Security optimize

The best free IT tools for cheapskate admins

Jack Wallen lists 11 free applications that can be useful to any IT admin adhering to a strict budget. From antivirus software to a backup utility and more, we've got you covered.

Okay, so you don't have to be a cheapskate to appreciate a useful free admin tool--you might just be working with a tight budget and cannot drop the coin for the IT tools the big boys use. If that is the case, these 11 tools are necessities. Some of these tools even work better and are more efficient than their costlier alternatives.

ComboFix

ComboFix is my go-to tool when the standard antivirus/malware software can't seem to find the problem--ComboFix almost always does. ComboFix also looks for and removes most rootkits and trojans. In order to use this tool, you must completely disable all antivirus solutions (you should completely remove AVG). Caution: If ComboFix is not used properly, it can could wreak havoc on the machine you're trying to fix.

ProduKey

ProduKey will help you get product keys from installed applications so that when you need to migrate to a new machine, you can continue using those costly licenses. ProduKey will recover keys from more than 1,000 software titles, including Microsoft Office, Adobe, and Symantec. When you use this tool, you will have both the product ID and the product key; the ID is important because it will tell you which version of the software is installed.

ProduKey (Click the image to enlarge.)

Hiren's BootCD

Hiren's BootCD is a one-stop-shop Linux boot disk that can help you pull off a number of small miracles. Some of the tools included are: Antivir, ClamWin, ComboFix, Clonedisk, Image for Windows,  BIOS Cracker, 7-Zip, Bulk Rename, Mini Windows XP, CCleaner, Notepad++, and much more. This single, bootable disk could easily be the only tool you need.

Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the better free antivirus tools available. Its tagline--"The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus program"--is true. When the firm I work with was looking for a new free solution, we tested Microsoft Security Essentials against AVG Free and Avast Free and found Microsoft Security Essentials to be superior, less intrusive, and less resource intensive.

Note: Microsoft Security Essentials can be used for free for up to 10 PCs. Beyond that, you can purchase the business version, System Center Endpoint Protection.

WinDirStat

WinDirStat is the program you need to have when you must know what is taking up the space on a hard drive. When C drives begin to fill up, performance degrades rapidly. It's a must to have a tool to help you discern what is gobbling up the precious space on a machine, and WinDirStat is the foremost app for getting this information quickly.

WinDirStat (Click the image to enlarge.)

CCleaner

CCleaner gets rid of temporary files and Windows Registry problems faster than any other tool. When a machine is having problems, this is almost always the tool I use first. CCleaner also helps to ensure privacy by getting rid of traces left behind (such as cookies) by web browsers.

Note: It is legal to use CCleaner Free for business use. CCleaner Business Edition comes with a few more features (including one-click cleaning) than the free version.

CCleaner (Click the image to enlarge.)

Defraggler

Defraggler blows away the built-in defragmenting application in all Windows operating systems; it's faster, more reliable, and more flexible than the built-in tools. With Defraggler, you can defrag a single file or an entire drive. Defraggler supports NTFS and FAT32 systems.

Defraggler (Click the image to enlarge.)

7-Zip

7-Zip is the best file archiver/compression tool (outside of Linux command line tools). It's open source and works on multiple platforms. Once installed, you will find 7-Zip has Explorer support and a simple to use GUI tool that any level of user can manage.

7-Zip (Click the image to enlarge.)

SyncBack

SyncBack is a simple to use and reliable backup utility. No, you won't be recovering from bare metal, but you can save your precious data. SyncBack can synchronize data to the same drive, a different drive or medium (CDRW, CompactFlash, etc.), an FTP server, a network, or a zip archive.

FileZilla

FileZilla reminds you that the cloud has not made FTP useless. There are plenty of times and reasons why you would need FTP, so why not use one of the best and most cost effective FTP clients? Also, if you need an easy to use FTP server to slap up on your Windows machines, FileZilla has a handy FTP server.

Foxit PDF Reader

Once you use Foxit PDF Reader, it will remind you how bulky and bloated Adobe Reader has become. Adobe is the industry standard, but that shouldn't prevent anyone from switching to Foxit. Unless you need to create PDF documents, you don't need all the heft of Adobe. So, uninstall Reader and give Foxit a try.

Note: Foxit Free can be used in businesses, although if you need Group Policy support and other more powerful features, you might want to purchase the Foxit Enterprise edition.

Additional TechRepublic resources

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

27 comments
Jason S from Spiceworks
Jason S from Spiceworks

Hey Jack (and TechRepublic readers!) For obvious reasons, I'm a bit biased, but I am curious why Spiceworks (http://www.spiceworks.com/) isn't listed above your list of the best free IT tools. Was this article limited to single-purpose tools and not complete software solutions? Would love to get your thoughts. Thanks! -Jason S from Spiceworks

BackupGal
BackupGal

One more to add to the mix... Unitrends is now in Virtual Appliance form, and two free editions are available: Free Edition Protect 4 VMs (VMware or Hyper-V) Instant recovery of virtual machines. File-level recovery of files and folders. Rotational archiving to disk, tape, NAS and SAN. Automated backup scheduling with flexible strategies. Download Free Edition: http://www.unitrends.com/unitrends-enterprise-backup/download?src=TechRepublic NFR Edition Eligibility: VCPs, VCIs, vExperts, MVPs, MCPs Protect 2 sockets and 2 physical servers Phone, email and online support 1 year expiration (renewable along with certification) Download NFR: http://www.unitrends.com/unitrends-enterprise-backup/download?src=TechRepublic

heckle
heckle

Yes Hiren's is free to download but, there is alot of software on there that is commercial (not even shareware) software.

ssanders
ssanders

It sounds like a fantastic tool. Too bad there's no link to download it. There are plently of links to download toolbars and other crapware, but no boot CD. I will really need the boot CD to fix all the viruses, trojans and malware I will get trying to find a way to downoad it.

Regulus
Regulus

1. Absolutely and totally miserable to download experience. 2. My AV activated on several 'clicks' during the process - but it was on Tech Republic's recommended list - shouldn't be an issue - hey? 3. Yes, my machine got 'Quirkey'. OK, uninstall, clean and reinstall fresh version of MalwareBytes (Along with several re-boots (great fun)) 4. Ok, so it's almost impossible to specify 'exactly' where something came from, but my unit gets a 'deep-scan' every night. And now, Malwarebytes finds: (PUP.CrossFire.SA) -> Data: CouponDropDown . Etc. 5. Yes, it could have come from somewhere else. Are you will to take that chance?

Who Am I Really
Who Am I Really

great tool used to use FTPV'ger but got tired of the please pay for the next update nag and they crapped their own bed when they burned me on the "last day" they sell you 365 days but only give you 364 or less I get a nice notification "new version .... is available" great, I check my expiry which was wx/yz/2009 same date as new release go to get it, and the site pops in my face, you need to renew before you can have this one I call BS, because every other program I've paid for gives you updates until 23:59:59:99 of the end date I contact v'ger support and they tell me, nope yer expiry is @ 00:00:00:01 of the end date nice, they gave me 363.5 days for the price of 365 around the same time I see review & recommendation for FileZilla never looked back

psauve
psauve

I don't know how I managed without BullZip PDF Printer! Simply a great tool to print to a PDF or JPG file!

Bapster
Bapster

Some sites that host/offer Hiren's Boot CD are potentially dangerous and could contain social engineering tactics and other trojans. Please beware. At least, that has been my experience.

rhisiart22
rhisiart22

I used to use Filezilla but I have switched to Core FTP. More options and easier to use interface.

sjh_vt
sjh_vt

These are not really all free for "IT admins". The Piriform software (CCeaner and Defraggler) for example are free for home use; not for use in a business environment.

fendog
fendog

Downloaded and tried WinDirStat but it takes too long to read the directory and report, I'll stick with TreeSize Free from Jam software as it reads the directory and reports the size very quickly.

Snufykat
Snufykat

The produkey software sounded useful, i downloaded it and installed it just to find out you need to purchase it for it to work. Falls short of the title "The best free IT tools for cheapskate admins".

goldenpirate
goldenpirate

@jack wallen appreciate your reviews of the programs, but i have one complaint - why review programs that cant be downloaded???? Particularly Hiren’s BootCD. Followed the link to the home page BUT no download button. What gives???

Jeff7181
Jeff7181

PowerGUI is a real nice powershell script editor, a little more robust than the built in ISE.

heyhurryup
heyhurryup

Just in case people get worried over the comments and non-research of other 'expert opinions' this is the flip-side... 1) It's free (2 guys labour of love) 2) You are in IT but logically this may not contain any programs that could cause false positives at all...therefore must be a virus. 3) This has been doing the rounds for over 8 years - how many techies have not at least heard the name if not used it in some way.

magic8ball
magic8ball

That some of the apps on there are sketchy to say the least. It does seem that they have removed many of them but a couple still remain as of the 15.1 version. Probably best to stay away from that one.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Why am I not surprised Jack didn't do his homework. Most can assume that if you are an admin, it is a decent size company.

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

Software by Piriform (depending on the product) is free for all. Support, however, is not ($25 for "Pro" $35 for "Business"). From the installer of CCleaner 3.21: 3. PRODUCT LICENSE In consideration of your agreeing to abide by the terms of this License and subject to your compliance with the terms of this License, Piriform grants you a non-exclusive, non-transferable license to use the Product for the following purposes and in the following manner: - You may NOT resell, charge for, sub-license, rent, lease, loan or distribute the Product without our prior written consent. We reserve the right to withdraw any such consent (or part thereof) for any reason and without notice and to demand that you immediately cease any activity in respect of which permission is withdrawn. - You may NOT repackage, translate, adapt, vary, modify, alter, create derivative works based upon, or integrate any other computer programs with, the Product in whole or in part. - You may NOT use the Product to engage in or allow others to engage in any illegal activity. - You may NOT transfer or assign your rights or obligations under this License to any person or authorize all or any part of the Product to be copied on to another user's computer. - You may NOT decompile, disassemble, reverse engineer or otherwise attempt to discover the source code of the Product except to the extent that you may be expressly permitted to reverse engineer or decompile under applicable law. - You are NOT permitted to grant any sub-licenses of the Product. You are under no obligation to purchase any Product support from Piriform. However, where you do so, this License is subject to any further limitations which may be set out in your support agreement with Piriform. ---- There is no for private vs. corporate use. Furthermore, http://www.piriform.com/ccleaner/faq/general/can-i-use-ccleaner-in-a-business-or-corporate-network

info
info

I'm pretty sure MS Security Essentials and FileZilla ALSO say they're not free for corporate use as well.

airjos
airjos

Try Overdisk, it's a great tool.

Gisabun
Gisabun

The newer one is view only. If you grab 1.5.3 it allows you to edit or modify the Win XP key and registration [not tested Vista or after]. [But some AV software doesn't like it as it opens another app in the background.]

airjos
airjos

Try Belarc Advisor. Also to add to this list, I've had great success with Overdisk as well as Auslogics' Defrag and Registry Cleaner

info
info

...Jack's link, but I used this one, http://www.hirensbootcd.org/download/ and it IS hard to spot. Way at the bottom of the page, in the yellow block (at least, in FireFox) is a tiny text link to the program, it looks like.

FTAdmin
FTAdmin

Knee-jerk reply here, but I thought I read in the EULA that all Genuine Copies of Windows (XP and up) are viable candidates for MSSE. Like you say though, best to research it and be safe.

airjos
airjos

If corporations are people, certainly IT admins are persons who are arguably at home in their work environment. Therefore these tools are being implemented for personal use. :)

AstroCreep
AstroCreep

From the installer: If you comply with these license terms, you have the rights below. 1. INSTALLATION AND USE RIGHTS. a. Home Use. If you are a home user, then you may install and use any number of copies of the software on your personal devices for use by people who reside in your household. b. Small Business. If you operate a small business, then you may install and use the software on up to ten (10) devices in your business. c. Restrictions. The software may not be used on devices owned by government or academic institutions. d. Separation of Components. The components of the software are licensed as a single unit. You may not separate the components and install them on different devices. e. Included Microsoft Programs. The software may contain other Microsoft programs. The license terms with those programs apply to your use of them.