20 free Microsoft tools that you should know about, but probably don't

Tips and tricks direct from TechEd Europe

In one of the last sessions on day 1 of TechEd Europe, Microsoft presented us with a list of 20 free tools that we apparently didn't know existed. Let's jump right in.

1. Microsoft Assessment & Planning (MAP) Toolkit: Will search all your machines across the network and identify their roles and status. It allows you to perform inventory of not just PCs but also active databases and servers. MAP will give you a quick overview of your entire network over a cetain time.

2. Application Compatibility Toolkit (ACT): Like MAP, this toolkit goes out and scans your network for applications and checks if they're compatible. ACT's main purpose tough is to create "shims" that will fix compatibilty problems. Its "Compatibility Administrator" allows you to set dozens of default shims that will help solve typical compatibility problems. For example, it allows you to even simulate Windows 95 environmental files for REALLY old applications.

3. Application Compatibility List: Not really a tool, but a massive list of programs that do and don't work for Windows 7.

4. Internet Explorer 9 Compatibility List: Helps you identify problems with websites.

5. Microsoft Deployment Toolkit 2012: Allows you to catalog operating systems, applications and even drivers in a local deployment share and deploy these for the PCs in your fleet. Propably one of the most powerful free tools that admins are using to test deployment of Windows.

6. Windows 8 Client Hyper-V: As we revealed early in the beta stage last year, Hyper-V is now part of the Windows 8 client. Great for developers testing and coding under new versions of Windows.

7. Quirks Mode for IE: Just hit F12 on a website that's not compatible with IE9 or 10 and select a different version of IE. A good example of where this is helpful: www.3doorsdown.com.

8. Windows Deployment Service: In combination with MDT 2012, this server feature helps you deploy and manage the operating system packages that you created.

9. Internet Explorer Administration Kit (IEAK): One of the critical factors for companies to standardize Internet Explorer (i.e., default icons).

10. Windows To Go: While not a free product (but part of the enterprise license of Windows 8) allows you to put a full-version of Windows 8 and several core tools on a bootable USB stick. The stick will be treated as a PC in your environment (group policies, etc.).

11. Microsoft Security Compliance Manager: Allows you to quickly manage group policies on your PCs, data centers and in the private cloud.

12. Internet Explorer Blocker: Allows admins to prevent the automatic delivery of IE9.

13. Problem Steps Recorder (PSR): One of your staff members tells you "X, Y and Z doesn't work!" You need more details! Ask them to launch PSR (Start menu) and hit "Start record." This recorder will save all the steps in screenshot form into a handy MHTML file which the user can then send you.

14. Troubleshooting Tools: Did you know that Windows 7 and 8 include their own little "Fix It" troubleshooting packs? These include a veriety of scripts that will try to fix comon issues with audio, networking or driver. You'll find them under Control Panel when you enter "Troubleshoot"!

15. Resource Monitor: Another little hidden gem in Windows 7 and 8 is the "Resource Monitor". According to Microsoft, Resource Monitor (just look for it in your Start menu or Metro Start screen in Windows 8) allows you to keep an eye on the entire performance spectrum of your PC.

16. BitLocker-To-Go: BTG was built into Windows 7 and allows you to encrypt local drives and also removable mass storage devices.

17. IPAM Server: A feature of Windows Server 2012 that helps you discover and manage the IP address space in your network.

18. XBootMgr: Allows you to track down what is slowing down your boot (Part of the Windows Performance Toolkit). The new version includes a "Windows Performance Recorder" that helps you identify what is making an application respond slowly.

19. Microsoft Internet Explorer Compatibility Test Tool: Allows you to analyze why a website did not display properly.

20. Spring Board: Not really a tool, but a starting point for downloads, documentation, videos and services around Windows XP, 7 and even Windows 8.

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