Admin's Bag of Tricks
What admin tools do you find indispensable for doing your job?
- By Bill Boswell
I'd like to reverse the Q&A direction
this week and ask youthe readersa question. All of you work
very hard at managing Windows servers and Windows-based applications.
Each of you has a unique stockpile of knowledge and experience. I'd like
you to take a minute or two to share some of what you know.
We're putting together a list of tools and utilities that every Windows
admin should have available to do daily operations and troubleshooting.
This list goes beyond the usual suspects, Replmon and Xcacls and so forth.
We're looking for out-of-the-way tools that you've come to rely on to
make your job simpler.
The tools can be open source, shareware, Microsoft downloads, or reasonably
priced commercial utilities. Ideally, the tool would not require deploying
agents to your servers or doing Schema modifications or performing activities
that would incite lively debate at Monday morning's Change Control meeting.
Simple and practical, that's what we're looking for.
If you have a recommendation for the list, jot it down in an e-mail and
send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org along with a short blurb about why
you find the tool to be nifty and/or cool. Feel free to share a war story
about how the tool helped you find or recover from a problem. Or better
yet, how it kept you out of trouble in the first place.
We'll include the best submittals in a future column and post all of
the submittals on the MCPmag.com web site. If your submittal gets included
in the column, you'll win a coveted MCPmag.com ball cap, which not only
looks great, it can be used as legal tender to settle all computer-related
wagers, both public and private.
To prime the pump, here's a few of the tools and utilities I use every
Help from Bill
Got a Windows or Exchange question or need troubleshooting
help? Or maybe you want a better explanation than provided
in the manuals? Describe your dilemma in an e-mail
to Bill at mailto:email@example.com;
the best questions get answered in this column.
When you send your questions, please include your
full first and last name, location, certifications (if
any) with your message. (If you prefer to remain anonymous,
specify this in your message but submit the requested
information for verification purposes.)
For editing everything from INF files to scripts to full chapters in
a book, I use a graphics-based version of the VI Improved (VIM) editor
called gvim. Not only does gvim include font coloring for a bazillion
different file types, it can be customized in a thousand ways to fit your
personal work style. And it's available on Windows and Linux, making it
the ideal portable editor. Download a copy from http://www.vim.org/download.php#pc.
When I change a user's password, I want that change to take effect for
that user immediately without relying on the PDC Emulator to intervene.
To accomplish this, I use a Resource Kit utility called Acctinfo.dll.
This is an Active Directory Users and Computers addon that displays a
new property page for User accounts. Not only does this page show lots
of useful, behind-the-scenes information about the account, it allows
me to target a password change directly at a domain controller in the
I spend lots of time (too much time, probably) trying to figure out exactly
what applications are doing on a system, especially when I need to determine
why an app won't run on a terminal server. For this kind of work, I use
two utilities from the legendary Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell:
Regmon and Filemon. These tools show every single touch to a disk, a named
pipe, the Registry, and so forth. It also tells you exactly what was read
or changed. These and other nifty tools are available at www.sysinternals.com.
Finally, for diagnostic and security work, there's nothing like a packet
sniffer. Netmon is, well, it's okay, but it won't win any awards. I don't
like the idea of spending thousands on a Fluke or some other high-end
traffic analyzer, although they're certainly worth the money. Instead,
I use an open source packet analyzer called Ethereal www.ethereal.com.
Combined with a promiscuous-mode packet driver called Winpcap winpcap.polito.it,
you can use Ethereal to analyze hundreds of different network protocols.
Before long, you'll amaze your friends and dismay your enemies with your
detailed knowledge of network transactions. You'll also see why NetBIOS
name resolution is a tool of Sauron.
Until next week!
Contributing Editor Bill Boswell, MCSE, is the principal of Bill Boswell Consulting, Inc. He's the author of Inside Windows Server 2003 and Learning Exchange Server 2003 both from Addison Wesley. Bill is also Redmond magazine's "Windows Insider" columnist and a speaker at MCP Magazine's TechMentor Conferences.