Free tools for admins on a tight budget

If you’re trying to stretch a thin IT budget, you probably can’t afford a lot of pricey tools. Luckily, a number of highly useful tools are available for free. Some of them even work better and are more efficient than their costlier alternatives.

1: ComboFix

When the standard antivirus/malware software can’t seem to find the problem, ComboFix almost always does. It also looks for and removes most rootkits and Trojans. To use this tool, you must completely disable all antivirus solutions (and you should completely remove AVG). Caution: If ComboFix is not used properly, it can wreak havoc on the machine you’re trying to fix.

2: ProduKey

ProduKey will help you get product keys from installed applications so that when you need to migrate to a new machine, you can continue using those costly licenses. ProduKey will recover keys from more than 1,000 software titles, including Microsoft Office, Adobe, and Symantec. When you use this tool, you will have both the product ID and the product key; the ID is important because it will tell you which version of the software is installed.

3: Hiren’s BootCD

Hiren’s BootCD is a one-stop-shop Linux boot disk that can help you pull off a number of small miracles. Its tools include Antivir, ClamWin, ComboFix, Clonedisk, Image for Windows, BIOS Cracker, 7-Zip, Bulk Rename, Mini Windows XP, CCleaner, and Notepad++, among others. This single bootable disk could easily be the only tool you need.

4: Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the better free antivirus tools available. Its tagline, “The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus program,” is true. When the firm I work with was looking for a new free solution, we tested Microsoft Security Essentials against AVG Free and Avast Free and found Microsoft Security Essentials to be superior, less intrusive, and less resource intensive.

Note: Microsoft Security Essentials can be used for free for up to 10 PCs. Beyond that, you can purchase the business version, System Center Endpoint Protection.

5: WinDirStat

WinDirStat is the program you need when you must know what is taking up the space on a hard drive. When C drives begin to fill up, performance degrades rapidly. It’s essential to have a tool to help you discern what is gobbling up the precious space on a machine, and WinDirStat is the foremost app for getting this information quickly.

6: CCleaner

CCleaner gets rid of temporary files and Windows Registry problems faster than any other tool. When a machine is having problems, this is almost always the tool I use first. CCleaner also helps ensure privacy by getting rid of traces left behind (such as cookies) by Web browsers.

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