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Free Microsoft Applications to Enhance Windows XP and 2003

Rating 4.75 out of 5

Last Update: 11th Jan 2009

Hi all,

As a developer I tend to install an awful lot of freeware, shareware and paid-for applications on my PC in order to assist me with the day-to-day development of applications.

However… over the years I have noticed a trend where Microsoft themselves release a lot of ”applets’ under the guise of “Microsoft Research”, “Technet” or “SysInternals” (www.SysInternals.com is now part of Microsoft Technet)

I have compiled a (not exhaustive, so please contribute) list of my favourite utilities and applications which are mainly from Microsoft (with a couple from other sources) that enhance Windows XP and Windows 2003. I haven’t tested them on Vista (as I still don’t use it!), but I suspect most of them will still work.

SysInternals Applets

  • Process Explorer – A proper replacement for Windows Task Manager. This improved applet allows you to explore each process properly (instead of just showing 20 copies of RunDll32.exe like Windows Task Manager does!)
Process Explorer in Action

Process Explorer in Action

  • FileMon – This shows all real-time file activity (with the ability to filter). Without this application I never would have fixed the album artwork issue I had on my Media PC (everything showed up as ‘The Searchers’ !!!)
  • TCPView – This displays a list of all open TCP sockets, their destinations and the application that opened them. Essential for tracking trojan or malware infections.
  • ADExplorer – Ideal lightweight tool for exploring Active Directory or LDAP servers. Fast, portable and free!
  • BGInfo – Great applet for Server Installations. You can use this tool to display the configuration (machine name, IP address, MAC address + much more) as the desktop background. Great when you are using a KVM to access multiple machines.
BGInfo in action

BGInfo in action

Powertoys / Control Panel Tweaks

  • Sequoia View – An excellent tool for visualising the contents of your hard disk (and where all the space went!)
  • ClearType Tuning Control Panel – ‘Tunes’ the ClearType fonts to make them work with your LCD Display
  • Command Prompt Here – Add’s an ‘Open Command Prompt Here’ option to Explorer’s right-click menu
  • TweakUI – this is the ultimate Windows XP powertool, letting you change *lots* of system settings…

Fun Stuff & Utilities

  • Webcam Timershot – Takes a picture of from your Webcam and saves it to your hard disk at preset intervals
  • Virtual PC – Lets you run Windows, Linux or even Windows Server on your PC as a ‘Virtual Machine’
  • Zune Desktop Theme – Get a nice tidy ‘Black’ look to your Windows XP desktop
  • Mount ISO’s – This applet works like Daemon Tools, allowing you to mount an ISO as a virtual CD Rom drive

System Application/Applet Replacements

  • Notepad2 – Everything that Notepad should have been! Line numbers, syntax highlighting, plus much more…
  • 7Zip – Everything that PKZip used to be…. the ultimate Zip/unzipper, and even supports all those nasty .gz and .tar unix formats as well!
  • PuTTY – Forget Hyperterminal, PuTTY is a *tiny* Telnet application that also supports SSH, Serial and just about every terminal type you will need. Ideal to put on your USB key.
  • UltraVNC – This is a cross-platform remote control application that works in the same manner as PCAnywhere or GoToMyPC, except it’s ‘Free’, fast and works with all the VNC protocols. This means you can effectively control a Linux box from Windows (and visa-versa) or even your server from a mobile phone!

I will be updating this list periodically, but please feel free to comment with some more suggestions!


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