New Products for IT Professionals
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Microsoft. All prices were confirmed at the time of writing and are subject to change.
As an IT Pro, you probably have multiple systems that you bounce among during your day. This is especially true for quality assurance folks out there who have to test applications on different platforms or for environments that have applications licensed to a particular workstation that users must share. To help clear your desk of the keyboards and mice needed for each of those systems, you might want to take a look at the free tool, Input Director.
Input Director lets you control multiple Windows systems using one keyboard and mouse. The application works with most flavors of Windows, from Windows 2000 SP4 through Windows Server 2008 and Windows 7. After installing the utility on each machine, you enable one as the master and the rest as slaves.
The application saves you the hassle of adding rules to your Windows Firewall (to allow communication between the master and slaves) by doing so automatically. For each slave system, you then configure a few settings that allow the master to take control. To do so, you define which computer can be the master by either explicitly specifying hostnames/IP–address combinations or a range of IP addresses. You can optionally enable AES encryption (at 128-, 192- or 256-bit strength) for the data communication between the master and the slave. And if you wish, you can also make the slave ignore a shut-down command from the master, which is very useful for test systems shared by multiple users.
For the master computer, you specify the slaves you want to connect to as well as how, and on multi-monitor systems you determine the layout of the displays. Once configured, switch from computer to computer simply by moving your mouse to the edge of your screen. The display will continue to scroll through the slaves, and, if you have the master preference option set via the application configuration, will bring you full circle back to the master. If you’d rather, you can also define a hot-key combination, a double click at the screen edge, or a cursor-linger for a specific duration to switch from system to system. There’s also an option that lets you skip a slave if it isn’t necessary for the task at hand, and then enable it by pressing a hotkey combination.
Other preference options for the master let you decide whether to transfer the mouse and keyboard options (such as button settings and keyboard layouts) of the slave to the master when you switch, as well as substitute different key combinations for Ctrl-Alt-Delete and Lock Windows.
The general application settings let you have Input Director start automatically when Windows launches and enable the machine as a slave or master automatically (great for slave systems you want to reboot but that already have their mice and keyboards disconnected).You can also enable sharing of clipboard or file data among the systems.
Several features are helpful with test-bed systems: If you’d like the application to route all its communications through a NIC on your master machine, you can choose the interface each system should use by default. And in case the default communications port is unavailable on your system, you can specify an alternate. Input Director also has a neat one-click feature that lets you shut down all the systems at once; once again another great feature for test beds.
There’s also a simple keystroke macro recorder you can use to go through a repeated set of steps on a slave system. For example, you can create a macro that opens a command prompt, starts an application, and enters data into whichever form has focus. Of course, because the facility records only your keystrokes, you’ll have to use the Windows+R key combination to bring up the Run dialog.
So if you’re sick of sliding back and forth between systems or want to clear away the clutter of multiple keyboards and mice, you might want to take a look at the useful—and free—Input Director as a candidate for your IT toolbox.
If you have any publicly accessible services such as Websites, mail servers or FTP sites, when you look at their logs, undoubtedly you uncover questionable activities caused by bots or users testing the security of your service when looking at the logs.
Though they can be spoofed, IP addresses, in combination with a Whois server, can provide a good deal of information about the origin of these suspicious requests to your service. But depending on which agency is responsible for the address allocation, you may have to surf to a few different sites to get the details on that address. And more than likely, rather than one address, you have a set for which you’d like to know the details.
One simple tool that speeds up the process is IPNetInfo from NirSoft. This easy-to-use utility queries multiple Whois servers to get the information you need on a set of IP addresses. The tool doesn’t require any registry settings or system-located files, so you can easily add it to your administrative-utility USB key or CD and take it with you as you go from system to system. When you launch the application, it presents a text area into which you can paste or type your set of target-system hostnames, IP addresses or some combination.
You can also paste in a message header from an e-mail, and the utility will parse out all the included IP addresses and hostnames. This is very useful for quickly tracing an e-mail’s origin and route it took to get to you. And because some Whois servers get a little cranky if you make too many requests within a certain timeframe, to lessen your chances of getting cut off, you can set a pause of a certain number of seconds after a specified number of requests.
Once you have your list entered, click on OK, and the utility will start requesting the details of the addresses from the Whois servers. The results display in two halves of the main application window: a tabular view of the results at the top and a detail pane at the bottom. For the top summary, you can define the columns you wish to view including registration details, such as the network and owner names, the allocated address range, contact names and addresses, the abuse e-mail address, phone and fax numbers if available and the country of the registered company.
An indicator tells you whether the request was successful and the Whois source server (such as ARIN or APNIC) that provided the information. You also get results of a look-up from the IP address to its resolved name if it’s available. The detail pane shows you the somewhat raw view of the response from the Whois server in the standard response format.
IPNetInfo also lets you save the results to a text or an HTML file. In addition, you can save the raw Whois responses to a file. Next time you want to know the details behind an IP address (or hostname to IP address), give IPNetInfo a try. Best of all, it’s free!
If you have to manage multiple types of database servers in your environment, it can be handy to have one centralized tool to tweak all the databases. Werysoft’sQweryBuilder aims to give you that. You can use it to connect to Microsoft SQL Server, Sybase ASE, SQL Anywhere, and Oracle instances from the same GUI, then view, create, update and delete database scripts, schema objects and data.
At its heart QweryBuilder is more of a SQL script tool than one for server management. To start working, you first have to register the server instance to which you wish to connect. Registered servers appear in a tree view in the left pane of the UI. In the right main area—your work area—multiple tabs hold your different queries or other tool results. To see the contents of a schema object, you simply browse the tree view and click on the object. Clicking on a table generates both the table definition and any constraints that may be applied. Similarly, stored procedures, functions, triggers, and views give you the drop statements to make updating an object easier.
QweryBuilder has a number of interesting tools and shortcuts that help make your job easier as well. A Visual Difference shortcut, when pointed to two objects in the database, shows where they differ. It uses another free tool called WinMerge. (which I looked at way back in 2006, but is still going strong at http://winmerge.org ). The Auto Format tool turns poorly formatted and mixed-case SQL into a standard, readable format.
The Database Search tool makes finding references easier by searching all objects in a target for items of a specific string or set of strings. If you’re looking to save a few keystrokes for all those repeated SQL statements, you’ll appreciate My Autocomplete, which lets you define short strings that will complete to full SQL statement snippets. You can add your own SQL templates, too (which is great if you have a specific format or documentation header you add to your definitions).
So if you are looking for a single tool to manage multiple database server types, you may want to check out QweryBuilder. The utility runs $75 per installed instance.A site license is available for $1,500.A fully-featured, free trial is also available direct from the product website.
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA, and development easier for the IT professional.