20 great Windows open source projects you should get to know

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TrueCrypt is a handy little tool. While I really like BitLocker technology, and encrypting an entire hard drive has its place, full drive encryption can sometimes be like using a cannon to hunt ducks. It is sometimes just too much. While we do have to be able to support the security needs of those who work with very sensitive data (they need the RSA device, full drive encryption and maybe the retina scanner), most people would be fine with a portion of their hard drives being set aside as a secure location. TrueCrypt is perfect for this. Simply create a volume and assign a portion of your exiting free space to TrueCrypt. That portion shows up on your computer as a file, nothing significant or noteworthy. When mounted, however, it acts like a separate drive on your system. If you are truly paranoid you can also make the drive hidden. You can use TrueCrypt to turn USB devices into secure drives as well with the tool's Traveler option. This is what I like to call responsible security which is better than full-blown paranoia any day. Now, I, personally am not a paranoid person and I think sometimes those in the security industry can go too far. I once had an instructor for a Microsoft Security class that almost had me burning my computers, electronics, emptying my bank accounts and moving into a cave in the Blue Ridge Mountains. By the time he was done, I was suspicious of my 1 year old. That would be an example of what I would call irresponsible security. That’s not to say I take security lightly. I just don’t see the need to spend $2,500 to secure the desktop in every instance (for instance, a six-year-old machine in an office reception area running Windows 2000 with 512MB of RAM). TrueCrypt is the right amount of security for most of your enterprise needs.

TrueCrypt

11. Joomla!

Windows Open Source
http://www.joomla.org/

I'm not a stuffy person. I understand the whole "free the world" thing -- you know, the down-with-the-tyranny, bohemian, hippie or mad scientist types. However, for the life of me I do not get the naming of these open source projects! While I'm not crazy about its name, I do have to say that Joomla! is a great Website design and content management tool. I was told about this tool from a colleague and I have been messing around with it for months. Now it must be said that to get Joomla! configured will take some work. It requires PHP and MySQL. In all fairness Joomla! does seem to work better with Apache than IIS. (Actually, I tried to get it to work with IIS with no success at all. I finally gave up and downloaded XAMMP, which installed all three components to my server and I was set.) Still, I'm keeping Joomla! on this open-source list for Windows because I like it so much. It makes usability simple by breaking down the management component into sections These are:

Article Manager

FrontPage Manager

Section Manager

Category Manager

Media Manager

Menu Manager

Language Manager

User Manager

You can also manage global configurations and add articles from the opening console. Joomla! also give you the ability to easily add components like banners, user pools and news feeds. You can also manage extensions for plug-ins and modules. Most of the functions come with pre-existing samples you can edit to make the Website your own. Need help with something? I have to say that Joomla! has one of the best help menus I've seen for an open source product. Overall this is a great tool to create manage and improve your corporate Websites.

Joomla

12. H-Inventory

http://www.h-inventory.com/

Need to manage your hardware resources without a budget? Here is a great alternative. Version 1.0 was just released in April and is already a very impressive product. The name is elusive since H-Inventory not only inventories your hardware but also has the ability to audit software, updates, and scripts running on the machines. Users have the ability to report incidents and these can be tracked in H-Inventory. Therefore we have an asset management and help desk software in one package that is open source. One drawback is that there is no ability to escalate or assign particular technicians, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that added soon. (Uhm, actually, I wrote the developers with the suggestion.) Now there is some work involved in setting it up to work on your Windows server. However, this software does work with IIS, which should make you “true blue” Microsoft professionals happy. To add to the entire package, you can download H-deploy and this will allow pushing updates and software installations to your users. H-deploy will work with either .exe or .msi packages. For networks that are a bit larger, you can even build a knowledge base for incidents that have been handled. The interface is all browser based and the script is simple to deploy on your network. This is definitely a project to keep an eye on.

H-Inventory

RSSOWL

Windows Open Source

13.

http://www.rssowl.org/

This is another productivity tool for your end users. Thanks to the growing popularity of RSS feeds, this tool makes a great addition to the desktop. Personally, I don’t necessarily want all the feeds I am subscribed to bugging me when I'm in Internet Explorer or for that matter when I am using my Outlook mail client. If you feel the same, here’s a solution. RSSOWL manages your feeds and even has an extensive directory of feeds you can subscribe to simply by clicking on them. I like it because I can find my favorite bloggers with RSSOWL. (The screen shot I used with this entry will give you a hint of whom that is.) RSSOWL is so simple to use I just unzipped the file, threw on my desktop and launched the executable. Within 10 minutes, RSSOWL was populating my feed reader from a long lists of bookmarks. I thought I knew of every tech blog and news source out there but I found out rather quickly I was wrong! A secondary benefit was to have the pre-populated bookmarks. Want to manage your RSS feeds in one place with simple installation and tons of content? This is the product.

RSSOWL

14. NetStumblerInssider is open source and its creators claim that they've taken up where NetStumbler left off -- namely at ongoing development and support for Windows Vista and 64-bit Windows XP. However, as NetStumbler is the granddaddy in this category of wireless analyzers, I felt it earned a place on this list.

http://www.netstumbler.com/about/

Here is a tool we can use for good or evil it depends on which side of the force draws you. I am going to speak about the good uses only. I don’t want to know what the so-called “Wardrivers” are doing. Netstumbler is a neat utility for finding analyzing and troubleshooting wireless networks. This tiny tool allows us to see where we have weak connections. It helps us to detect rogue access points as well as detect causes of interference. Filters help you easily detect whether your WLANs are running encryption, the channel they are broadcasting on and speed of the connection. All of these are very useful features for securing and improving your WLAN. Moreover, if you are out of town on a business trip and the boss is too cheap to pay for Internet at the hotel, it comes in handy for finding a quick open WLAN for checking and sending e-mails (that wouldn't be considered Wardriving, would it?). Although NetStumbler is free (though its authors jokingly calls it beggarware -- as they do ask that you make a donation if you use it), it is technically not open source. A similar tool called

NetStumbler

15. ReactOS

Windows Open Source
http://www.reactos.org/en/index.htmlReactOS offers an interesting alternative between sticking with seven-year-old XP and avoiding Vista. ReactOS is a Windows XP-compatible OS, meaning it is meant to work with all the applications and devices that are available for Windows XP. Now ReactOS is in the alpha stages -- so it is strictly a test-only product at this point. Like a few other products on this list, it comes available in a preloaded VMware virtual machine. Therefore, VMplayer is all that is needed to demo the software and see it in action. I have to say that when it is launches it is impressive. Not at all the look and feel I would expect from a non-windows OS. The menus remind me of the XP classic style or Windows 2000. Overall, the navigation and file structure is very much like Windows (sans the color schemes, but a very good imitation all the same). I even found one of the most Windows-like features, the Start Button (see screen shot). Now being Alpha software, I was not able to test out installing XP -based software. We need to await the more stable Beta that should arrive very soon in June. ReactOS is a nice tool that I can think of lots of uses for -- an intern's PC or testing environments, for instance. Definitely, ReactOS is worth a look.

ReactOS

16. Thunderbird

http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/thunderbird/

Of course, Thunderbird is the younger sibling to the wildly popular Mozilla Firefox. Thunderbird is to e-mail and news clients what Firefox is to Web browsing. I actually know some businesses that run Microsoft Works and use Thunderbird as their e-mail client. Here is where it gets tricky: Thunderbird trumps Outlook Express 6.0 for Windows XP. However, if you are one of the few (it certainly seems these days as if we are in the minority) that run Windows Vista, well then, it is a toss-up between the two e-mail clients. However, Thunderbird is simple to configure and even has the ability to manage your Gmail account. That's another plus for Thunderbird even in Windows Vista and especially now that Outlook Express and Windows Mail have both decided to remove support for cloud/http mail services. Now I would love to see Thunderbird support all cloud/http mail services, since I personally seem to use them all (Hotmail, Live, Yahoo ...). It would be great to use one tool to collect and deal with them all. Even Thunderbird isn't there yet, but it is more likely to make such a move then Windows Mail.

Thunderbird

17. Filezilla Server

Windows Open Source

http://filezilla-project.org/download.php?type=server

This is another tool that is again part of the Mozilla family and has not exactly been flying under the radar without notice. Still, I believe it belongs on this list because unlike our superstar open source projects, FTP apps do not get the glory and recognition they should. However, FTP is still widely used for file transfer. If you are installing XAMMP to work with Joomla! then Filezilla is installed automatically. Now, I have always found Microsoft’s FTP service to be sufficient but very simple in the area of FTP servers. Funny that Filezilla would actually be more graphical and easier to administer than a Microsoft product! Nevertheless, Filezilla has more options and better usability. If your organization has a need for FTP file transfer, Filezilla Server is a great way to go.

Filezilla

18. jNetStreamhttp://sourceforge.net/projects/jnetstream

As IT pros we love the fancy tools that have all the bells and whistles. Occasionally though you need to get back to the basics. jNetStream may not be the sexiest tool out there, but it doesn't have to be. jNetStream is a protocol analyzer and sniffer but that is not all. With jNetStream, you can decode the captured packets. This takes some work to utilize in Windows and you will need the Java VM installed since this tool is completely written as a Java application. jNetStream uses Network Protocol Language (NPL) and this allows it the ability to create protocols using NPL as the basis. Now I've never been that kind of admin, but if you are and you need to really customize the way protocols work in your environment, here is a tool that will sniff, analyze, and decode all in one package. If you are the kind of IT Pro who just wants to really dig deeper to understand your environment, or maybe to make your boss proud with your in-depth knowledge of protocol analysis, jNetStream is a tool that can take you there.

jNetStream

19. Keyfinder

Windows Open Source
http://magicaljellybean.com/keyfinder/Yes, I've written about Keyfinder already, but it still belongs on this list. Keyfinder searches the registry of Windows and locates the product keys of software. The information can then be saved to a file or printed. Keyfinder is not a key generator (hey -- that’s illegal), but it is a good basic software management program. You can use Keyfinder to track and compare software licensing. This serves as a great tool for re-installation of licensed applications in cases where you may have lost the physical license. For obvious reasons I am not showing my product key, but you can see from the screen shot that I can quickly find those keys as well as information about my Windows installation, like service pack level, registered owner and registered organization. The configuration file can be manually edited to locate more product keys, if you know where the key is located in the registry. It takes a little work on your part to configure. Nevertheless, if you need to manage software on a budget then here is the tool.

Keyfinder

20. Angry IP Scanner

http://www.angryziber.com/w/Home

Here is a tool I found when I had people coming in and out of my environment. Laptop users and vendors were coming and going every day. Management wouldn't let me lock down the network or spend a dime on securing it at the time. So I had Angry IP Scanner running constantly. It is a very easy-to-use tool for monitoring IP addresses based upon subnets. You can scan and report on hostnames, open ports, ping response time and more. You can also launch tools for your hosts like Telnet, Web browsers, tracert, and FTP. That’s a lot of functionality for a little package. I have always found this tool to be a great way to know who is really on my network, unlike some built in utilities, like the DHCP server or my Network Places in Windows. I once had a major piece of accounting software that would cause the browser service to stop responding properly. When I went to look at the network, half the machines that were there would not show up in my Network Places. Angry IP Scanner gave me a quick way to check on my client PC’s and know what was going on in my environment.

I have been in IT over a decade. To some, I'm a babe in this business and to others, I'm a dinosaur. Either way I have learned though the years that IT people are not too different from doctors. Of course when our patients die no one cries, well, except the user who just loss hours of work, or the business owner who thought they had no real need of a disaster recovery/business continuance plan. Like doctors, we have different tools at our disposal and some overlap in functionality. Knowing what to use at the right time and having a variety of resources is the difference between success and failure. I hope this list will help to add to your arsenal and give you “A Better Windows World.”

Angry IP Scanner

For your convenience, here is an alphabetized list of the 20 tools in this post.

Angry IP Scanner (p. 10 )p. 5)p. 1 )p. 9 )p. 2 )p. 3 )p. 4 )p. 7 )p. 9 )p. 6 )p. 1 )p. 10)p. 4 )p. 2)p. 7 )p. 3 )p. 8 )p. 7 )p. 8 )p. 6 )

Cobian Backup (

Eraser (

Filezilla Server (

FOG (

GIMP 2 (

Groundwork Monitor (

H-Inventory (

jNetStream (

Joomla (

Juice (

Keyfinder (

LifeRay (

MRemote (

NetStumbler (

Paglo (

ReactOS (

RSSOWL (

Thunderbird (

TrueCrypt (

Like this and want more? Check out the other tools I've written about in A Better Windows World. the Microsoft Subnet home page for more bloggers, news, humour, security alerts and more.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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