17 essential open source tools for Windows admins working with Windows 10: Free open source software for sysadmins
Microsoft offers great tools for enhancing your server-side experience, but open source has impressive options as well
J. Peter Bruzzese, Lis Evenstad, Graysen Christoph
You may imagine the best place to improve your Microsoft server-side experience is by going straight to the mothership itself. There are a meaningful number of open source tools that go above and beyond what Microsoft has to offer in support of Windows Server, Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint - and all for free.
From networking troubleshooting to security to performance analysis, we've compiled a list of the top open source tools for your Windows-based systems.
Network troubleshooting is a real art, one that requires solid training and years of hands-on experience. But a tool like Wireshark helps ease traffic analysis, thanks to many powerful features. Just one look at this free software-based protocol analyser's colour-coding features and you'll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile tool for any Microsoft shop.
Process Hacker is a multi-purpose tool that helps you monitor system resources, debug software and detect malware. Created for developers, it allows users to see a detailed overview of their system activity conveniently highlighted in muiltiple colors. You can track runaway process and also discover what processes are using a file at any time. It also allows you to check active network connections, retrieve real time information and view stack traces.
BlackBox allows users to safely and securely store private information that must be kept on a server. The information is guarded by GNU Privacy Guard, or GPG encryption 'at rest' in a version control system. This is useful for storing things like passwords and private keys, as the scripts make it easy to decode the information when you need to view or edit. It can be used with Linux, OS X and Windows.
Admins looking to ease the pain of backing up Windows-based systems should check out AMANDA, aka Advanced Maryland Automatic Network Disk Archiver. AMANDA provides the ability for an administrator to set up a single master backup server that can support both Windows desktops and servers over the network to a variety of media, including tape drives, disks, or optical media.
The updated MailArchiva offers a brand new interface, much more visually appealing intuitive than its predecessor. You can either use Exchange to push emails to MailArchiva’s inbuilt server, or retrieve emails from Exchange using IMAP. MailArchiva comes in Cloud, On Premise and ISP options. To see a list of features and how the three editions vary, browse the MailArchiva site. Download: www.mailarchiva.com
6. Open source tools for Windows: Exchange 2013 RBAC Manager
Exchange 2013 RBAC Manager is a great tool for admins working with role-based access control and Exchange. RBAC Manager (aka RBAC Editor GUI) helps overcome the lack of a GUI tool to work with the new role-based administration side to Exchange. It enables admins to connect whether or not you're a PowerShell master. The tool is written in C# and uses PowerShell behind the scenes that allows you to create and manage roles in your Exchange 2013 environment. .
7. Open source tools for Windows: Core Configurator 2.0 for Server Core
Offering a command-line version of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 R2 at installation was a great idea. With its light footprint, it allows a small attack surface as well. The only problem? It required administrators to crack open command-line books to configure their servers. This free tool provides a GUI method for managing tasks.
8. Open source tools for Windows: AutoSPInstaller for SharePoint
Anyone who has ever installed SharePoint knows that the SQL databases created are a mess in terms of naming, resulting in large GUID databases titles that are completely inconsistent. In contrast, AutoSPInstaller utilises a variety of scripts to install SharePoint and makes sure database names remain clean in the process.
OCS-NG is a great tool for locating all the devices connected to your network and what software and hardware you have installed on your systems. It requires you install the OCS client inventory agent on your systems; you can then pull all that information into a repository that's easy to visualise and search.
UltraDefrag is a tool for Windows that can defrag system files, registry hives, and the paging file. It's continually updated to ensure improvements in performance. The tool is fully compatible with any operating systems later than Windows NT 4.0, including Windows 10. It's a valuable addition to any Windows environment.
11. Open source tools for Windows: Nmap for Windows
Originally a Unix-only tool, Nmap for Windows has been an important security resource for Windows shops for over than 10 years. This security scanner and network mapper can also be used to perform network inventory, manage service upgrade schedules and monitor host or service uptime.
Zenmap is a cool tool for mapping a topology of devices connected to your network. This security scanner works off of Nmap, providing an interactive, animated visualisation of hosts on a network, configured in rings. Click on a host and it moves to the centre of your network topology, giving you the ability to easily trace the host's various connections. With Zenmap, information regarding potential vulnerabilities becomes that much easier to pinpoint, ensuring your firewalls and routers are working correctly.
It's no secret that PowerShell is taking the Windows world by storm. Those looking for a more graphical means of tapping into PowerShell should check out PowerGUI, a free graphical user interface and script editor for PowerShell. More valuable perhaps is the community built around PowerGUI, with its vast store of contributed scripts and libraries for administering your fleet.
14. Open source tools for Windows: Performance Analysis of Logs (PAL) Tool
If you've ever had a performance problem but had no idea what metrics to collect or even how to analyse the compiled data, PAL is your friend. This open source tool helps read performance monitor counter logs and analyses them for you, using built-in thresholds that relate to the majority of your Windows products, including Exchange, SharePoint, Active Directory, and more.
15. Open source tools for Windows: ClamWin Antivirus
This open source antivirus solution is a valuable tool for security-minded admins. ClamWin supports Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, Windows 8 and Windows 10. The tool includes a scanning scheduler that you can use to configure appropriate scan times but does not come with an on-access real-time scanner. It also has the ability to integrate into Windows Explorer and Outlook for easy scanning.
Virtual Router is a nifty tool that turns any Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 system into a Wi-Fi hotspot. Using Virtual Router, users can wirelessly share any internet connection (Wi-Fi, LAN, cable modem, dial-up, cellular, and so on) with any Wi-Fi-enabled device. Laptops, smartphones, netbooks, wireless printers - all can connect to Virtual Router just as they would any other access point, and the connection is completely secured using WPA2, the most secure wireless encryption.Although currently not optimised for Windows 10, there shouldn’t be a problem using it.
VirtualBox 5.0 is a must-have open source virtualisation solution for any admin seeking to run guest OSes on Windows, Linux, Macintosh, or Solaris machines. Using VirtualBox, admins can run virtual instances of a wide array of operating systems, including Windows, Linux, OpenSolaris, OS/2, OpenBSD, and even DOS. To learn more about the extent to which VirtualBox supports various operating systems as virtual machines, check out VirtualBox's guest OS wiki.