Top 10 Windows tools for IT pros

No Windows geek or PC support pro should be without these must-have utilities -- and they're all free

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Note: I used to be a Daemon Tools fan. However, recent versions have proven unstable under Windows 7 (I've traced several Blue Screens of Death to Daemon Tools' kernel mode components), and the developer's lackadaisical attitude toward supporting new Windows versions has turned me off from this once class-leading utility.

If you regularly need to mount and access ISO images, make sure you take along a copy of Virtual CloneDrive. It's easy to use, installs in seconds (no reboot required), and provides the capability that Windows should be providing but doesn't.

7. Defraggler

It's a trend that many IT pros find disturbing: With each new release of Windows, the amount of control over and feedback from the built-in disk defragmentation utility has decreased to the point that now, with Windows 7, the process is almost entirely opaque. And while third-party defraggers have been available for Windows since the early NT days (Diskeeper qualifies as a national historical monument), they can be both costly and complex.

Enter Defraggler. Another freebie from the folks who brought you Crap Cleaner and Recuva, Defraggler is a Windows disk defragmentation utility that provides tremendous control over the entire defragmentation process. With Defraggler, you can defragment individual files, folders, or an entire disk. Need to speed up access to that massive database file? Defraggle it. Want to improve performance for newly created files? Defraggle your disk's free space.

With Defraggler, you can even specify where specific files get stored on the disk, moving larger files that are accessed infrequently to the "end" of the disk media and smaller, frequently accessed files to the "front." A scheduled, background execution option and portable version (so you can take it with you when you're in the field) round out a surprisingly rich feature set for a free tool.

8. ImgBurn

Mounting ISO images is a great time saver. You get to save money on physical discs, and you don't have to wait while they're being prepared in your CD/DVD-write. But sometimes you just need to burn a physical CD/DVD -- for example, when installing a new version of Windows or distributing a custom disc image. And while there are myriad commercial solutions to allow you to author your own media masterpiece, most are overkill when it comes to basic disc burning tasks.

Thankfully, there's ImgBurn. The gold standard for freeware image burning tools, ImgBurn lets you transfer virtually any kind of ISO image to virtually any kind of writeable optical media. ImgBurn's simple, straightforward interface makes quick work of most common burning tasks, while its more advanced modes let you handcraft your own disc image, including defining the disk format, directory structure, and numerous other custom parameters.

There are other free utilities out there for burning discs (Alcohol 52% comes to mind). But none of them provide the level of flexibility or control over the burning process that ImgBurn does. Definitely a must-have addition to your IT support toolkit.

9. 7-Zip

Zip archives are a fact of life. Whether you're downloading an installation program from the Web or merely passing that bulky PowerPoint deck to your colleague in marketing, compressing files saves you time, space, and network bandwidth. Though Windows has included basic zip file support for years, its capabilities have proven anemic at best.

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