Top free troubleshooting tools for Windows
These seven handy tools help you diagnose and cure a wide range of Windows ills, and they're all free for the downloading
Unlocker and OpenedFilesView
Here is another scenario most of us have encountered: a file that simply can't be deleted because it's "in use." Windows Vista and Windows 7 are a little better at informing the user about which program is using the file in question, but sometimes you're stuck playing digital Whack-A-Mole trying to figure out which window to close.
I've used not one but two programs, at different times, to deal with these annoyances. The first is Cedrick Collomb's Unlocker, which many people know and love. The second is the lesser-known but still valuable OpenedFilesView (by Nir Sofer, author of BlueScreenView). Both do the same thing: Determine which process has a lock on which file, and let you release it either by killing the file handle or the offending process. However, they go about it very differently.
Unlocker runs silently in the background and adds a right-click context menu to Explorer. If you want to know what's locking a particular file, right-click and select Unlocker. From there you can elect to terminate the processes locking a file, make a copy of the file in question, or remove the locks that the process has on the file.
OpenedFilesView, on the other hand, provides a regularly updated list of all files currently locked by all processes, which can be sorted and searched. The same types of action can be taken, although OpenedFilesView doesn't support deleting a locked file or making a copy.
One major drawback to both Unlocker and OpenedFilesView is shaky 64-bit support. Unlocker doesn't work in 64-bit Windows at all. OpenedFilesView has a 64-bit edition, but requires that you disable driver signing system-wide (which requires a reboot). Turning this off makes it that much easier for unauthorized software to install drivers, although I'd bet most users who need a tool like this are well aware of those risks.
For finding those processes that won't let go, Unlocker (above) is simplest and best for regular users; OpenedFilesView (below) provides more advanced information about in-use files.
Serdar Yegulalp has been writing about computers and information technology for over fifteen years for a variety of publications, including InformationWeek and Windows Magazine.