15 incredibly useful (and free) Microsoft tools for IT pros

We've dug through the jungle that is Microsoft Downloads and found 15 of the best free tools you've probably never heard of.

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10. Microsoft Windows Performance Toolkit

Number 10 is one of these little helpers I can't live without. Microsoft's performance tools are the most reliable speed tests for accurately measuring PC performance over a certain period of time. For analyzing PC usage over a certain amount of time, use the "xperf –on DiagEasy" command to start and "xperf –d trace.etl" to stop.

I use it to troubleshoot a slow or stuck boot-up, shutdown, standby and hibernation. It ties in closely with all these processes and gives IT pros an overview of what's causing delays or problems. Simply launch XBootMgr.exe (via a command line or shortcut) and use one of the following parameters:

Testing boot time: xbootmgr –trace boot –traceFlags BASE+CSWITCH+DRIVERS+POWER

Testing shutdown: xbootmgr –trace shutdown –traceFlags BASE+CSWITCH+DRIVERS+POWER

Testing standby: xbootmgr –trace standby –traceFlags BASE+CSWITCH+DRIVERS+POWER

Testing hibernate: xbootmgr –trace hibernate –traceFlags BASE+CSWITCH+DRIVERS+POWER

Now, go to your Start menu and fire up "Windows Performance Analyzer" to open the ".etl" file created by the trace.

You'll end up with a detailed analysis on a) how long the entire boot takes (from loading the first boot file to initializing the last service) and b) which process, service or driver is causing delays.

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11. Speed Launch

Back in 2008, Officelabs launched an interesting productivity tool dubbed "Speed Launcher". You can use this to launch a series of programs, websites or shell commands at the same time -– with just one click or by using WIN+C keyboard shortcut and selecting the appropriate tile. For example, I created a series called "Research" that automatically opens Microsoft Word, OneNote and www.wikipedia.com at the same -– yes, that's quite a simple one but you get the idea. To create a new series, simply drag & drop shortcuts onto the Speed Launch icon or right-click on it and go to "Manage Icons".

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12. Screen Recorder

Sick of repeating your instructions once, twice…tens times to PC newcomers or coworkers? Don't want to use TeamViewer each and every time to show your family how to burn a DVD or make a photo slideshow? Just use Screen Recorder and record the instructions –- step by step! This free little recorder isn't exactly Microsoft-owned but is now a featured download over at TechNet and combined with Windows Media Encoder. It records either the entire screen or just single windows and saves the clips into the WMV format.

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