back to article What's in the box, Windows sysadmin?

Windows is a powerful and complex Operating System (OS). As with any modern OS, it comes equipped with numerous features, utilities, and applications. But Windows' default tools are not always the best widget for the job at hand. The ubiquity of these tools makes them a standard minimal toolkit that Windows administrators can …

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Similar but better than a memory stick...

If you're trying to fix a machine of unknown provenance, which might have a virus on it (you never know), I prefer to use a pound-shop SD-card reader - this honours the write-protect switch on the SD card so your tools don't get infected trying to clean up the beast.

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I've had some bad results using pound shop card readers...they've trashed a few quite expensive cards; seemingly permanently. I go with a USB stick these days.

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Trollface

In before . . .

. . . the Linux geeks declaring the only tool they need to fix Windows is a Linux installation CD.

Good list, btw. Bookmarked.

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Anonymous Coward

There's that.

There's also the minor point that sticking to a system that its vendor never quite manages to get quite right does indeed require you to cart around a large collection of third party fixes for what are arguably deficiencies in this "powerful" system.

It's like standing in the industrial machinery aisle, holding up some home improvement tool, and trying to show off how "powerful" the nice and shiny, plastic-housed, tool is. Excuse me while that just doesn't do it for me, sorry. I'd point and laugh if it wasn't so sad.

Trevor's [Start] sentence really is the epitome of redneckery in computing land.

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Hey now...

I am a Linux geek, as I primarily admin Linux, but I do Windows as well when needed. Windows definitely has it's purpose -- Linux can't do half the job Windows does at managing multiple workstations across multiple offices/countries with automatically replicated settings between servers.

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@AC

You can apply that first paragraph to Linux or any other OS. There's a wide variety of updates and tools that one must throw on there to be useful. Windows comes with a webserver - Linux does not (it requires software from Apache to do so).

Linux also needs tools to get proper resource monitoring and collection going. Some of it isn't third-party, but until you've tried to pinpoint why your box is going haywire without sysstat or a tool like htop, sar, or vmstat, you start to realize just how much other stuff you need to bolt on to get some of the same flexibility.

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Anonymous Coward

Any other? Not really.

Linux is curious in that only the kernel really is "linux", so strictly speaking, *everything* is already third party apps, starting at the bootloader. That's why you use some linux distribution, that packs all that together in a convenient package. That includes a large collection of utilities and tools and things that the system knows where to find for you, and you have but to ask for it to get it.

The system I usually prefer (FreeBSD) works a bit differently; there, kernel and most tools work together and come collected as a "base" system; you install it and you have a good collection of tools to start with. WIth that the system boots and can already perform a number of basic tasks. Then you can add packages much like linux distributions offer, again with a convenient, offered-by-the-system, way to find and install them.

OpenBSD does much the same, and they do include a webserver in base, too. Yes, it's apache, but so what? You don't have to go to the apache website to find it. It's already there, turn it on and it works.

I agree that the most basic resource monitoring tools that you tend to get with linux are a bit lacking, in fact I find its ifconfig (and the numerous replacements and companion tools) lacking, but not so much with *BSD (systat -v comes to mind, its top works pretty well too, there ifconfig can do everything you need with a networking interface, and you'll also get a usable iostat, fstat, and so on). As such, linux isn't the be-all end-all comparison yardstick. Even so, you get a lot farther with a reasonable linux installation disk, or even a macosx installation set, than you get with just the windows install box.

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Paris Hilton

OK, David, please be easy here.

why good ol' top, ps, gnu-utils (or bsd-utils) powerd by bash are not good enough for you.

Just create a bootable thumbdrive (say with Ubuntu) leave some space for the persistent filesystem. You can resize and create it later. Than run extremely simple and boring

sudo apt-get install apache2, nginx, postgresql-8.4 emacs blah-blah-utils

It will do whatever you command + check for integrity.

Does the vanilla MS windows come with a checksum util or an analog of tcpdump? Does it have grep, awk, sed and bash?

Paris Hilton's pic, 'cause even she might know how to use "top"

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That's my solution

A bootable flash drive, loaded with all manner of tools. One of the most useful to date has been ddrescue... Even if the OS itself is corrupt, I can still fix it, since the boot disk doesn't need it. Remove the virus, replace the corrupt DLLs, rip the disk to a new disk... whatever it needs, I have the tools to fix it.

And then install a different browser and a virus scanner. Sigh...

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Windows

"Windows comes with a webserver"

Whether you need it or not.

Celebrating unwanted bloat (at best) and security fail (at worst) as a beneficial feature epitomises the lack of understanding of the Windows crowd.

Yes, most distros don't come with a webserver and for good reason.

If one requires a webserver they simply need to enter into the console;

apt-get install apache2

or

yum install httpd

depending on whether you use debian or redhat based distros respectively.

I know which system I prefer.

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How about 3 web servers

My normal distro is OpenSUSE. If you use the DVD download that has 3 webservers including Apache2 available on disk. They are not installed by default - why would they be but available for a few clicks.

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Yeah, because 50Mb sitting in a directory is such bloat in the day of DVD's and broadband...

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"Whether you need it or not"

...of course, there's just no way in the world to install Windows without installing IIS.

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Happy

In truth, I also have a foot in both worlds (multiple, actually, since I do a lot more than Windows, including both Linux and Unix), but I knew that there would be tiresome, predictable basement-dwelling Linux fanboy trollery afoot, so I decided to get in a preemptive strike.

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There's a flaw there, @Goat Jam

Windows Server does not require you to install IIS. It comes with it, but you are free to uninstall (or not install) it if you don't need it. Sorry, but that whole argument falls apart when the exact same logic is applied in reverse.

1/10, must try harder.

eulampios, top is pretty lacking in what it displays. In general, it displays CPU and memory % usage, which is great, but if most of your programs are displaying low usage of those but the reported system load is high, you likely won't be able to find out what's causing it with top, ps and more -- that requires tools outside the preinstalled set (or at least the preinstalled sets I've seen). Every time I've seen high system load but no obvious process causing the issue, it's likely an I/O contention issue, and there's no preinstalled tool that handles I/O monitoring reporting like vmstat, iostat, sar, or more.

tl;dr - the point I'm making is that neither OS has all of the tools a sysadmin worth their salt needs or has to make their job easier.

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@David

A friendly joke caused by you suggesting "htop" instead of "top". There is no difference except for the taste. With top, ps, lsof you can do a lot already (may grep/sed/awk/find/.. help you). vmstat, ps etc (as in Debian and related) resides in the procps package, Ubuntu live media has it by default. For the future: just install dstat/sysstat packages, these contain sar and iostat. It is only one line "sudo apt-get install sysstat".

My point is that a similar article depicting the life of *nix admin would be boring and might only list a few packages to feed the single command "sudo apt-get/yum/..... install"

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WTF?

Are you

Talking about windows desktop or windows server? Clearly you've never used win 2008. It comes with at the very least a web server, and up to a full blown hypervisor, out of the box. You just need to tick a box and it's yours. Sure it's not free, but I don't think that's the point we're making here.

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Pint

virustotal apps, secunia psi & filehippo updater

1) VirusTotal.com - the uploader and browser extension tools

https://www.virustotal.com/documentation/desktop-applications/

right click on any file (up to 20mbytes) - send to - virustotal

will scan that file with all their installed antivirus programs

the browser extension helps with scanning unknown links, scans downloads before saving the file, and so on...

https://www.virustotal.com/documentation/browser-extensions/

btw, i chose not to use the browser extensions, i don't want too many addons in firefox, i'm only using the uploader app.

.

.

2) filehippo's update checker and Secunia PSI

http://www.filehippo.com/updatechecker/

https://secunia.com/vulnerability_scanning/personal/

these two complement each other quite well. Sometimes (*ahem*... often) PSI lags a bit on the detection of the latest version available but filehippo's manual tool picks it up.

PSI is best to leave running all the time in the tray since it can auto-update quite a few odd programs (irfan view, adobe flash..), prompt the user for updates for other programs that cannot be auto-updated (no silent install available for them: winamp, vlc,..).

PSI will also warn about end of life programs - programs that their producer has decided to no longer support because newer versions are available - such is the case with sysinternals' registry monitor and file monitor that have been retired and replaced by process monitor.

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UBCD4Win is my Swiss Army knife

UBCD4Win (or BartPE which it's based on) is vastly superior to Hiren as a sysadmin tool IMO, mostly due to the ease of making a completely customised boot CD with whatever drivers and programs you want aboard. I can't count the times it has saved my day.

The Sysinternals tools don't get the emphasis they deserve in this article. I couldn't live without Filemon, Regmon, Procmon, Procexp, TCPView, the PS tools, Autoruns, NewSID of course... They should have come way before PDF or image viewers, GIMP, VLC, uTorrent etc. which certainly are quite useful, but hardly are tools a sysadmin uses daily.

Other tools that would have been quite worth mentioning: XXCOPY, USBDeview, the Windows ports of some extremely useful Unix commands like less, grep, sum, awk, sed, chown, find (yes I'm a command-line guy)... and also SetACL, OpenedFileView...

Last but not least Notepad2 which is way lighter than Notepad++ and has all the features that make my life easier (I especially love the easy switching between two schemes that allows editing with the DOS VGA fixed font in a snap, the easy encoding/line format conversions).

Just my 0.02 euros.

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Pirate

Don't forget the Linux/Unix command line utils

such as md5sum

for checkng that the download is binary correct.

I know there are native windows commands but the other essentials I use are

grep

diff

cksum

Not all the systems you will have to work in will have the Windows Unix Utils installed OR are locked down so tight that they are almost impossible to work on yet still BSOD with predictable regularity.

Ahoy there me maties. Admin Pirates ahoy....

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Linux

MinGW and MinSYS, make your Windows life worth living, Long live grep,sed,and awk.

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Two cents ?= Two pence

While it's not a portable tool (as far as I know), I find the Quest QAD cmdlets for powershell to be quite indispensable if your day job involves active directory wrangling.

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Happy

How could I forget these?

Might well come in first in terms of usefulness in my toolbox: Windirstat... such an incredibly handy tool to find disk hogs (portable, too)

Windiff: old stuff but good stuff to compare files.

Imgburn, CD Burner XP, Daemon Tools (v3 or Lite): these 3 cover all my needs for CD burning/imaging/mounting.

Registry Tookit, WinHex, FileSync: these aren't free (although FileSync works unregistered without any time limit)

Last but not least: Unlocker and Teracopy...

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Forget these? Neither would I

Agreed with Imgburn. Actually, imgburn is much more stable than cdburnerxp; switched and have never looked back...

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I use...

...Microsoft's own Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DART) live CD. Unfortunately available only on MSDN/TechNet/enterprisey contracts.

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Windows

@Renato

To add a little to your comment.. I have a (Basic) TechNet subscription yet couldn't find this one.

Bing to the rescue ;-) Just like to note that 'DART' is part of the "Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack", and this is indeed supplied through TechNet (dunno about msdn). I'm downloading 2011R2 (release 7/29/2001) as I write.

Thanks for the tip, this looks promising!

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nice article

Good to know how life goes on the Windows planet. Good selection. The Far file manger is another good and powerful win tool. Emacs can surpass all of these with dired and its own grep (needs grep anyways).

As I pointed out earlier it is a much easier task for a *nix admin to manage *nix boxes ... yes, and Windows boxes. Get a thumbdrive loaded with you favorite flavor of GNU/Linux with the (persistent) casper stuff.

You can add to the default powerful swiss-knife tools whatever pleases you. Most default Linux/BSD systems have much more to offer for an admin than does vanilla Windows.

gnu-utils, perl (grep, awks, sed might be enough for you) emacs and more.

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Re: nice article

"Most default Linux/BSD systems have much more to offer for an admin than does vanilla Windows."

Missing the point a bit there, genius. The article is about Windows programs to overcome the limitations. In that context your comments are irrelevant willy-waving. "Windows planet." Good grief. What a maroon ...

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@coward

OK, I will try to make it clear for your high IQ. A friend of mine can't boot her XP. There is still a warranty. Lenovo says: "reinstall Windows, it always fixes it!" She brings the lappy to me, I try booting live Ubuntu, check it with mem test -- it fails. Number one. So, it's a bad memory, she barely convinces the manufacturer and gets it replaced. A year later it fails to boot again indicating an hdd problem, when warranty is off, live Ubuntu media boots flawlessly and mounts ntfs partition without a problem. The data is copied onto the external hdd. Lenovo WIndows rescue CD does not even see the partition. The backup restore utility is useless. Number two. Yes and the 6 or 7 cds (!!!) provided by Lenovo were a piece of junk.

You can now be on your own and figure out it out all yourself.

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@eulampios

That mirrors my experiences with various laptops/desktop but most often when Windows Update fails and the Recovery fails and there is, of course, no install disk. In each case a Linux Live-CD has recovered the data, and even reformatted the apparently ailing disk and the system has then gone on to a long useful Linux life. In fact I'm writing this on one now ~3 years after it's 'accident'

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Alert

Normally I'd agree with you, "recovery disks? waste of time!", but just recently I was helping a friend with a Toshiba laptop she'd been given by her brother.

The laptop was riddled with viruses, so I was planning on reinstalling Win7 from scratch until I noticed that Tosh had thoughtfully left a recovery partition, with a compressed factory image.

Now, I did have to spend half an hour removing some of their crapware after it had re-imaged, but not half as long as I'd have spent finding the correct drivers for the thing.

So it turns out (and this I wasn't expecting), the recovery image that some manufacturers put on their PCs aren't entirely useless.

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@phuzz

If I did not help my friend, I would normally not agree with myself that the following is possible:

1) windows could not boot no matter what (it must've had not recovery pat-n)

2) even if it had a partition, it would not be able to recover the data/backups of the original ntfs partition -- the shock was that "the cancer of IT", Linux, according to Ballmer, could and did help see the native Windows filesystem and transfer it to a secure hdd.Gparted was of great help, it was not able (with 3g-ntfs) completely cure the filesystem though.

3) If this is the state of affairs with the rescue cd for one of the largest PC makers, I wouldn't expect more from the rest.

The laptop has hardware problems, it's been with Linux for 3 years giving 2 more filesystem failures. I was always a matter of 5-10 minutes to boot off a live media and run 30 sec gparted fsck operation.

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@eulampios

I think you are both wrong ;-)

Yes, you have a point that the common "re-install windows" is a bit dumb. However, you've also not used the standard Window techniques to solve these issues. Windows can do more besides re-installing or "fixing problems".

First would be using safe mode or maybe even safe commandline mode, then when this minimum system is booted its time to check up on the event logs. Those will give you a hint as to what has been going on before the failures. Even Windows XP would have something to mention about memory corruption and the likes.

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@Shell User

That was the point. Every LInux/BSD live cd has a memtest (grub also installs it with itself). Some (very few) manufacturers offer memtest in the bios . That one didn't. When it was a bad RAM, booting any OS would result in an error after a few seconds.

When hdd ntfs got messed up, XP could boot into no mode at all. Not even safe mode. Otherwise my friend wouldn't freak out with "All my docs and backs are gone???!!!!" As I said earlier all utils provided by Lenovo were not cooperating neither offering to salvage data/backups nor fixing ntfs. Windows analog of gparted would've been e of much help. When it happens to Ubuntu it is so much easier to fix.

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fsck for various filesystems and (g)parted, wget (curl is not there usually) , boot loader like grub are also very useful, rsync, ssh . They are in the default installation/live media of most Linux distros.

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far better things

I actually thought this article was bad. Anybody can rave about all the tools they like to use. All that he did was list some software that is nice to have and skipped over some of the best tools out there.

I use a usb drive. Incase it gets infected i use usb image tool to make a backup of it.

I agree with Alain about UBCD4WIN and a lot of the software options that come with it.

Sysinternals is a MUST. I can live without gimp and utorrent, a pdf viewer.

Currently I have a custom version of winpe 3.0 that boots almost any computer with drivers for network built in.

Bluescreenview, or any other tool that shows you the minidump information from windows.

regshot, reganalyzer.

Syslinux boot screen with options for ubcd4dos and ubcd4win on the same drive. with memtest, testdisk, seatools. and many others.

As far as file explorers go, Q-dir is good, Free commander is good, and there are many others out there on equal grounds for free. Why pay for that?

And linux tools as well.

oh, and imagex, gimagex for anybody working with windows 7 images

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swap out windirstat with overdisk

And it’s pretty much perfect, unfortunately Elias Fotinis the creator has disappeared from the face of the earth.

:(

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Coffee/keyboard

I would love to agree

OverDisk is very fast but needs installing, it also doesn't work well on some OS's when DEP is enabled and hasn't been updated by its author (HINT AUTHOR PLZ UPDATE KTHNX!)

Edit: I LIE it is portable http://portableapps.com/node/21163 :(

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FAIL

Should have checked that link

I was correct the first time I fail badly but can't find the OverDisk authors site anymore :(

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Boffin

"Windows is a powerful and complex Operating System (OS)."

So that's what OS stands for... I, like I'm sure most El Reg readers, had no idea. Thanks for clarifying.

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DM2

Malwarebytes and Hirens.

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C-N

Not a Micros~1 admin, but since one of you requested some Linux comments...

Trinity TRK. There may be better ones out there, but I've used it for years and it has never failed me in my mission (especially when the mission was pissing off a Windows-only corporate admin type).

KnoppixSTD has been handy on occasion as well.

Cygwin (can't live without proper regular expressions, sorry), Python, Notepad++, Firefox, Opera, or Chrome, and Bonzi Buddy ;o)

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@C-N - Sigh

Nobody requested Linux comments; they pointed out the inevitability. Sadly he was right. It's like a new reflex with you saddos, isn't it? "Someone said Windows! Must ... bore ... with ... Linux ... preaching ..."

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Cool article!

And some people say that El Reg is negative towards Windows by default :-)

You pretty much summed most of it up I think. On my regular desktop (Win 7 Pro) I keep stuff around such as PuTTY / PSCP as well as TightVNC (I like this better due to the better support for Vista / Win7 (realvnc tends to kick you out whenever you need to raise your privileges) as well as its internal file transfer support).

PWGen is IMO also important for us admins (you don't want to try and come up with this crap yourself) because it auto generates, builds up a random pool over time /and/ can create several stages (from easy to read to hard).

WinRAR is my archiver of choice. I've been using this the BBS era (even got an official license for it back then, one of the first shareware packages I paid for). Back then it was all DOS (and even THEN it did an awesome job!) now its GUI. I even got myself a company license for this.

A little more context: what I came to admire and respect about Winrar besides its ease of use and powerful compression are the very extensive recovery records. AFAIK this is close to the perhaps well known PAR/PAR2 technique and it does an outstanding job to keep those documents which you care about safe from possible corruption (think about CDs and such).

Apart from those I think that MS has us covered quite well on Vista/Win7 with tools such as Powershell and MMC. And I also tend to use Office 2010 a lot, but I'm gonna cut this up in 2 posts because I'm being too long again ;-)

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Windows

Part 2

Sorry but I really like this thread... SO

I know I turned into a 'Microsoftie' over time (Win7 / Office / Expression web) but I cannot help mention OneNote. This is what I consider invaluable, I can't imagine working without it anymore.

I need to research why a website (build on php4) suddenly goes haywire on php5 (note; I'm an admin, not a php programmer!). So Google it is. And when I find articles which look interesting and where I find snippets I want to save for now they all find their way into OneNote.

Passwords? I don't use a password agent or such; I have a secured section in OneNote.

My programming (C# / VB & Powershell) studies? All bits and pieces and examples which I find online end up in OneNote for further studying.

And that goes easily along with the rest of the stuff. This bit of writing which I was writing when the phone rang? I save it in OneNote and thus can continue it later.

Last but not least... On the road I always keep Linux with me (Knoppix) as well as Hirens Bootcd. Hirens is excellent when it comes to fixing Windows (people locking themselves out, doing disk maintenance, etc.) whereas nothing beats Linux when it comes to network diagnostics. For example; dig vs nslookup? Hardly comparable.

Oh, and IMO Hirens' mini XP environment totally kicks ass. Not merely for the tools which they supply but the whole setup is IMO impressive.

And that's my toolset!

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