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Best Windows Admin Downloads

by Mitch Tulloch
07/18/2006

More than 9,000 tools, templates, white papers, and other items are currently available from the Microsoft Download Center, and all of them are free. What's a busy admin to do? To help you sort the wheat from the chaff, I've compiled the following list below of must-have downloads every Windows admin should have from the Download Center. To make it easier for you, I've categorized my selections into two groups -- product downloads, and documentation and templates -- with the focus on general tools and documentation for administering Windows Server 2003-based networks.

Product Downloads

Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools is an essential download for any admin who runs a Windows-based network in their company. More than 120 tools are contained in this package, and although they are mostly unsupported, they can make your life easier by extending the manageability of Windows servers beyond their built-in administrative tools.

Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 32-bit Support Tools is another set of essential tools for managing Windows servers. Although these tools are also found on your product CD, you can always get the very latest version from the Download Center.

Logging on interactively to your servers to manage them can be cumbersome if they're locked away in some back room somewhere. Instead you should install the Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 Administration Tools Pack on a Windows XP workstation dedicated to use by you as administrator, and manage your servers from there. There's also an R2 version of this tools pack if you already have Windows Server 2003 R2 deployed on your network.

Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0 Manager for Windows XP is useful if you want to remotely manage IIS 6.0 web servers from a Windows XP administrative workstation.

If your servers are running Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, then Microsoft Management Console 3.0 for Windows Server 2003 gives you added functionality for your administrative tools (MMC 3.0 is included natively if you have Windows Server 2003 R2).

If you're not yet using Group Policy Management Console with Service Pack 1 to manage Group Policy across your network, you should be -- the default tools for managing Group Policy are cumbersome and poorly integrated, but GPMC takes it to the next level and makes managing policy a snap. Also check out the complementary documentation, Windows Server 2003 Group Policy Infrastructure.

User Profile Hive Cleanup Service can help resolve problems caused by registry hives not unloading properly when a user session is terminated unexpectedly. If users on your Active Directory network are experiencing slow logoffs, this tool might help.

Windows XP Remote Desktop Connection software can be installed on any supported version of Microsoft Windows to provide the same client-side ability to connect to a remote desktop as is natively provided by Windows XP Service Pack 2. It is a must-have if you need to connect to your computer remotely to access files and applications stored or running on it.

Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Performance Advisor helps you diagnose performance bottlenecks on your Windows servers and generates reports you can examine to address performance issues.

Documentation and Templates

Need more "oomph" out of your server's networking performance? Introduction to the Windows Server 2003 Scalable Networking Pack gives you an overview of this new performance enhancing add-on for Windows Server and a link to the Knowledge Base article where you can download the pack.

Need help managing and troubleshooting your Active Directory setup? Windows Server 2003 Active Directory Operations Guide provides the help you need on the subject.

TCP/IP Fundamentals for Microsoft Windows is a new online book you can download for free to learn how TCP/IP is implemented in Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP, and it includes an integrated discussion of both IPv4 and IPv6.

The Group Policy Settings Reference is essential if you want to get the most out of using Group Policy to manage your environment. It contains the details of every Group Policy setting available in Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1.

Group Policy ADM Files gives you the latest versions of the security templates (.adm files) used by Group Policy for registry-based lockdown of machine and user settings.

The Windows Server 2003 Security Guide details every security configuration setting available in Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 and suggests steps you can take to harden your servers according to their role on your network.

If you want to learn more about how to use the new Security Configuration Wizard of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1, be sure to check out the Security Configuration Wizard Documentation.

Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Started with Microsoft Windows Server Update Services is an excellent tutorial to help you get WSUS up and running for patch management in your enterprise.

DNS Step-by-Step Guide is what you need if you are planning a single domain Active Directory environment and you want to ensure you get DNS set up and running properly.

Not sure how to best set up a VPN for your company? Virtual Private Networking with Windows Server 2003: An Example Deployment gives you the guidance you need in an easy-to-use tutorial format.

Finally, if you're still confused about how IntelliMirror works in Windows Server 2003, you need to read User Data and Settings Management.

Conclusion

These are some of my top downloads and you may have others to suggest, so feel free to use the Comments feature below to do this. One final tip: you might want to subscribe to notifications for when new items become available on the Download Center. To do so, you'll need a Windows Live ID or Microsoft .NET Passport account. Subscribing to these notifications are a great way of finding out when Microsoft releases new tools, templates, and other things of use to administrators who work with Windows, Exchange, and other Microsoft products.

Mitch Tulloch is the author of Windows 2000 Administration in a Nutshell, Windows Server 2003 in a Nutshell, and Windows Server Hacks.


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