Some beyond-basic free tools for IT Pros

Andrew and I often get asked questions about some of the more basic elements of the job and a question that comes up time and  time again is what are the best tools to use for doing X.  For me I often get asked how you start to plan a migration, to understand what’s out there in your environment and then to move into deploying Windows.  We also get asked all manner of questions around managing AD, around System Center, around security and around clever ways to do something.  I thought I’d compile a short list of some of our favourites, hopefully you’ll find some nuggets but share your thoughts in the comments.

MAP The Microsoft Assessment and Planning (MAP) Toolkit is an agentless inventory, assessment, and reporting tool that can securely assess IT environments for various platform migrations—including Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Hyper-V, Windows Azure, and Hyper-V Cloud Fast Track.  I find this toolkit to be a fabulous planning resource which is why it’s top of this list, because it came to mind first.  It simply looks at your environment and provides you with reports that with some tweaking you can use to support things like a request for funding or just to work out how far through a migration you are.  For example it can look at your desktop estate and tell you how many PCs you have that don’t have hardware capable of running Windows 7.  Andrew is also a big fan of the MAP.

OEAT Office Environment Assessment Toolkit is a free downloadable executable (.exe) file that scans client computers for add-ins and applications that interact with Microsoft Office 97, Microsoft Office 2000, Microsoft Office XP, Microsoft Office 2003, the 2007 Microsoft Office system, and Microsoft Office 2010. You use OEAT during the assessment phase of your application compatibility and remediation project, which is described in detail in Office 2010 application compatibility guide. The following figure shows how OEAT fits into the overall process of assessing application compatibility

MDT The Microsoft Deployment Toolkit is THE tool to use to get any version of Windows deployed within your organisation.  It simplifies the process of creating dynamic deployments that can adapt to the hardware or environment into which they are being delivered.  If you already use System Center then it integrates very well and the new Beta integrates with System Center 2012 too.  MDT also has a task sequence that lets you automatically P2V an XP machine to migrate it to Windows 7 allowing full access to the original XP machine, all it’s apps and data.

USMT User State Migration Tool (USMT) 4.0 is a scriptable command-line tool that provides a highly-customizable user-profile migration experience for IT professionals. USMT includes two components, ScanState and LoadState, and a set of modifiable .xml files: MigApp.xml, MigUser.xml, and MigDocs.xml. In addition, you can create custom .xml files to support your migration needs. You can also create a Config.xml file to specify files or settings to exclude from the migration.

IEAK The Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK) simplifies the creation, deployment and management of customized Internet Explorer packages. The IEAK can be used to configure the out-of-box Internet Explorer experience or to manage user settings after Internet Explorer deployment.  WHAT I LOVE about this tool is that it allows so much control over the browsing environment giving you complete manageability where some other browsers give you about 87 settings that don’t do a whole lot, IE gives you 1500+ to ensure it fits your organisation perfectly.

Security Essentials IF your org has less than 10 PCs then this is the FREE antivirus for you, like wise use it at home.  Security Essentials uses the same signatures as ForeFront and has won a slew of awards for being very user friendly.  You shouldn’t really need to pay to keep safe.

Sysinternals Books have been written about this set of tools, so powerful they help identify and solve serious security and malware issues.  Mark Russinovich and friends have created and docuemented an ultra powerful set of tools, some of my favourites are PSExec (which has saved my life and career on many an occasion) BGinfo which tells me all the details I need to identify a server at a glance from the desktop, and Zoom It, which if you’ve ever seen me demo live you’ll have seen.

RDC Man RDCMan manages multiple remote desktop connections. It is useful for managing server labs where you need regular access to each machine such as automated checkin systems and data centers. It is similar to the built-in MMC Remote Desktops snap-in, but more flexible.


Mouse without borders has been an internal tool at Microsoft for along time.  It’s an immensely useful tool if you use multiple PCs, it basically allows you to share a single mouse and keyboard across multiple PCs – sort of like a revers RDP.  The great thing is that it works perfectly when you have a few laptops to work on at one time as you can use the monitor from each to provide multiple displays.

Some learning tools

Deployment learning portal is the place to learn how to deploy Windows.

MVA is the place to learn how to use the cloud, and virtualisation and tons and tons of other stuff.