My Top Five admin apps

It's amazing how many applications we all use from day to day and pretty much take for granted. There are, of course, hundreds of small apps that perform a vital function, but most of these are only occasional; prime examples of these would be tcpdump, WinRAR, patch/diff, gcc, and so on. As with most admin tools, there are usually more basic tools that can perform the same tasks. Sometimes the heavier applications can save time by allowing users to save configurations or complete a repetitive task at the click of a button. I guess selecting apps is a matter of personal choice and really depends on a person's chosen workflow. Below I have listed my Top Five applications, which I use daily for both work and play. You’ll notice that these are OS X applications as I tend to work predominantly on Apple Macs these days — I’ve also added the equivalent programs that I use while working on Windows (so that actually makes it my Top Nine).

1. JellyfiSSH/Putty

JellyfiSSH is a simple SSH bookmark manager for OS X. The design is very unobtrusive and intuitive to navigate. Each bookmark can be organised into groups making management of multisite networks a little less cumbersome. Connection properties can be set for each bookmark specifying connection type (telnet and SSH1/2), encryption algorithm, username, shell, and other graphical/display preferences. While the native SSH client does the job, I find the ‘bookmark’ role played by this application to be invaluable. It goes without saying that PuTTY is my obvious choice while working on a Windows machine for many of the same reasons.

2. Cyberduck / WinSCP

I’ve slowly been moving away from using Windows as my primary desktop OS and the application that I’ve missed the most has to be WinSCP. WinSCP is an open source file transfer application which supports SCP and SFTP protocols over an SSH connection. The design is nice and simple with full drag/drop functionality and, of course, connection bookmarks. I constantly used WinSCP for transferring configuration files that needed to be edited, backed up, or replaced. I have tried several file transfer applications for OS X and finally settled with Cyberduck. Cyberduck is an open source, easy-to-use program with full drag/drop functionality and integration of Spotlight, Keychain, and AppleScript. I also use Cyberduck as my graphical FTP client.

3. BBEdit / UltraEdit

Fans of editors like vi, nano, or crimson are going to lynch me here. My favourite text-editing program (so far) for the Mac platform is BBEdit. Now I know it’s not free and there are plenty of free text editors out there, which would still give code highlighting/folding and similar features. I find BBEdit to be a comfortable working environment and built-in support for S/FTP, applescript, and Automator can all prove to be handy. If anyone can suggest an alternative, please feel free. Under Windows my favourite text editor is, without a doubt, UltraEdit; since the first time I used this program I have been hooked. It does everything I could possibly ask of it and probably much more besides. If you haven’t already tried this one, then take a look at the free trial — the retail price is pretty reasonable at $50.

4. VMware Fusion / Workstation

Anybody who reads my blogs will know that I’m a very happy supporter of VMware. I find the power and flexibility provided by VMware virtual machines awesome. Regardless of which desktop OS I’m using, I always have options. I can work under OS X but still run Windows applications and boot up a Linux installation if need be. I also use VMware to set up virtual testing environments without having to prepare hardware. VMware Fusion is the Mac variant (currently only released on beta), while VMware Workstation runs on Windows. Workstation currently has quite a few more advanced features than Fusion although I’m sure the specs of both packages will even out as Fusion reaches maturity.I understand that VMWare Workstation is a pretty expensive piece of software and many people are reluctant to pay out. I have two things to say about that:

        1. It’s worth the money

        2. You don’t have to pay for it. Sign up for the VMware Workstation or Fusion beta programs and you can use the software for free. It is beta software, but I have yet to encounter a single bug.

5. Aqua Data Studio

Last but not least is my favourite database administration tool. Aqua Data Studio is great if you want to quickly connect to a database server and manipulate raw data. I most frequently use ADS for adding/removing blacklist entries from our SMTP database. The auto-completing query analyser is great, allowing queries to be built quickly and easily. Visual editing of schemas is possible with most of the supported database engines (Oracle, DB2 UDB, SQL Server, Sybase ASE, Sybase Anywhere, Sybase IQ, Informix, PostgreSQL and MySQL). While Aqua Data Studio was free prior to version 6 it must now be licenced. Version 4.7 is still available for download and free for non-commercial users. The best thing about this package is that it’s Java and therefore available for OS X, Windows and Linux.


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