15 essential open source tools for Windows admins

Microsoft offers great tools for enhancing your server-side experience, but open source has impressive options as well

You might imagine that the best place to go for improving your Microsoft server-side experience is to the mothership itself. In many cases, you would be right. But the truth is 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. Many of these alternatives provide -- for free -- more powerful capabilities than what you'd get with third-party retail products.

Microsoft itself has acknowledged this fact, facilitating the availability of open source tools for Microsoft admins through its CodePlex site. Microsoft, too, can be relied on for a few clear winners when it comes to free tools.

[ Check out InfoWorld's roundup of the best free server tools Microsoft has to offer. | Get all the details you need on deploying and using Windows 7 in the InfoWorld editors' 21-page Windows 7 Deep Dive PDF special report. | Stay abreast of key Microsoft technologies in our Technology: Microsoft newsletter. ]

All in all, it's never been a better time to experiment with open source tools in your Microsoft environment. From networking troubleshooting to security to performance analysis, we've compiled a list of the top open source tools for your Windows-based systems. Don't see a favorite? Feel free to highlight it in the comments below.

Essential open source Windows admin tool No. 1: Wireshark

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 analyzer's color-coding features and you'll see how its superior usability makes Wireshark a worthwhile tool for any Microsoft shop.

Download: www.wireshark.org

Essential open source Windows admin tool No. 2: AMANDA

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.

ZMANDA maintains and supports the freely available AMANDA, as well as ZMANDA Recovery Manager for MySQL. It also provides network and cloud backup services that it sells commercially.

Download: www.amanda.org

Essential open source Windows admin tool No. 3: MailArchiva

Email archiving is front and center in Exchange 2010, thanks to the increase in compliance regulation enforcement across the industry. But for those who are not yet using Exchange 2010, MailArchiva provides a worthwhile means for bringing compliance to Exchange 2000/2003 and other mail servers, such as Postfix, Sendmail, Qmail, iMail, and Lotus Notes.

MailArchiva comes in both an open source and an enterprise flavor. To see a list of features and how the two editions vary, browse the MailArchiva site.

Download: www.mailarchiva.com

Essential open source Windows admin tool No. 4: Exchange 2010 RBAC Manager

Exchange 2010 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, enabling admins to connect, whether or not you're a PowerShell master. The tool is written in C# and uses PowerShell behind the scenes to allow you to create and manage roles in your Exchange 2010 environment.

Download: rbac.codeplex.com

Essential open source Windows admin tool No. 5: 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.

Download: coreconfig.codeplex.com

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