When a machine won’t boot, you need a variety of tools to troubleshoot the problem. You’ll need boot disks, NIC drivers, tools to analyze the problem, and then tools to fix it. Even assuming that all the necessary drivers and DLLs are stored on a network share, you’re still lugging around quite a large portable tool chest.

Now consider what it would be like to have everything you need on one CD that boots the disabled machine and seamlessly accesses the company network. That’s the promise of Winternals Administrator’s Pak.

A variety of tools on one CD
Have a computer that won’t boot? Just put the CD in the drive, place a floppy disk with the licensing information on it in the A: drive, and then turn on the disabled computer. If the machinery is working, you’ll find a Windows XP desktop environment with Winternals’ ERD Commander 2002 running. If the ERD Commander can find the operating system, it will display that and any service pack information.

Click OK and you will be on a very trimmed down Windows XP desktop. Under the Start menu you’ll find a listing of many of the GUI tools in the Administrator’s Pak (Figure A).

Figure A
These programs are accessible from the Start menu.

Many of the tools available through the ERD Commander interface of the Administrator’s Pak are nearly identical to the tools in Windows, although there are a few variations that might throw you off if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

One example of a variation is in the ERD Commander 2002 Registry Editor. As you can see in Figure B, there are only two HKEYs that show up. A look in the user’s guide will explain that only the two top-level keys show up because the machine has booted from the CD, and not the system on the machine. So the current hardware configuration is not loaded.

Figure B
Using the ERD Commander Registry Editor might seem odd with only two top-level keys.

Other programs under the Start menu look much more like the standard Windows equivalents. Notepad, which is invaluable for editing batch or configuration files, looks nearly identical to the Windows version.

The Console is easily available under the Start menu. It brings up the ERD Commander 2002 Command Shell. From there you can put in many of the usual DOS commands and access various programs, such as IPConfig (Figure C).

Figure C
You can use many familiar commands and programs in the Console, such as IPConfig.

There are also several support-specific features to some of the Windows-equivalent tools. For example, the ERD Explorer shows hidden folders and files, and displays them as faded icons (Figure D).

Figure D
Hidden files, such as the Boot.ini file, are visible by default in the ERD Explorer.

Even more value in administrative tools
Three of the most useful programs available under the Administrative Tools submenu under the Start menu are: Service And Driver Manager, Locksmith, and Event Log.

The Service And Driver Manager uses the same tree directory interface as the Explorer, allowing the support pro to examine services and drivers (Figure E).

This handy program allows the support tech to turn services or drivers on or off and replace corrupted services and drivers.

Figure E
List drivers or services through the Service And Driver Manager.

The Locksmith program uses a wizard interface that allows you to change the password on any machine account, including the Administrator’s. This ability can be very handy if the previous administrator left the organization without sharing any of the passwords. Best of all, the Locksmith program allows you to change the password without knowing the current password (Figure F).

Figure F
With the Locksmith, you can reset the password for any account on the machine.

The Event Log is similar to the Windows Event Viewer; it allows you to look at event logs of a damaged computer for clues about what caused the problem.

With the Event Log, you can examine system, application, and security logs to diagnose problems such as blue screens and warning dialogs. A particularly powerful feature is the ability to filter the logs, if you need to isolate a recurring problem.

A member rave or two
A number of TechRepublic members have commented about the software offered on the Winternals and Sysinternals (Winternals’ original site that still exists) sites.

Some elements of the Administrator’s Pak are offered as free downloads from those sites. Other programs, such as Disk Commander and NTFSDOS are part of the Administrator’s Pak. Of course, the free downloads are praised most frequently, but users also rave about the high quality of the programs they’ve purchased.

“Winternals has an NTFSDOS program that can write to the NTFS partition using a DOS boot disk,” wrote Bvolpone in one post. “They have other tools with great functionality too.

“They’re not cheap, but worth it next time you have a dead NT system and need the data,” he wrote. “Trust me, after trying every cheap solution for a week and a half to try to get my system running again, I spent the few bucks and had it going in less than 30 minutes.”

Dmoisan also had something to say about the freeware offered by the company.

“When I need a monitoring tool, I check the Sysinternals site first. Regmon and Filemon, which I strongly recommend, are both free. I would love to have Locksmith, but the nonprofit I work for cannot afford it!” he wrote.

Well worth the price
Winternals’ Administrator’s Pak is a CD every support organization should seriously consider. You could spend a lot of time and effort collecting all the utilities provided by this one CD—and even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to execute them as seamlessly.

While $699 is a significant chunk of change, you can get volume discounts if your organization buys a license for every tech. Consider how much each tech’s time is worth, and how understaffed your support department probably is. The Administrator’s Pak could pay for itself fairly quickly.