Thursday, November 1, 2012

My favorite Windows tools and utilities

Some of these sites have been around for over a decade, and some of the tools hosted there, I've been using for nearly that long, if not longer. I've used these tools as standalone, but many of them have been  indispensable in scripts I've written over the years.

You might notice that all of these tool collections are made for Windows. As the hacker operating system of choice from the beginning, handy tools for integrating into scripts and troubleshooting were never hard to find for Unix and Linux. However, the more commercial and business-oriented Windows was severely handicapped in this regard, and didn't officially get a proper shell environment (out-of-the-box) until 2006. This oversight resulted the developers, like the ones I've listed below, creating some amazing, useful and largely free tools, beginning in the mid-to-late 90's.

Yes, there are many powerful scripting alternatives readily available for Windows nowadays, like Ruby, Python and Powershell. I cut my teeth on Windows shell (command) scripting though, and when I need a quick-and-dirty script to automate something, it ends up being either a bash script on my Mac, or a Windows shell script. Both work in their native environments without any additional downloads, installs or even changes to paths or environment variables.

The Tools


The first, and most impressive collection of tools is that of Sysinternals. Tools like psexec, tcpmon, Process Explorer and Process Monitor are so good that they should be part of Windows. That made it no surprise when Microsoft bought Sysinternals (actually, Winternals Software) and brought the brilliant Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell on board. Mark widely recognized as a tech rockstar these days, and is now a successful fiction author with two novels available!


Nirsoft, like Sysinternals, seemingly has a tool for everything. In fact, one of the available tools, nircmd,   seems to do nearly everything you could imagine needing from a desktop automation standpoint. The latest Nirsoft tool I've been making use of is SiteShoter - a tool that allows you to take screenshots of a website from the commandline, using the native Internet Explorer API. Again, like Sysinternals, the vast amount of tools Nir Sofer (author of everything found on has written is staggering. For anyone writing scripts to automate tasks, both sites are a godsend.


This site is the same type as Nirsoft and Sysinternals - a huge collection of Windows tools that make power users' and administrators' jobs easier. The emphasis of these tools is very heavy on automating tasks related to Microsoft's popular enterprise products, like Active Directory and Exchange.


Part developer, part musician and part philosopher, AnalogX is a bit different from the previous three sites. This is a home for all of this individual's creative ventures, whatever they might be. I've been using some of his tools for 12 years now, and am grateful his site is still around and available. Also, like me, he never throws anything away. One of my old favorites is TextScan, which has often helped me out when I've had a need to do some quick and dirty binary analysis (as long as what I'm looking for is in ASCII!).

Standalone Mentions


Even though the latest versions of Windows Task Scheduler include an integrated email/smtp utility, Blat is still the best tool out there for using the internal open relay to impersonate your coworkers. Not that I'd ever do that...

If you need your Windows script to email you, look no further.


There are probably prettier visualization utilities out there now, but I've yet to find anything as easy to learn and use as Ploticus. It will parse out any file with structured data, and can output the results in a large variety of graph formats.


More than just a group of handy tools, Cygwin is an entire posix-friendly environment you can install on Windows. Setup could have been a nightmare, but instead, it is full of streamlined awesomeness.

Similar to Cygwin, but different. There is no environment or emulation layer here. These are unix utilities ported as native Win32 binaries. No additional requirements.

If you see anything I've missed that belongs on this list, let me know in the comments!