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Great Free Tools for .NET Developers and IT Pros

Michael K. Campbell lists some of the free tools that make his life as a developer and IT pro a lot easier

As with the craftsmen of bygone eras, the tools that we use today as developers and IT professionals play a huge part in determining our overall effectiveness and continued success. I therefore wanted to start out the New Year by linking to two well-known lists of free tools for developers and SQL Server users (as well as geeks in general)—on the off chance that anyone hasn't heard of these lists. In similar manner, I also wanted to call out a couple of fantastic (free) tools I've used that haven't received as much notoriety or attention.

Celebrated Lists of Free Tools
If you've learned how to make your way around the Internet either as a developer or IT professional, then chances are pretty good that you've bumped into either (or both) Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Tools List or Megan Keller's Mega Guide to Free SQL Server Tools. Scott's list started off primarily as a list of great/free tools for developers, but has slowly morphed over the years to include all sorts of tools, tweaks, and utilities that appeal to geeks in general—and no longer solely just to developers. Likewise, while Megan's list specifically targets SQL Server users, it includes a bevy of great tools and resources that any IT professional (or geek) would do well to peruse.

If you've never come across either of these lists, then I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to go look through each list, regardless of whether you're a developer, SQL Server user, or neither. Likewise, if you haven't peeked at either list in a while, you should probably go scan them, as you never know which tools might now scratch some itches that you didn't have when you first encountered them. Likewise, I'd recommending subscribing to the RSS feeds of both Megan and Scott as you'll be heavily rewarded if you like the kinds of content they've provided in the form of these lists.

Not-So-Celebrated Tools That Should Be
Otherwise, I also wanted to call out a few tools, solutions, and utilities that I've used with regular success or triumph—but which don't seem to get called out as much in compiled lists of free/cool tools.

I can't say enough about how awesome is. If you're a .NET developer (or a heavy BI/SSIS developer), then you've likely run across the need to manage compression from within your applications or solutions. I've looked at gobs of different solutions or offerings (free and otherwise) and would happily pay a fortune for Ionic.Zip. Only I don't have to because it's a completely free library that's hosted on What I love most about this free library (above and beyond its insanely powerful feature set) is just how clean, logical, and well-thought-out the APIs are for working with compression or decompression. The site itself features some great examples that will "jump-start" you into development, and if you're well-enough versed as a .NET developer, you'll have no problems at all working with this library. In fact, I'd wager that if you use it as much as I do you'll marvel at how beautiful it is every time you get to work with it.

Regular Expressions are a part of .NET development. Only, if you're like me, you probably spend enough time working with Regular Expressions to remember key concepts and techniques—while your mastery of the syntax typically lapses to the point of needing a good reference. To that end, I keep a copy of O'Reilly's Regular Expression Pocket Reference (not free) close to my desk along with my free copy of Expresso—mapped to "expresso" in SlickRun. I've been using Expresso now for years, and love how painlessly it allows me to quickly test out regular expressions—under a variety of different scenarios or use cases. Expresso also includes a great overview and introduction to using Regular Expressions. And while continued use of Expresso does require (free) registration, the process is quick, painless, and non-spammy (i.e., you won't be spammed in exchange for registering).

Okay, these fantastic tools DID make it onto Scott's list—and I assume that virtually everyone knows about them. But on the off chance that someone reading this list (and Scott's list) misses them, I just had to include them again. That, and there are simply so many great tools that it's impossible not to include them again in my list of great tools. I use them all the time for all sorts of different purposes.

Wikipedia's List of Device Bandwidths
Although this isn't exactly a tool or utility, Wikipedia's list of device bandwidths is a fantastic, free, resource that anyone who loves technology should have firmly bookmarked. It's exhaustive, inclusive, and I've spent way too much scheming over it for clients, development projects, or my own needs at home or in the office.

Fine, I've got a bit of an agenda pushing this tool—since I created it. But ReverseDOS is a totally free resource/solution—and it does solve real problems. I use it constantly to put an end to comment spam on my blogs and out on Whenever I have problems with a new spammer, I either drop in their IP address (if they keep spamming from the same site), or some of the terms they're spamming and, poof: Problem gone. Granted, the code for RDOS hasn't been touched in a while, and the author needs to add some documentation or links to additional capabilities and features. But if you're fighting comment spam, RDOS can be a great option if you're running an ASP.NET website or blog.

TMurgent's ToolCrib and Other Goodies
For developers, the ongoing joke of "works on my machine" succinctly summarizes how easy it is for developers to lose sight of how tricky it can be to deploy applications into complex software environments. TMurgent's ToolCrib takes that paradigm to a whole new level, by making it easy to check different kinds of network environments where different speeds and latencies might be in play. There are also tools that let you simulate memory leaks, heavy CPU utilization, and a host of other scenarios that can be very beneficial to consider when writing complex software. Likewise, the site also includes a number of virtualization tools and utilities (which I haven't tried) that should be beneficial to IT professionals interested in using free tools created by one of the key players who launched Softricity, which Microsoft acquired for their App-V solution.

Share Your Free Tools Lists!

I toyed with the idea of including TweetDeck as a free tool too—because Twitter can be a great way to find help, insights, and other resources when used through a great tool or interface like TweetDeck. But, I decided not to mention it *grin* because Twitter/TweetDeck can also become a serious time sink. Otherwise, I'm sure there are plenty of great, free, tools out there that I haven't covered and which haven't been covered in either Scott's or Megan's list. So, if you know of anything that's been missed—and which needs more attention—be sure to share in this article's comments section.

Michael K. Campbell ([email protected]) is a contributing editor for SQL Server Magazine and a consultant with years of SQL Server DBA and developer experience. He enjoys consulting, development, and creating free videos for

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