Take Five With Tom Fenton

5 Free, Must-Have Windows Tools

Indispensable programs that won't cost you a penny.

Even though I work with servers every day, I need to interact with them from my Microsoft Windows desktop. I've tried to use Linux desktops and I even went Mac OS X for a while, but I always seem to come back around to using Windows. It's not that I love or hate my Windows desktop; I simply see it as a tool to do my job.

However, it is lacking some basic tools that I need to do my job efficiently (and are actually included with Linux and Mac OSes). Here are five tools I've collected and used throughout the years that help make my job easier (strangely, and not by design, they're all free):

1. Vim
I admit it: I like the Unix Vi editor. Vim is a simple, quick, clone of Vi and a great tool for making edits to plain-text files. I've tried to use other editors, but always found them lacking for simplicity, ease of use and productivity. Vim comes with a built-in tutorial that you can run through in less than an hour. An interesting factoid about Vim: the original Vi editor was written by Bill Joy, of Sun Microsystems Inc. fame.  

2. Putty
It's maddening that Windows doesn't come with an SSH client. It's also maddening that the Windows Console can't be resized dynamically. Putty takes care of both those issues, and allows you to quickly connect to your servers remotely via SSH.

3. WinSCP
Why Microsoft would invest millions of dollars in Bob and Clippy, and not include a way to transfer files in a secure fashion over the network from one computer to another via Secure Copy Protocol (SCP) is beyond me. I often find that I need to move files to and from my servers, and WinSCP makes it as easy as dropping and dragging files from my desktop to my server.

4. Fio
I've used a lot of benchmarking tools to measure the performance of storage devices over the years, but fio is currently my favorite. It runs on Windows, Linux, OS X and Android. Although it runs from the command line, people have created GUI interfaces for it.

5. CamStudio
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video (at 24 frames per second) must be worth millions, right? I work with beta bits quite a bit (unintentional play on words) and have found it far easier to create a quick video of the problem and send it out than to try and write or talk developers through it. CamStudio makes creating screen capture videos a snap.  

I've tried other tools (some free, others paid) to accomplish these tasks, but these tools are always the ones that eventually end up on my desktop. I'm always open to trying other tools, so if you have one you like, let me know and I'll try to give it a shot.

Bonus Tip! I have yet to meet Bram Moolenaar, the creator and maintainer of Vim, but he has to be one of the best people in the world. Vim is free, but he does encourage you, if you find his editor useful, to donate to a charity that he supports: Orphans in Uganda. He calls his software "charityware."    

About the Author

Tom Fenton works in VMware's Education department as a Senior Course Developer. He has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 20 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 10 years focused on virtualization and storage. Before re-joining VMware, Tom was a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, were he headed their Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on Twitter @vDoppler.

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