This article is the third in a series of posts containing software that I’ve come to think of as being the best free and open-source ones around at the moment. Check the table of contents for the other articles in the series.
In this article I’ll list some system tools that I would like to give some attention. These are the ones that come in handy when things go wrong, or that keep things in order in the first place. Either that, or they perform a general-purpose task that I could be without. Here’s my selection:
- 7-Zip: open-source Windows utility for manipulating archives similar to WinZip. Formats 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR are supported fully, other formats can be unpacked. For ZIP and GZIP formats, 7-Zip provides a compression ratio that is 2-10 % better than the ratio provided by PKZip and WinZip. It’s powerful, fast, flexible and very robust and optionally integrates with the Windows Shell. I like it a lot and I’ll never see those annoying WinZip nag screens again!
- Ad-Aware Free: this free product from Lavasoft protects you against malware: spyware, trojans, rootkits, hijackers, keyloggers and the likes. I run it once in a while to keep things clean. This free version can be a bit confusing to find on the website, because Lavasoft likes to promote their non-free versions quite a bit more. Just keep clicking on the “Ad-Aware Free” buttons and you’ll get to the download.
- Autoruns: this free Windows tool has the most comprehensive knowledge of auto-starting locations of any startup monitor, shows you what programs are configured to run during system bootup or login, and shows you the entries in the order Windows processes them. These programs include ones in your startup folder, Run, RunOnce, and other Registry keys. It is one of the Windows Sysinternals utilities.
- AVG Anti-Virus (Free Edition): basic antivirus and antispyware protection for Windows available to download for free. This free version has limited features, no support, and is available for private and non-commercial use only. It offers protection against viruses, spyware, adware and identity-theft. If a good, free anti-virus program is all you care for, this is the one to pick!
- CCleaner: a freeware system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool by Piriform. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. I really like the fact that you can run this tool by right-clicking the Recycle bin and selecting “Open CCleaner…”. Everytime I run it, and it again cleans my system of hundreds of megabytes of junk, I’m always amazed how much stuff gets collected on your PC after a while.
- DAEMON Tools Lite: this free version is an advanced application for Microsoft Windows which provides one of the best optical media emulation in the industry. DAEMON Tools enables you to use your CD/DVD images as if they were already burned to CD/DVD. This very neat if you have a CD you regularly need to pop into your CD/DVD drive. You can make an image of it (e.g. an .iso image) and then “mount” this image in a virtual CD/DVD drive using DAEMON Tools. It’s as if you walked again to your closet for the 190th time, took that CD out and put it in. Just that you didn’t. Very handy tool!
- DirSync Pro (Directory Synchronize Pro): a small, but powerful open-source utility for file and folder synchronization. DirSync Pro can be used to synchronize the content of one or many folders recursively. Using DirSync Pro you can make incremental backups. In this way you’ll spare lots of time because you don’t have to copy all the files each time you want to update your backup; only new/modified/larger files would be copied. Use DirSync Pro to easily synchronize files from your desktop PC to your USB-stick (PDA, Notebook, …).
- HashCheck: this open-source shell extension makes it easy for you to calculate and verify checksums (including hashes) from Windows Explorer. HashCheck can process and verify the checksums/hashes stored in checksum files – these are files with a .sfv, .md4, .md5, or .sha1 file extension. Just double-click on the checksum file, and HashCheck will check the actual checksums of the listed files against those specified in the checksum file. It will also add a “Checksums” tab to the shell’s file properties dialog so that you could easily check the hash of a file (or even multiple files and directories) from Windows Explorer. You can also save the results to a checksum file.
- KeePass Password Safe: an open-source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file. So you only have to remember one single master password or select the key file to unlock the whole database. The databases are encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known (AES and Twofish). It’s light-weight and easy-to-use.
- Process Explorer: ever wanted to delete a file, but Windows said the file was in use and can’t be deleted right now. You had to restart your Windows to finally be able to delete it. This free tool shows you information about which handles and DLLs processes have opened or loaded and lets you easily close some problematic handles. It’s useful for tracking down DLL-version problems or handle leaks, and provide insight into the way Windows and applications work. It is one of the Windows Sysinternals utilities.
- Process Monitor: a free, advanced monitoring tool for Windows that shows real-time file system, Registry and process/thread activity. It combines the features of two legacy Windows Sysinternals utilities, Filemon and Regmon, and adds an extensive list of enhancements including rich and non-destructive filtering, comprehensive event properties such session IDs and user names, reliable process information, full thread stacks with integrated symbol support for each operation, simultaneous logging to a file, and much more. Its uniquely powerful features will make Process Monitor a core utility in your system troubleshooting and malware hunting toolkit.
- Recuva (pronounced “recover”): a freeware Windows utility by Piriform to restore files that have been accidentally deleted from your computer. This includes files emptied from the Recycle bin as well as images and other files that have been deleted by user error from digital camera memory cards or MP3 players. It will even bring back files that have been deleted by bugs, crashes and viruses!
- TrueCrypt: open-source on-the-fly disk encryption software for Windows Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. Among its main features are the ability to create a virtual encrypted disk within a file and mounts it as a real disk, encrypting an entire partition or storage device such as USB flash drive or hard drive or encrypting a partition or drive where Windows is installed (pre-boot authentication). Encryption is automatic, real-time (on-the-fly) and transparent. Very nice software to keep your sensitive documents secure.
- WinDirStat (Windows Directory Statistics): a free disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool for Microsoft Windows. It’s amazing how much visual feedback this tool gives about the drive and folders you select for analysis. Just take a look at the picture and you’ll know what I mean. You can immediately spot what directories are the biggest and which files take up most space. It’s really amazing and a great tool to keep your system clean and tidy!