Microsoft operating systems hold a dominant market share of global computer systems, making using and optimizing Windows administrative tools critical. But what tools do admin users have at their disposal, and why are they important?
This guide looks at the long list of Windows administrators tools, how to use them, and the best free third-party tools to consider.
What Are Windows Admin Tools?
Windows administrative tools are built-in and downloadable features for advanced users and system administrators to monitor and configure individual and network devices. Users can navigate to Administrative Tools through the Control Panel for a suite of system, service, and configuration management tools as presented below.
“The tools in the folder might vary depending on which edition of Windows you are using.”
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How to Use Windows Administrative Tools
Windows Administrative Tools are available for systems administrators wanting more insight into device settings, or to configure policies for a given device. Most of the tools mentioned below are plug-and-play features automatically scheduled to run upon purchase and startup. Admin users that want more control over their system can access the Control Panel’s Administrative Tools folder to modify existing settings.
Automating as many of these tools as possible is critical to optimal management for Active Directory and standalone computer administrators. Setting clear configuration policies allows for interoperability with other network devices, eases admin responsibilities, and mitigates human error.
Read more on TechRepublic: 5 Windows admin tasks that can be automated using PowerShell
List of Windows Admin Tools
What Is It: Component Services enables the configuration and management of Component Object Model (COM) and COM+ applications. COM applications include programs like Microsoft Excel, while COM+ applications group components specific to services like transactions, role-based access control, and message queues. The Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC) helps administrators monitor and manage transactions, as well as configure computers to support distributed transactions for resources like databases and file systems.
How and When to Use It: Component Services is handy for application developers deploying and analyzing application behavior. To implement this Windows administrative tool, user systems must be appropriately configured, and then administrators are free to make initial adjustments to COM applications and services and install COM+ applications. Admin can monitor and tune Component Services applications to optimize performance, security, and more.
What Is It: Computer Management is a list of administrative tools for managing local and remote devices. The left pane shows a console tree, and the right includes details on specific items contained within the console tree. The three categories of tools in the Computer Management console are:
- System tools like users and groups, performance logs, and shared folders
- Storage, including disk management, disk defragmenter, and removable storage
- Services and Applications for managing traffic, indexing service, and WMI Control
How and When to Use It: Administrators can access Computer Management features on a local or remote computer. For local computers, users can open “Computer Management (Local),” where the console tree and tool categories are available for admin visibility.
Administrators must select “Another Computer” on remote computers to manually add or locate the target computer. Similarly, admin users can view the tools and services for the remote device.
Defragment and Optimize Drives
What Is It: Disk Defragmenter is the Windows feature enabling administrators to evaluate the current status of disk fragmentation. Fragmentation, or file system aging, is natural when a computer’s files scatter across disk drives, eventually causing performance degradation.
The Windows defragmenter is a retroactive tool that identifies existing fragmentation levels and enables administrators to conduct standard defragging of specific computer disks.
How and When to Use It: Though many reasons could be to blame for slower performance, fragmentation is a consistent cause. Administrators can open the Disk Defragmenter tool and display the fragmentation status of specific disks. For each disk analysis, the admin has visibility into the percentage of disk fragmentation.
Defragmentation is recommendable if fragmentation is above 10%. The extent of fragmentation is the difference between the defragging process taking minutes or hours to finish, but is critical to optimizing drive performance.
Read more: How Virtualization Exacerbates Fragmentation
What Is It: Disk Cleanup is a Windows feature allowing users to remove unnecessary files to speed and improve performance on disk drives. Standard files targeted by this tool include temporary, offline, and downloaded files from the internet, and Recycle Bin items.
How and When to Use It: Administrators seeking to run Microsoft Disk Cleanup can do so from the Windows Administrative Tools folder. When opened, the admin must select the disk drive in question and review specific file details. Users can identify which items are consuming too much drive space and manually check items needing removal. Once files are reviewed and selected, Disk Cleanup does the rest.
What Is It: Event Viewer is the central log monitoring tool enabling administrators to identify and evaluate systems, applications, and security logs. These logs offer insights into system components like driver failure, software program-specific errors, security events, and resource usage. Different event types for records include successful and failed security audits, legitimate traffic, warnings, and errors.
How and When to Use It: Log management is essential for administrators that need visibility into specific components, services, and user traffic. Administrators can access the Event Viewer, selecting from particular logs. After choosing a log, the admin can filter, sort, and search event data and evaluate available binary data. Event Viewer records are available as EVT log files when saved, and TXT and CSV files when archived.
What Is It: Administrators use the Microsoft Internet iSCSI Initiator to connect computers by ethernet network adapter to external iSCSI-based storage devices and iSCSI storage area networks (SAN). The Internet Small Computer Systems Interface, more commonly known by its acronym, iSCSI, is an IP standard for connecting to network storage devices.
How and When to Use It: iSCSI storage helps simplify SAN management, scale performance, and leverage existing Ethernet infrastructure and investments in IP protocol. Administrators can access the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator GUI to quickly discover and establish connections to storage devices, or create a configuration report detailing all links. For implementation, the iSCSI Initiator comes with functionality for data digests, multipath I/O (MPIO), IPv6 compatibility, IPsec, CHAP, remote boot, and naming service (iSNS).
Once fully installed, the Microsoft iSCSI Initiator comes with a unique iSCSI qualified name (IQN) based on the computer name and DNS. Administrators can configure initiators to always reestablish connections upon device reboots, automatically start services on iSCSI disk volumes, and generate iSCSI configuration reports.
Local Security Policy
What Is It: Local Security Policy is the control console for the individual device’s security policies. Security policies related to passwords, lockouts, audits, access, and more are all available for administrators to provision. Other security setting options include configuring Windows Defender Firewall, public key policies, application control policies, and IPsec.
How and When to Use It: Organizations with Microsoft infrastructure rely on Active Directory to set group security policies. Still, administrators can also view and configure a single device’s settings with access to the Local Security Policy. Unlike domain security settings, this tool provides insight into the security policies of a standalone device.
OBDC Data Source Administrator
What Is It: Short for the Microsoft Open Database Connectivity (ODBC), the ODBC Data Source Administrator is responsible for database drivers and data sources, with options for 32-bit and 64-bit versions for operators.
Drivers process ODBC traffic and adjust requests to meet protocol, while data sources are the files and databases accessed by drivers. Types of data sources include those limited to a specific user, all users on a single device, or shared files through a network database.
How and When to Use It: ODBC drivers are an industry-standard providing interoperability where an application may need access to multiple data sources. Administrators can establish application access to data sources and specific database management systems (DBMS) using SQL queries. Admin users can add, modify, and delete data sources to ensure applications only have access to defined data sources.
What Is It: Performance Monitor is a critical tool for visibility into performance metrics and the reliability of local and remote computers. This tool evaluates how services and applications affect computer performance using event trace data, configuration information, and performance counters.
The Performance Monitor offers administrators real-time and historical data with multiple graphical view options, drag-and-drop functionality, and custom Data Collector Sets. The Reliability Monitor focuses on overall system stability, analyzing trends, and analyzing how events like OS updates and hardware failures affect computer resilience.
How and When to Use It: Administrators can access the Performance Monitor by searching perfmon or the Windows Administrative Tools folder. Admin users can select Reliability and Performance from the monitor console to connect another computer by name or local network.
Depending on the administrator privilege group, users can view performance and reliability monitors, use Resource View, modify Data Collector Sets, or change the monitor display properties.
What Is It: Print Management allows administrators to connect, centralize, and manage print servers and network printers. Print management functionality comes with three core services to manage print servers, Line Printer Daemon (LPD) services, and web-based printing.
How and When to Use It: Through the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in, administrators can view the status of printers and print servers, install new connections, and monitor queues.
The LPD service enables the TCP/IP Print Server to connect other remote printers, but stopping or restarting the print spooler service requires administrators to restart these services manually. Print management is available for local or remote configuration.
What Is It: The Windows Resource Monitor is a vital tool for monitoring resource usage and evaluating problems related to resource traffic. Split into five tabs, the Resource Monitor includes CPU, memory, disk, network views, and filter options to analyze specific processes and services. All monitor tabs contain multiple tables within.
How and When to Use It: Admin users can access the Resource Monitor via resmon.exe or the Windows Administrative Tools folder. Administrators can navigate between tabs that contain multiple tables offering standard search and filter functions. Each tab also includes a chart pane with graphical views of resource usage. Administrators can customize viewing options between the tabs, tables, and chart panes to optimize their visibility.
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What Is It: Services is an MMC snap-in responsible for running background services. Without a GUI for end users, the Services span-in is similar to a daemon process in UNIX systems. These background processes are central to operating system functionality, including event logging, file serving, error reporting, web serving, and cryptography.
How and When to Use It: The command for accessing Services is services.msc. When launched, Services offers a gamut of configuration options for managing computer services. Admin users can adjust services in real time, establish service redundancy, configure hardware by services, and view service dependencies.
Services data is exportable as a TXT or CSV file for sharing and preserving the status and description of services as a reference point.
What Is It: System Configuration is a tool allowing administrators to alter how the Windows operating system boots.
How and When to Use It: Administrators can use System Configuration for routine, diagnostic, and selective startup options. This tool allows admin users to manage startup programs and tracks entry alterations for optimizing system starts.
What Is It: System Information offers a plethora of data about hardware resources, components, software environments, and Microsoft Edge to enhance administrator visibility into problems and offer remediation steps.
Hardware resources include settings like I/O addresses, memory addresses, interrupt requests (IRQs), and direct memory access (DMA). The Components feature shows the status of connected devices, ports, and USB drives, while the Software Environment offers a snapshot of drivers, running tasks, and services residing in computer memory. Added visibility into Microsoft Edge data includes file versions, connectivity, cache, and content.
How and When to Use It: Administrators most often need System Information for visibility into the various hybrid systems in modern IT environments. With more profound insight into specific process issues, admin users can take action with tools like disk cleanup, backups, diagnostics, file signature verification, and a hardware wizard. The Windows Report Tool collects this data for admin use and continued evaluation.
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What Is It: The Task Scheduler allows users to create, modify, and disable computer tasks that run at specific times or in response to certain conditions being met. For more intensive processes, task scheduling can be critical to allocating CPU without causing degradation of other computer systems.
How and When to Use It: To use Task Scheduler, administrators can access the tool via the Windows Administrative Tools folder or command prompt taskschd.msc. The Task Scheduler Library gives admin users visibility into the root folder, containing all tasks. Details like trigger conditions are events prompting a specific job. The execution of this task is known as the action and could be defragging, sending an email, running an app, and more.
Windows Firewall and Advanced Security
What Is It: The Windows Firewall provides a stateful firewall and connection security (IPsec) to protect individual computers. Unlike firewalls positioned at the network perimeter, Windows Firewalls protect the host device from malicious external traffic through administrator-defined rules.
How and When to Use It: Administrators can manage firewall rules dictating allowed and blocked traffic and connection security rules which secure traffic between the host and other computers. Both rule types combine to offer individual devices foundational intrusion prevention capabilities.
The Windows Firewall and Advanced Security MMC snap-in combine firewall and IPsec settings in a single GUI where administrators can set reasonable traffic policies. The IP Security Monitor specifically offers statistics for how policies impact activities.
With Netsh, administrators also have access to a command-line tool to configure network component settings. This tool enables the creation of scripts for configuring Windows Firewall and IPsec and displaying the status of both tools.
Windows Memory Diagnostic
What Is It: The Windows Memory Diagnostic tool runs multiple tests on a computer’s RAM to identify possible root causes of hardware failure or slower performance.
How and When to Use It: Windows Memory Diagnostic is executable via mtsint.exe and offers administrators two options: to create a startup disk, or save a bootable CD image to the computer hard drive.
Six memory tests using unique algorithms scan for different error types and alert the administrator to memory addresses and errors as discovered. The Extended mode includes 11 separate memory tests. In either case, admin users can evaluate successful and failed tests for faulty RAM modules and underlying errors.
Important Windows Admin Tools
Remote Server Administration Tools
Best Free Remote Server Administration Tool
Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) give IT administrators the ability to remotely manage roles and features on Windows Servers. This tool is also available to remotely manage Windows Active Directory for domain-level policies. RSAT has become an even more valuable tool given the recent boom in remote work ecosystems.
With RSAT, there’s no need for a remote desktop protocol (RDP), which can be time-consuming to implement, maintain, and secure consistently. The RSAT package includes command-line tools, Windows PowerShell cmdlets, Hyper-V, the MMC snap-in, and a server manager.
Best Practices Analyzer (BPA)
Best Free Performance Monitoring Tool
The Windows Best Practices Analyzer (BPA) is a natively integrated Windows Server tool. It ensures that Active Directory (AD) follows Microsoft’s best practices standard by analyzing key settings and other AD components.
The BPA can help administrators identify ways to increase the security and performance of AD. Each setting or component scanned displays status and description for admin user visibility. The Best Practices Analyzer is also compatible with monitoring the health of Hyper-V.
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Best Free Editor Tool
The Microsoft Windows PowerShell ISE is a GUI-based application and interactive environment built on the .NET Framework. It is the default editor for Windows PowerShell commands and allows System Admins to run various PowerShell commands in real-time. PowerShell ISE can automate several administrative responsibilities related to managing applications running on a network.
There are also Script Browser and Script Analyzer add-ons available for PowerShell ISE. The Script Browser automatically searches for and identifies appropriate command scripts for specific tasks using the TechNet database. Administrators can save time and effort manually searching through libraries of scripts while the Script Analyzer evaluates and suggests changes to improve script effectiveness.
Best Free Third-Party Windows Administrative Tools
There is no shortage of accessible Windows server administrative tools available to administrators. Whether you need a tool to help configure, manage, troubleshoot, or secure Windows servers and domains, there’s a free tool that can help.
Because of the seemingly endless array of these tools, finding the right one for your purposes can be overwhelming. Here are the best free third-party Windows server administrative tools to help you oversee your Windows-based network.
Best Free Network Monitoring Tool
Wireshark is arguably the most used network protocol analyzer available. This free and open-source networking monitoring tool is excellent for diagnosing network issues and guiding administrators towards the appropriate remediation. While Wireshark is great for Windows systems, it also has cross-platform compatibility supporting macOS, Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD.
Wireshark offers a clear and logical GUI based on the popular toolkit GTK, with a standard three-pane packet browser. Valuable features include live capture, a rich VoIP analysis, and deep inspection of hundreds of protocols. Capture files are compressable with gzip, and administrators can export data via TXT, CSV, PostScript, or XML.
Best Free Backup and Disaster Recovery Tool
Clonezilla can prevent the permanent loss of precious data and help organizations prepare for when disaster strikes. Clonezilla is a free tool for cloning disks and individual hard disk partitions. It makes for a fast and reliable tool for single machines (Clonezilla Live) and large deployments (Clonezilla Lite Server and Clonezilla Server Edition).
Clonezilla SE can install an operating system and software applications on one machine, then take a snapshot and deploy it on other network devices. This version can also backup other machines connected to the network. Clonezilla supports a wide variety of file systems, including FAT, NTFS (Microsoft), extended file systems (Linux), Reiser4, and VMFS (VMware).
Best Suite of Free Server Administration Tools
ManageEngine Desktop Central is an entire suite of free Windows administrative tools used to manage endpoints from a central space. It’s not open source or a native Windows tool, but its free edition is suitable for SMBs managing up to 25 computers or mobile devices.
ManageEngine’s Windows Server administrative suite includes various tools for Windows administration and management tasks, including remote control, patching, software inventory, rebooting, disk monitoring, asset management, and more. With Desktop Central’s remote functionality, administrators can troubleshoot issues on individual machines from any location.