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Microsoft PsTools bolster Windows admin utility belts

Microsoft PsTools bolster Windows admin utility belts

It's been a bit of a roller-coaster week. Fake Steve Jobs peels off his "Mission: Impossible" mask and it's (sad sigh) Dan Lyons. Maybe Webster's can use the incident as the new definition for anticlimactic. Then again, he made me laugh a few times, so I can't complain (would've been better had it been Gary Coleman or Lisa Nowak, though). Then Michelle Madigan from "Dateline NBC" tries to one-up Chris Hansen with a predatory hackers-type undercover story at Defcon and instead wound up doing a shame walk all the way to the parking lot. A week of thrills, chills, and social spills -- I figure I'll calm things down a bit, take a big yoga cleansing breath, and concentrate on the mundane.

And in our line of work, that means the day-to-day management of your Windowed wires -- which is perfect because one of our subcontracting geeks turned me on to a free set of tools available on Microsoft's site aimed specifically at those tasks. It's the PsTools suite, which the Redmondians acquired last year when they bought out Winternals, a company that in turn lay claim to a subsidiary called Sysinternals in whose digi-foundry the PsTools were forged.

Now, Microsoft's long been authoring utility-type software bits, offering them for one-off downloads from its various sites and once in a while republishing the whole lot along with a fat book or two under the heading "resource kit." Good stuff, but the authors of PsTools specifically chose functionality for which they couldn't find appropriate utilities under Microsoft's own banner. They also enabled the whole suite as a remote toolkit, meaning that unlike most Microsoft mini admin utils, these are meant to work on remote systems rather than only local jobs.

The subbie liked them mainly for that reason, as well as for the fact that should he have to suddenly set up an admin station at a client site, these tools are quickly downloadable off the Web (no installation process -- just download the file, drop it in an accessible folder, and double-click), and each is built only for a specific task. Use what you need. That doesn't sound like much to a manager, but it's a boon to a fireman desktop admin who doesn't feel like playing around with nested menus or wizards. Activate a tool at the hosting workstation and point it at a remote target; they generally install a Web service on the target, do their thing, and then uninstall the service once they're finished. No fuss, no muss.

At present, there are 12 PsTools in the suite, but there is some minuscule chance Microsoft may add to the number over time. And these aren't lightweight tools, either. Some are exceedingly powerful. PsPasswd, for example, is designed to change user account passwords, but it has the capability to do it over one or multiple remote workstations on the domain. PsShutdown is another of the subbie's favorites, giving him the ability to shut down, reboot, or hibernate any target PC. Various switches for the tool also allowed him to simply terminate all running applications, log off a user, or even lock the PC -- real handy in one of those not-sure-what's-going-on-but-please-make-it-stop scenarios.

That's just two examples, so you have 10 more to chew through. Microsoft does a good job explaining each utility's functionality off the download site. Check 'em out. It's not as exciting as foiling the "Dateline" crew, but into every life must a little commonplace creep. PsTools makes that fact a mite easier to take.


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