Cool Free Tools for Windows Admins

Recover files, edit source code, scan your network, and more—for just the right price

Executive Summary:
Use these utilities to perform network or desktop maintenance, recover deleted files, burn ISO images and copy boot partitions, and other Windows administrative tasks.

They say you get what you pay for, but sometimes you can get a whole lot more than you pay for. In this column, I'll share ten of my favorite free tools Windows administrators can use to deliver a whole lot of value for absolutely no money. Although some of these utilities have more fully featured commercial siblings, none of these tools are bait-and-switch trial versions that will time out on you.

10. Desktop Restore—It drives me crazy when some application changes my screen resolution and messes up my carefully arranged desktop. Desktop Restore is a tiny shell extension that records the position of your desktop icons and lets you easily restore your favorite desktop layout when such a tragedy occurs. You can get Desktop Restore from

9. Paint.NET—Paint.NET is a huge improvement over Windows' built-in Paint program for image manipulation. Paint.NET has a tabbed interface that lets you work with multiple images. It also has features such as layers, gradients, and a cool 3D image rotation. You can download Paint.NET from

8. Notepad++—I've used several different source-code editors, but Notepad++ has become my favorite. It features a tabbed interface, syntax highlighting for all popular programming and scripting languages, bracket matching, and macro recording. You can download Notepad++ from

7. XML Notepad—Notepad++ can do basic XML editing, but Microsoft's XML Notepad is a specialized XML editor with a small footprint. It has a Tree View and a Node Text View and a built-in XML Diff capability. XML Notepad is handy for manually editing Hyper-V virtual machines (VMs). You can find XML Notepad at

6. InfraRecorder—Windows OSs don't provide graphical tools for burning ISO images. Although InfraRecorder doesn't support all the DVD and CD drives that are available, it can burn ISO images as well as create data and audio CDs and DVDs on most common drives. You can download InfraRecorder from

5. ZoomIt—What's a list of free tools without something from Sysinternals? If you give presentations and demos, you might want to check out ZoomIt. ZoomIt lets you magnify portions of your screen as well as draw on and annotate the screen. You can find ZoomIt at

4. Lansweeper—Lansweeper is a network inventory tool that performs hardware scanning, software scanning, and reporting on Active Directory (AD) users. It includes approximately 80 built-in reports. Scanning is done using WMI and remote registry access. Lansweeper requires SQL Server 2000 or later on the backend, and it has a convenient option to include SQL Server 2005 Express as part of its installation. You can get Lansweeper at

3. WinPE 2.1—Windows Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) is a bootable copy of the Vista core that essentially lets you make a Windows command-line boot recovery DVD. Until recently, WinPE was available only to Software Assurance customers, but Microsoft has made WinPE available as a part of the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK). Although it would be nice if Microsoft made WinPE available as a standalone download, you can get it as part of WAIK at

2. PING—I tend to shy away from Linux-based tools, but I've found PING (Partimage Is Not Ghost) really useful—yes, even for Windows users. PING makes a sector-based image copy of a disk partition. The bootable PING ISO tool is useful for copying a Windows boot partition when the system disk is full and you want to put the image back on a bigger disk. You can download PING from

1. NTFS Undelete—Every now and then, I get messages from desperate readers or friends because they accidently deleted a file or have a corrupted disk partition. NTFS Undelete is the kind of tool that can really save your bacon when you need to recover a file and you don't have a backup. NTFS Undelete recovers deleted files that are no longer in your recycle bin. I also recently used it to successfully recover a corrupted disk partition. NTFS Undelete can be found at

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