While reading up on Windows Sysinternals, Microsoft's suite of freeware utilities, I learned about KirySoft's Windows System Control Center. It collects a raft of great tools under a single, button-driven user interface with some very nice features and capabilities.
Not only does Windows System Control Center (WSCC) include the entire collection of more than 100 Sysinternals tools, it also covers the equally good NirSoft utilities from programming phenom Nir Sofer.
In addition, WSCC includes the vast majority of built-in Windows system tools -- more than 250 utilities, all told. Below is a snapshot of WSCC's user interface with the Sysinternals File and Disk tool set on display.
WSCC is free, so users must agree to a freeware license. In addition, the product does quite a bit more. For instance, WSCC lets IT decide which utilities to make accessible to users. It presents checkboxes to enable users to add or remove the various elements it knows about from the push-button interface it presents on screen. This lets admins ignore things they don't care about and focus on what they actually use. (All items show up by default, so you must uncheck unwanted items to turn off their display.)
The tool will automatically check for updates for all free Windows downloads it manages. Given that a default install incorporates 264 elements, this is a very apt use for automation. It took less than five minutes to install all these utilities on a clean Windows install, over a 15 Mbps Internet connection.
When you click the push button for a command-line utility, WSCC automatically opens its own command-line window for you. Note that some commands work only if launched using the "Run as administrator" option from the NirCmd utility.
If you've worked with Sysinternals, you may have realized, "Oh yeah, I need to run this inside cmd.exe," or "Oh yeah, I need to launch cmd.exe with administrative privileges to run this tool." WSCC takes care of all of that for you automatically. Figure 2 shows what WSCC window looks like when running the Sysinternals Volume disk extent mapping tool DiskExt.exe.
Where a tool or utility opens in its own window, WSCC launches that tool or utility for you, then lets you interact as you normally would with the program and its various features.
Figure 3 is a screen capture of the Sysinternals DiskView utility, which uses color-coding to display visual information about a given disk volume, as indicated in the Legend box.
If you want a single pane to display all the utilities of a specific type -- Sysinternals, NirSoft or Windows -- simply click on the Folder-level icon in the left-hand pane, and you'll get an alphabetized list of everything available. This can be handy when you can't remember which subheading holds the particular tool you seek.
There's also a search box in WSCC in the all-red banner pane at the top of its display window. You can use this to find downloads for Windows by name or by function name when you don't know where to start looking for something.
Digging into the NirSoft utilities
Sofer himself describes the software with the following categories:
- Password recovery utilities: Recover passwords from email programs, instant messaging programs and dialups for virtual private network and Internet access. It's also possible to retrieve Windows XP credentials, view hidden passwords in plain text and capture network passwords. In addition, you can recover PST file passwords and manage passwords for protected storage.
- Network monitoring tools: View network shares, wireless network details and Bluetooth activity. Admins can also capture TCP and IP packets, view TCP and UDP connections, monitor network adapters and test download speeds.
- Internet-related utilities: These can provide IP address info, examine engine search strings and grab video files from the browser cache. Users can capture Flash video from websites, make a website screenshot and view DNS records. There are also tools for managing cookies and browsing history in IE.
- Command-line utilities: WSCC uses a customized command-line window built using the NirSoft NirCmd utility.
- Desktop utilities: Search for files, folders and duplicate files. These include an alternative to Program and Features, mouse controls for audio volume and an alternative to the built-in File Types manager in Windows.
- Freeware system tools: You can find a wide variety of free Windows utilities for managing product keys, shell extensions in File Explorer and startup programs. There are tools for USB devices, device management, drivers loaded and much more.
- Microsoft Outlook tools: With WSCC, IT pros can manage and repair Outlook AutoComplete files, extract and view attachments in the Outlook inbox and extract statistics about Outlook mailboxes.
There's a huge amount of really good stuff here. I've used Sofer's USB and Bluetooth utilities for years, and I've occasionally gotten myself out of trouble with his password utilities. These tools are generally easy to use and are well worth exploring.
WSCC's view into built-in Windows utilities
WSCC doesn't really add anything to existing built-in Windows tools, but the incorporation of the NirCmd utility for command-line access is nice, and a consistent user interface (UI) for everything is convenient. Let's take a quick look at the common items that fall under the subheading of Windows administrative tools.
Coverage here is kind of hit or miss. For example, I was a little surprised not to find the Disk Management utility (diskmgmt.msc) under the "File and Disk" heading. In the same vein, I didn't find the Reliability Monitor (perfmon/rel) in the options under System Information.
All in all, though, WSCC does provide another way into lots of Windows utilities that most admins and power users visit periodically. You should try Windows System Control Center for yourself.
Several version of WSCC are available for download. I installed the standard version for one of my test virtual machines. Admins who wish to carry the tool around with them may prefer the portable version, which can be installed on a USB flash drive or SD memory card and run on any Windows system from that media. WSCC is a great way to access the Sysinternals and NirSoft utilities and a worthy addition to most admin toolkits.
This was first published in March 2013