a rising need for affordable and accessible tools. That was solved with the release of PuTTY, an open source Telnet and SSH client with xterm support.

Multiple readers submitted PuTTY as one of their tools of choice. This is also a tool that I use on a pretty regular basis. Best of all, PuTTY is free.

3: Dropbox

Dropbox is a perfect example of a utility that can be found with cloud-based solutions, particularly those that are free. As you probably know, Dropbox is a popular file-sharing and storage solution, with clients who work across a multitude of platforms, including Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Android. It's super easy to use, too. Users just identify a folder they'd like to synchronize and Dropbox does the rest. Any time a file in that folder is added or updated, Dropbox syncs the file to all other devices connected to the Dropbox account and also stores a copy on Dropbox's servers, making all the content available via the Web.

4: MacBook Air

Again, I'm including a hardware device. The MacBook Air was submitted by a reader and is also on my personal list of favorite tools. Back in the olden days, I was pretty anti-Apple. These days, I consider myself pretty pro-Apple, although not to the point of hating other platforms. As an IT pro, I make every effort to ensure that the recommendations I make are based on the situation at hand rather than my own preferences. In fact, on my Air, I also run Windows inside VMware Fusion, so it's not exactly a pure OS X play.

Why does this product make the list? Although somewhat pricey, it's an incredibly portable form factor with punch. I run Fusion on this device with room to spare and without performance issues. The Air brings real portability to the computing paradigm. Whereas the iPad is a great content consumer, the Air can be a great content creation tool.

It's not for everyone. I wanted something versatile that I could easily transport and that would still support Windows while letting me learn something new. I got it!

5: SolarWinds Subnet Calculator

What network pro hasn't had to use a good old subnet calculator from time to time? If you do IP subnetting every day, maybe you've got everything memorized. But for us mere mortals, a quick reference tools takes the pain out of network planning. SolarWinds makes available for free -- always a good price! -- its Advanced Subnet Calculator product.

6: Snagit/HyperSnap

Screen capture tools are used for all kinds of things, including creating documentation and producing content for TechRepublic. Some of you submitted Snagit as one of the tools you can't live without. I agree 100%! I use Snagit on my Mac and a tool called HyperSnap on my Windows machines. I've been using HyperSnap pretty much since it was first released, so it's the tool I grew up on and hence, I keep using it.

Not much else to say about these tools except that they're easier to use than the built-in screen capture methods found in Windows and Mac OS X!

7: LogMeIn/GoToMyPC

If you listen to XM radio, you probably hear constant ads for Citrix's GoToMyPC application; at least one of you does, since this was submitted as a favorite tool. GoToMyPC is a Web-based service that allows you remote access to your desktop as if you were sitting at the keyboard. So you can use your work PC from home with any browser and even from an iPad or other mobile device.

I'm also a huge fan of LogMeIn, which performs a similar function. I have LogMeIn installed on all my lab servers, as well as my home desktop. When I'm on the road, I can work with my lab environment as if I were sitting in my home office. It makes it easy to travel while still getting work done. LogMeIn is available in free/lite (but extremely capable) and paid versions. I have a couple of paid subscriptions, but I also use the free service for some of my needs.

8: PowerShell

If you've used anything from Microsoft in the past few years, you've probably become at least a little bit familiar with PowerShell, the scripting language Microsoft is using for all its product management these days. PowerShell allows administrators to automate pretty much any task that can be performed with the associated product GUI. In fact, for some functions, you have to use PowerShell, as not every possible action has been added to every product's management interface.

Beyond automating administrative tasks, PowerShell provides a great way to pull data elements from Active Directory, Exchange, and more. Even VMware leverages PowerShell in its PowerCLI command-line interface tool, used for managing vCenter and vSphere hosts. It's only going to get more powerful with PowerShell 3, coming soon.

9: Anything from Sysinternals

Many of you submitted tools that have been created by the mastermind at Sysinternals, which was acquired by Microsoft a few years ago. Sysinternals has created a number of those "man... if I could only do this" tools that can, well, do that! From AccessEnum (to show you exactly who has access to directories, files, and registry keys) to PsTools (a suite that includes command-line utilities for listing the processes running on local or remote computers, running processes remotely, rebooting computers, dumping event logs, and more), Sysinternals helps administrators peek under the hood of their Windows systems to figure out what's really going on in there. The tools are must-haves for troubleshooting as well as any serious administration of Windows systems.

10: The brain

This was a submission from a reader and, frankly, it's brilliant. When it all comes down to it, the one tool we all use -- okay, most of us use -- every day is our brain. Without it, none of the other tools on the list would mean a thing. It does math, it can do subnet calculations, it can interpret the results from using the AccessEnum tool from Sysinternals. It is, by far, the most complex utility out there and also the most capable.

While it may not be able to do calculations as quickly as Excel, it can make leaps that AI systems only dream of making. Our imaginations allow us to unlock the "power" in PowerShell and create systems that make life easier. It's a work of evolution that hasn't yet been matched by anything artificial.

Additions?

If you missed out on the original Call for Feedback, here's your chance to chime in. What other tools do you rely on the most? Share your favorites with other TechRepublic members.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

18 comments
whiplashm1
whiplashm1

I use WhatsRunning very frequently. While Sysinternals' Process Explorer has a lot of the same functionality, I like WhatsRunning because it also includes a Startup list that you can very easily use to disable or completely remove items from startup. It also shows a ton of detail about any process that's running, as well as running services, every IP connection currently running and the process that's using it, and every driver installed on the machine. Very cool for digging into spyware issues. Also, it kinda goes without saying, but HiJackThis is also a must-have.

lpullen
lpullen

We use Spiceoworks EVERY day.

Benny7440
Benny7440

For me, within a Windows environment it's IZarc! Seamonkey File Finder works very well!

mbrello
mbrello

I must first start out by saying I just don't understand all the bashing & negative comments. Honestly, I read those types of posts and I can just feel my head tilting slightly to one side while my face gets that "huh?!" look -- you know, that look a dog gets when it's listening to a high-pitched noise? Yes, I know, I shamelessly borrowed a line from Bill Engvall, but hey, it fit the scenario. I don't believe that the intent of Scott's article was to suggest that the tools he highlighted here and only those tools were the essentials for all IT Pros. He was sharing those that he found essential and inviting the rest of us to share those we have found essential. So, please, let's try to stay focused and provide constructive commentary. I use Logmein (the freeware version) quite frequently, and it suits my needs perfectly. My hair is finally starting to grow back after all the times I used to pull at it while trying to assist relatives long-distance over the telephone. LOL Plus, it is super handy when you're on the road and need to get to your own home computer. Lots of good suggestions in Scott's article, as well as some new ones suggested by some of the readers. I think that the Mac Air was a good suggestion - especially if you are in an environment where Mac's are some of the hardware that is supported. Although I have never used one, Scott indicated that " ... its an incredibly portable form factor with punch. I run Fusion on this device with room to spare and without performance issues. The Air brings real portability to the computing paradigm. " So that makes sense to me why he included it on his essentials list. And as far as "10: The Brain", I couldn't agree more. As IT Pros, we have surely encountered plenty of users that don't use theirs, but I have also encountered peers and industry colleagues who don't seem to put their own to good use either. For those who scoff at Number 10, it's also referred to as "thinking outside the box." I look forward to reading about additional "essentials" contributed by more readers. I'm building a list of my own from everyone's suggestions! Have a great weekend, all! :)

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

No way. We don't allow our company data to go through 3rd party servers. Try TeamViewer instead; works great, robust and is nearly the same as sitting in front of that remote desktop.

weserphillip
weserphillip

That slideshow stuff sucked, I was able to finish the whole thing. Thanks!

ccypher645
ccypher645

Yes PuTTY is a must have, also another screenshot tool to add is GreenShot. Sysinternals is a must, as well as several of the nirsoft tools (fast resolver, netresview, bulletpass) http://www.nirsoft.net/. Also having your boot cds I usually use parted magic, hirens, konboot and PLOP Boot Manager are a few in my kit besides install disks for XP , 7, debian and ubuntu. Also I'd be lost without Keepass Just my 2 cents

a.portman
a.portman

The original thread had more than 30 insightful suggestions. Off the top of my head, Putty is the only thing on this list that was on the original. Find the thread and read the suggestions. Pull your own top ten.

john
john

This one has me scratching my head... As an IT Pro I have to support Apple computers but would never consider using one for IT work. I dont get into the Window v. Mac crap. I just need a computer to work. As an IT Pro you cant beat the Wintel platform while dual booting w/ Linux. Otherwise a good article.

chuckmba@adelphia.net
chuckmba@adelphia.net

I find I use SCLIST and UPTIME quite often. Our system monitoring application would generate a ticket for a service that stopped which was nice, except it would have the short name while services would list the name. Often the two were not the same. SCLIST would show both and the state.Uptime would allow one to see how long a server was up without having to log in and read through the system log or issue other cryptic commands.

ewarden1
ewarden1

I must assume this is a reference to "wetware" and not "software". There is a software application from TheBrain.com by this name. It is a abstract knowledge base which I depend upon constantly. I do technical support for a laboratory information system vendor and we have a multitude of different modules that run under windows on top of a unix platform. If I had to remember all that I need to know to do my job it would be impossible. TheBrain is different from the normal mind-mapping applications in that you can go directly to what would normally be a 'branch' and see all of its related thoughts. I have been using this product for several years and it performs flawlessly. You can buy the Pro version or just use the free version. The trial is free for 30 days and if you don't buy it just reverts to the free version with no loss of entered data. You just lose some of the more advanced functionality. I am not associated with this company other than being a very appreciative user of the software. Go to the web site for more information as I could not possibly tell you everything here.

GreatZen
GreatZen

After culling all the knowledge and suggestions from the TR community this is the best you could do? Does PuTTy really serve a greater role in the IT work than the ubiquitous USB Flash Drive? Instead of a broad and applicable answer like "An ultra-portable with ____ specifications" you ad pimp the MacBook Air? Because what IT Pros really want is to carry a separate dongle for Ethernet access. Or the lack of firewire/eSATA/USB 3.0 ports. Or the lack of an optical drive. Or instead of broadly saying "Remote Desktop" you ad-pimp two more paid products without even a cursory mention of still-free UltraVNC, which offers out-of-the-box check box simple remote desktop, file transfer, and encrypted connections. And honestly... "Your Brain"?? There's a reason only one user recommended that to you. This is seriously as stupid as saying "the laws of physics because they keep me from falling off into space where I couldn't recharge my smart phone" or "air, because without it, I'd die." And surely, if I absolutely had to have JUST ONE tool in my entire toolkit, it wouldn't be a USB Flash Drive, a laptop, a kickass 4G smartphone, or some fancy pants Gerber Cable Dawg. No sir, it would be a subnet calculator.

mariusdima
mariusdima

Probably the fastest and easiest way to access most popular storage clouds from your Microsoft Office and Windows :) FREE

kburrows
kburrows

And I'll bet you use the free version in violation of their license and it still authenticates through a 3rd party server as well as relying on their security accessing your workstations.

Jody Gilbert
Jody Gilbert

We linked to the original discussion thread in the second sentence of the post, figuring some folks would want to see what the rest of the members' favorites are. --Jody

ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

Must have been promoted so techs can actually get work done.

GSG
GSG

I use PuTTY every day, many times, for many different servers. You know what I use my USB flash drive for? I have my MP3's on it so it's portable between my car, home, and work. I occasionally put an installation file on there if I'm going to one of our remote locations, but that doesn't happen often. So, for fun, USB wins, but as a tool, it's PuTTY.

rosewoodstimlee
rosewoodstimlee

I went to their site, and for an MS Office plugin they wanted $149.00