It's no secret that not all software is designed as it should be. Thankfully, for Windows admins, a wealth of tools can be found to bridge the gap between what our software can do and how we'd like it to perform. And some of the best of these tools can be had for free, as any perusal of the CodePlex open source project hosting website will show.
In the past year, I've run into two software limitations that left me frustrated. The first involved the complexity of Windows Server 2008 Server Core's setup and configuration. The second was the lack of a GUI for Exchange RBAC (Role Based Access Control), or at least a simple way to know what cmdlets and parameters matched with each role and, by extension, role group. Freel tools from the CodePlex site provided answers to both of these problems, and there are thousands of other valuable tools available to solve your software headaches, if only you know where to look and what to look for.
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As with any open source project hosting site, developers and admins can use Microsoft's CodePlex to create new open source projects to share with the world, join existing open source projects in search of assistance, or simply download the free tools to enjoy the benefits of open source code.
Here are a few of the valuable tools I've come to rely on from CodePlex, each of which shows how important this open source resource is to Windows admins.
A quick search for Server Core on CodePlex will lead you to Core Configurator, a fine tool that has already received more than 27,000 downloads. There are a couple of versions available (Version 1.1 is for Server 2008), and the code has been updated as recently as Sept. 6. For anyone who has worked with Server Core's command-line configuration, it's easy to see why Core Configurator is so popular. Don't get me wrong -- I love the command line as much as the next person, but the purpose of Server Core is to minimize the overall attack surface for a server, not create migraines in administrators. Core Configurator lets you configure the server through an easy-to-use GUI. The project is led by Andew Auret and Tony Ison, from Microsoft UK.