Microsoft Free Software – a personal top ten

You might think this will would make for a really short article post but actually  there’s a  huge amount of free tools and resource out there and I have had to restrict myself to a top ten across the server and client,  based on what Simon and I have used.  So please feel free to comment with your own and I’ll see what we can do about maintaining a list somewhere and rewarding good suggestions.


Hyper-V Server

Yes Microsoft does have a free operating system, although it’s just restricted to the ability to run highly available virtual machines.  With Hyper-V Server you are limited to running 8,000 virtual machines on a 64 node cluster and you can only put 64 logical processors in a virtual machine. Also note that there is no graphical interface as this OS is very like Server core and is designed to be remotely managed.  (I have a separate post just on Hyper-V Server here).


Microsoft Security Essentials

If your organisation has less than ten PCs then this is the FREE antivirus for you, and it’s also free to use at home.  Security Essentials uses the same signatures as System Center Endpoint Protection and has won a slew of awards for being very user friendly.  You can install this on XP and Windows 7, but for Windows 8  and Windows RT Windows Defender does the same thing and  included and


System Center Advisor

This is a lightweight best practice analyser for Windows Server and SQL Server environment.  It uses the same agent System Center Operations Manager agent to collect telemetry about your servers and then sends this every day to Advisor Service.  The Advisor Service then provides reports on error and warnings you need be aware of.  It uses your own certificates so it’s secure.  Like Operations Manager you can configure a gateway to collect the information from other internal servers and then send this daily to the Advisor service.  (I have posts on  how to set it up and how to use it).

SQL Server Express

If you only need a small database server the there’s quite a lot you can do with SQL Server Express.  The tools are essentially the same as its bigger brother and you get reporting services if you need it to deliver rich reporting of your local database. If you don’t need all the tooling and just want a slimmed down engine behind your application then there’s an option LocalDB



The Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit seems to be universally ignored, despite being really useful in planning any kind of upgrade or migration, or jut to make sense of what you have got already – given that you might be new into post. What it does is to crawl your datacentre with various credential you supply and tells you what you have.  This might be nothing more than how many servers do you have and what OS are they running, and even that in a world of virtual machine sprawl can be useful.  However if you were then to use it plan a Windows Server 2012 migration project it would allow you get reports and plans on how to do that and what you’ll need.  It’s constantly updated so always be sure to get the latest version.

One other thing to note while it will allows you to assess your licensing estate the data is NOT reported back to Microsoft, so you won’t be getting loads of phone calls once you’ve run it, but you will at least know where you are.


Data Classification Toolkit

Knowing about your infrastructure is one thing, what matters more is the data that’s in it and to make sense of that there’s the Data Classification Toolkit. Like other solution accelerators it’s continually updated and in this case is now aware of the latest tools in Windows Server 2012 like Dynamic Access Control (My post on getting started is here).

Please note the small print : Use of the Microsoft Data Classification Toolkit for Windows Server 2012 does not constitute advice from an auditor, accountant, attorney or other compliance professional, and does not guarantee fulfilment of your organization’s legal or compliance obligations. Conformance with these obligations requires input and interpretation by your organization’s compliance professionals.


Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK)

Simon and I still see a lot of weird and wonderful ways to deploy operating systems at scale, which is odd when Microsoft have two free of tools the first being Windows ADK.  Actually the ADK should count as several free things itself as it contains a number of useful utilities such as:

Microsoft Deployment Toolkit

This is another tool that’s kept up to date, in this case it too support scale deployment of Windows 8 and Server 2012.  It may seem like an overlap with the Windows ADK but that toolset requires knowledge of a lot of command line utilities like DISM, where the MDT is a UI driven process.  The


The Office Environment Assessment Toolkit (OEAT) scans client computers for add-ins and applications that interact with all versions of Office back to Office 97. It’s designed for detecting compatibility issues but I have seen it used to track down large spreadsheets which means someone in your organisation is using Excel instead of a proper database, which at best might mean there could be data quality issues in some of your reporting and at worst might mean you are storing customer and confidential information where it is not being properly controlled 


Windows Live

I still use three utilities from Windows Live to get key tasks done

Note none of these run on Windows RT

I also wanted to share my also rans that didn’t make my top ten..

Windows Sysinternals:

ZoomIT A Windows Sysinternals tool to make areas of your screen bigger

BGInfo Also part of the Windows sysinternals tools which shows key informatio0n about  your servers on their desktops.

RDCMan to manage remote desktops' great for managing Windows 8 / Server 2012 as it’s not based on RDP8 and so the charms etc. don’t work

and finally for a bit of fun Ordnance Survey Maps - I occasionally need to get out of the office and off-road.  Street View is fine but what if there are no streets and you need to get from A to B for fun on foot or by cycle.  In this instance Ordnance Survey maps are your friend and they are free on Bing Maps if you are in the UK (just select Ordnance Survey from the left hand drop down list of map types)e.g.


You can print them as well if you don’t want to take your slate, tablet, phone with you