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20 great Windows open source projects you should get to know

No one loves to pay crazy per-user licensing fees, not to mention 15- 22% annual support residuals. (And no one loves the endless, mind-numbing meetings with non-technical financial folks trying to pry budget for these tools from their clenched fists.) So today we're going to discuss tools that are free. However, we are not naming them to this list of "great" tools simply because they cost nothing. These are some of the best lesser-known tools out there.

Of course, whenever we speak of great open source Windows projects we need to acknowledge the obvious players. These are the ones that have crossed over to the mainstream and have given paid software a run for its money. We all know them: OpenOffice.org, Firefox, MySQL, Xen, JBoss, and SugarCRM. These are what I like to refer to as the superstars of Open Source for Windows.

But you don't need me to tell you about the superstars. Instead, I have tested and compiled together a list of 20 great open source projects for Windows that will appeal mostly to the management and maintenance of your network. Some of these tools are just for the desktop and some are just for fun -- because happy IT folks are good IT folks. (They are not locking everyone out of the network while sneaking into the server room with a sledgehammer and … oh, come on! Admit it, I can't be the only one to have had that fantasy!) But enough of my outlandish ranting.

The list that follows is organized by my own personal taste. The tools I think are really the unsung gems are first, with the ones that seem to be far more widely known are last. So, before you flame me with comments about having to click through this multi-page post to see all the tools, I'm going to tell you the names of all the tools up front, and tell you which page to find them on. And, for an alphabetized list of all tools in this post, see last page (p. 10).

Fun stuff:Juice (p. 1); RSSOWL (p. 7 )
Security toolsEraser (p. 1); TrueCrypt (p. 6 )

System or

Net mgt tools
FOG (p. 2 ); MRemote (p. 2 ); Paglo (p. 3 ); GroundWork Monitor (p. 4 ). Cobian Backup (p. 5 ); H-Inventory (p. 7 ); NetStumbler (p. 7); jNetStream (p. 9 ); Keyfinder (p. 10); Angry IP Scanner (p. 10 )
Personal or enterprise productivity toolsGIMP 2 (p. 3 ); LifeRay (p. 4 ); Joomla! (p. 6); ReactOS (p. 8 ); Thunderbird (p. 8 ); Filezilla Server (p. 9 )

Juice

Windows Open Source

Documents from My Documents.) Two minutes and I was up and running. Juice is platform independent, fast, and easy to use. If you need something to bring you down from a stressful day and podcasts do the trick, this is a great tool.

1.

http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/

Juice is a podcast receiver and falls into the category of “fun tool.” The first thing that impressed me is its speed. The tool downloaded two podcasts (about 45MB each) in just under a minute. I enjoyed the fact that Juice also came pre-populated with some popular podcasts and the interface for adding your own favorites is simply cut-and-paste. The one thing that takes some work is getting it to work with Windows Vista. Vista is not supported officially although I did find a solution to the error message Vista gave in Juice's support forum. (It was a simple enough fix. I just needed to change the download directory to

Juice

2. Eraser

http://www.heidi.ie/node/6

No, this isn't the1996 movie with Gov. Arnold. I'm talking about a tool for the truly paranoid. If you’re in IT, you ought to be paranoid at least to the proper degree. Eraser is a program that will dispense with sensitive data on your hard drive and do it according to Dept. of Defense standards in overwriting the data using various methodologies to ensure it is not recoverable. I’m certain some IT guys wished they had this tool when they found out how “creative” their accounting departments were being on the earnings reports that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Eraser can be set to overwrite any unused space on drive. Alternatively, it can be used to delete particular folders, sub-folders, and files. Additionally you can set schedules and create several tasks that can run simultaneously. Right clicking on the tray icon allows you to disable scheduled tasks. Another cool feature is the ability to create a “DBAN” disk. This can be used to bulk erase systems that come off lease or that you donate to charity. (Note: it is illegal to erase the illegal activities of your CEO before the FEDS come to get him and you.) Seriously, this is a good tool. I could see myself loading this onto laptop users' systems and creating a folder called dump and then setting a schedule. I would instruct users to put everything they wanted to disappear permanently into that folder. Nothing more would be required on their part or mine.

Eraser

3. FOG

Windows Open Source
http://sourceforge.net/projects/freeghost/ Windows World," but sometimes to get to a better place we need to play nicely with the other kids. With FOG, creating images and managing them is similar to using a product like Ghost or Acronis. Like all imaging software, it needs to be tweaked for your environment -- imaging is not a perfect science yet. So, if you need to tweak images no matter what software you use, why pay for a solution? Anyone who has more than 10-20 user knows how expensive this can get since most commercial imaging software is priced per host. So give FOG a try. You won’t regret it. And maybe with the money you save, you can buy some other things your IT department desperately needs -- like more IT people.

This tool is a cool alternative to commercial imaging utilities like Ghost. Support is available for both Windows XP and Vista but there is a catch: only the client runs on Windows systems. The actual Web-based management tools need to run on Fedora or Ubuntu Linux. If you are purely a Windows person, I tell you to fear not. I downloaded a virtual machine version of Fedora 8 that runs nicely in a VMware player. The installation is easy enough and management was simple. FOG is, after all, a Web-based app. Now, I know I'm the guy that writes a blog called "A Better

FOG

4. MRemotehttp://sourceforge.net/projects/mremote/

This is perhaps one of my favorite open source tools. MRemote is a single tool to handle all of your remote connections easily and effectively. MRemote can handle RDP, ICA, VNC, SSH1, SSH2, Telnet, HTTP, HTTPS, RAW and Rlogin. What's fantastic about this tool is that you can set up a quick, one-time connection to a remote system, or you can save your connection profiles for future use. A feature called "smart size" allows you to shrink the workspace for RDP/VNC clients. This is a great feature for troubleshooting a remote client. Rumor has it MRemote may be leaving open source and going commercial. I'm torn over this idea. I love the fact that the tool is free and I can keep using my free version with no troubles right now. However, I can’t say that this isn't something I would mind paying for in the end, especially if it continues to improve in the manner it has thus far. The ability to remote into all my servers, clients, Citrix sessions, Cisco equipment, Web servers, and whatever else I can’t think of from a single console is worth the price. Nevertheless, for now it remains an open source tool and something worth checking out.

MRemote

5. GIMP 2

Windows Open Source

Technically this program has been around for quite some time, on the Linux scene anyway. I first saw GIMP back in 1999 when I was working for a dot-com. The tool's move over to Windows is a win for Windows pros in a very big way. GIMP or GNU Image Manipulator Program was created by two students at Berkeley in the 1990’s. The software has a long and complex history and a horrible name if you ask me. That being said this software rivals commercial image editing packages and has an incredible amount of versatility. When I was at that dot-com, I supported a marketing department with three full-timers and an intern. All four needed image-editing software on their machines. It cost us over $1800. Compare that to GIMP, which is easy enough to learn and cost nothing. It has pretty much the same navigation and menus as some of the commercial brands. Features such as layers, brush types, color controls, and filters are available. You can even download plug-ins to enhance the editor even more. So, we have a tool that has a long history, has the stability and feature set to match commercial products and works, looks and feels like all the major packages out there. Really this one is a no brainer!

http://www.gimp.org/windows/

GIMP

6. Paglohere.

http://www.paglo.com/

Paglo is an IT search engine designed to help you manage assets and software, monitor your network (even remotely), and receive alerts. The tool's developers even market themselves as the “Google of IT search engines.” The ability to manipulate the data collected into reports, charts, and dashboards makes this a powerful inventory management tool. Paglo works by downloading and installing the Paglo Crawler to discover and report on assets. This information is then uploaded to a secure server and indexed to your own private portal. The powerful search engine ties it all together. For some the online aspect of this tool might leave you feeling leery -- think of your Hotmail account or online banking or even companies like Salesforce.com. But it’s the 21st. century and we have just as much worry over the disgruntled mail room person who has access to lots of personal information as we do with our data in the cloud. Paglo is in beta right now and is accepting invitations to join it. If you can conquer any fears you might have of both open source and an external, cloud-based hosting service, this is a good tool that can make your Windows world better. You can see an online demo

Paglo

7. Liferay

Windows Open Source
http://www.liferay.com

Liferay is an enterprise portal that offers a full array of features and flexibility. Wish I learned about Liferay earlier. My last company went and dropped over $500K between document management, intranets and corporate instant messaging and collaboration software. As I tested the interface and features, I was surprised. I learned we could have done 75% of all the things we wanted by spending little to no money. What we saved on commercial software packages could have been spent on servers and more storage that could have been shared by our IT projects as well. What makes Liferay even cooler is the customized “portlets” that each user can add. You can add weather, financial tools, news and RSS feeds. You can collaborate via internal blogs, wiki’s, and message boards. Document Management has check-in, checkout, and versioning. Being open sourced you can under the licensing rights customize Liferay for your companies needs.

LifeRay

8. GroundWork Monitor(See my previous post on Hyena.)

http://www.GroundWorkopensource.com/

GroundWork Monitor is a bit of a different offering than most open source projects. This company is actually a commercial software vendor that sells GroundWork network monitoring software. However, they offer a community version of their product that covers most of the monitoring functions you need for your network. Like most open source support, support is handled through forums. GroundWork has auto discovery options for server devices and applications. The entire thing is downloadable for your Windows environment in a VMware virtual machine however this VM must run on a Linux flavor. You’re starting to see the connection here, right? If you want something free for Windows often you need to get it from a Linux source. Ironic isn't it? If this makes your skin crawl too much, there are alternatives: GroundWork’s Pro or Enterprise commercial versions or Hyena.

GroundWork Monitor

9. Cobian Backup

Windows Open Source
http://www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/cobianbackup.htm

Version 8 of this software, code-named Black Moon, was released as an open source project. If you are not using a commercial backup software you probably are using the Microsoft's built-in backup software. Nevertheless, Cobian Backup is worth looking into. I tested it out by backing up my Document folder in Windows Vista. The system took just 12 minutes to backup 16.5GB’s of data and compressed it down to 9.25GB’s. What’s more, I was able to create a copy with no compression and no archiving. True, this isn't the kind of backup needed most of the time. However, when we do need to store data in another location, the ability to copy files to a secondary location and be able to retrieve them instantly without running a restore process is invaluable. Cobian Backup can also work as a fully encrypted and compressed backup solution and so it can be used to routinely schedule backups, both the compressed/encrypted or not. Mix and match, its up to you. Cobian Backup comes with the ability to choose your compression and encryption methodology as well, which is a major advantage over the built in Windows backup utility. It is a good way to get more than the basic backup software without emptying your budget.

Cobian Backup

10. TrueCrypthttp://www.truecrypt.org/

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