10 FREE tools for reducing IT support headaches

Andrew Tabona

Whether you’re a SysAdmin or work in IT Support, you will know that you are constantly being pulled in all directions. With everyone vying for your attention it is sometimes hard to keep track and manage everything at once. Multi-tasking and being organized are two skills you’ll need to master quickly if you are to succeed and keep a cool head – here is a list of free tools to help you to do just that!

1 Microsoft RDCMan

Microsoft_RDCMan

Microsoft RDCMan (Remote Desktop Connection Manager) allows you to manage multiple remote desktop connections from a single interface. You can organize different connections into groups for quick access.

You start by creating a group and then adding remote desktop connections into it, as shown in the image above. It’s worth investing the time to set these up properly, as it will save loads of time in the future.

2 Notepad++

Notepad++

Intended as an editor for source code or scripting, Notepad++ acts as the perfect replacement for Windows Notepad (notepad.exe). It is useful for viewing log files, keeping notes, opening multiple files at the same time, searching through multiple files quickly and auto-saving regular backups of the files you are working on.

3 Microsoft OneNote

OneNote

As part of your effort to keep organized, you’ll need a way of capturing and categorizing thoughts, ideas and notes in a central location. Microsoft OneNote allows you to do that and is now free!

To get started, create a Notebook and then a tab and pages under that tab from the right hand side.

4 Terminals

Terminals

Terminals is an alternative to Microsoft RDCMan that allows you to manage multiple remote connections. The main difference is that Terminals supports various remote connection protocols including VNC, SSH, Telnet, and Citrix as well as RDP. Across the top is a toolbar containing shortcuts to common control panel applets like computer management and network connections.

When you launch Terminals, start a connection straight away by entering the IP address or Hostname in the ‘Connect To:’ field. Alternatively, configure groups and connection favourites in the Favorites tab on the left hand pane.

5 TeamViewer Remote Control

TeamViewer

TeamViewer Remote Control comes in handy if you need a quick way of remotely connecting to a machine. You can be up and running within seconds and the apps for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone or Blackberry allow you to remotely connect while you’re on the road using your mobile device.

TeamViewer_from_iPhone

To get started, launch TeamViewer and enter the ID of the computer you wish to connect to. You will then be prompted for the password, after which a window will open showing the remote computer. The image below shows a screenshot of a remote computer being controlled from an iPhone.

6 Microsoft SysInternals Suite

The Microsoft SysInternals Suite is a package of 60+ lightweight troubleshooting tools to help you manage, troubleshoot and diagnose system and application issues.

I’ve been preaching about these tools for years and will continue to do so because I find them invaluable in helping to find the root cause of a variety of issues more quickly. If you take the time to learn what each tool does and what information it can give you, you’ll be better equipped to tackle any issue that is thrown your way.

7 Recuva Free

Recuva

We’ve all had situations (or at least heard of them) where a high profile individual within the organization accidentally deletes a file they didn’t have a backup of and demands that you ‘work your magic’ and recover it immediately (no pressure!).

This is where Recuva comes in. Recuva is able to recover files that have been deleted or become damaged or corrupt, provided the clusters of that file haven’t been overwritten (i.e. the sooner you run Recuva after the file has been deleted the more chance you have of recovering the file).

To get started, from the Recuva interface, select the drive to scan from the drop down box on the left hand side, choose a pre-defined file type filter from the drop down box on the right hand side and click “Scan”. Alternatively, use the Quick-Start Wizard to walk you through the recovery process.

8 FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD (f4ubcd)

F4UBCD_MiniXP

Trust me, everyone needs a rescue disk! There are certain situations in which a Boot CD can be an absolute life saver. FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD is built upon Hiren’s Boot CD but comes with a sleek UI and a truck load of updated tools that allow remote connectivity, provide system information, recover and repair damaged partitions, work with files and much more.

F4’s UBCD boot menu allows you to boot into the MiniXP environment, the Linux-based rescue environment, run a series of standalone tools or boot directly from a specified partition.

The MiniXP environment, as shown in the image above, is essentially a lightweight version of the Windows XP desktop that is pre-packed with a multitude of diagnostic and repair tools. To get started, choose from one of the available application shortcuts, launch the HBCD Menu or go to the Start menu.

9 VirtualBox

VirtualBox

Because it isn’t always possible to investigate issues on the live systems on which they occur, we need a way of replicating the issue in a segregated environment. VirtualBox allows you to do this by creating a virtual machine (VM). It supports 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X as both the host and guest OSes.

To create a new VM, click the “New” button on the top menu and choose the operating system, amount of RAM and hard drive. When you start the VM, you’ll need to specify the operating system media location for the installation to begin.

10 Spiceworks Help Desk

SWorks_HelpDesk

Using a Help Desk system you can track customer issues, helping to prioritize, keep a log, and build a repository of information to use down the line (e.g. creating knowledge base articles, running training sessions, etc.)

Spiceworks Help Desk is free if you host and manage it yourself on a local server. If you can live with the promotional banners at the top and right hand side, it makes for a good basic Help Desk system that allows you to create and update tickets, assign to team members, let your users create tickets themselves from a portal, and more.

Once installed, you should begin by configuring email settings, customizing the attributes to be collected as part of a new ticket, and changing the end-user portal page.