10 Free, Must-Have Windows Tools for IT Pros

7-Zip is an open source archiving utility that improves upon Windows' basic capabilities, adding support for additional formats -- including its own, high-ratio compression algorithm -- while remaining lean, mean, and true to its original purpose.

Unlike more elaborate utilities, like the shareware WinRAR archiver, 7-Zip doesn't pretend to be all things to all people. You won't find ISO extraction or other esoteric functionality in 7-Zip -- just a basic archiving functionality that is secure, reliable, and fast. If you're looking for a beefier alternative to Windows' built-in zip capability, but don't want the hassle of dealing with the overly complex, "nagware" behavior of the well-known commercial offerings, check out 7-Zip.

10. VirtualBox

Troubleshooting a complex OS like Windows can be a challenge. Sometimes the only way to effectively diagnose a problem is to reproduce the entire runtime environment. And the only real way to do that, short of building a new physical PC, is through virtualization.

In the IT support and help desk space, VMware Workstation has long ruled supreme. However, the combination of high per-seat costs and an increasingly complex feature set is causing many IT pros to gravitate to the simpler, yet deceptively powerful VirtualBox from Sun Microsystems. Even better, an open source version of VirtualBox is available free under the GPL; compared to the commercial version, it's lacking only USB support and an RDP server that lets you connect to guests remotely.

Though not as full-featured as VMware Workstation -- for example, there's no equivalent to Workstation's Easy Install feature for Windows guests -- VirtualBox installs quickly, requires very little study, and includes all the essentials. It supports Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X hosts and guests (including 64-bit editions), Intel VT and AMD-V hardware virtualization extensions, OpenGL and DirectX 3D graphics acceleration, VMware and Microsoft virtual hard disk formats, and of course, stateful VM snapshots.

So while VirtualBox may seem less sophisticated than VMware Workstation on the surface, the truth is that VirtualBox 3.8 delivers tremendous virtualization power. And like all of the other utilities here, it's available absolutely free.

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