Exploring Windows’ Administrative Tools: Part 1

Fred Langa

Windows has a long and honorable history of including advanced tools and options that help unlock the operating system’s full potential.

In this first installment of a series of articles on these tools, you’ll see how a few easy tweaks can give you two-click access to hundreds of Windows’ most powerful features.

Accessing and understanding Administrative Tools

From XP on, Windows has come with a built-in suite of professional-quality, system-management utilities found collectively under the Administrative Tools menu. These apps are used to adjust and control many essential functions and features of the operating system.

Some of the tools are roughly the same across all current Windows versions. Other tools are version- and/or edition-specific. Each major tool contains many additional subtools and functions — a gold mine of powerful utilities buried in your operating system. Since you’ve already paid for them, why not spend some time learning how to use ’em?

In this article, I’ll point out the major tools and explain what they do. But first, take a look to see what admin tools are built into your edition of Windows. There are two common ways to do this.

The long-form method is to click through various Control Panel menus and submenus:

Win7: Start/Control Panel/System and Security/Administrative Tools

Vista: Start/Control Panel/System and Maintenance/Administrative Tools

XP: Start/Control Panel/Performance and Maintenance/Administrative Tools

There’s a better way, however. To make access to these tools more convenient, simply add the Administrative Tools menu to the right-hand pane of your Start menu. Then they’re just two clicks away: Start/Administrative Tools.

The following screen shots show how this is done in Windows 7, but the process is essentially the same for XP and Vista. (I’ll provide more information on those OSes in a moment.)

Start menu properties

Figure 1. To add Administrative Tools to your Start Menu, start by right-clicking the Start button (or orb) and selecting Properties.

Next select Customize

Figure 2. When the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box opens, click Customize.

Custom options list

Figure 3. Scroll down the list of custom options to System administrative tools and select Display on the All Programs menu and the Start menu. That's all it takes!

Admin Tools on Start menu

Figure 4. Now, whenever you open your Start menu, one click opens the Administrative Tools list. (Win7 Ultimate shown; your version and edition of Windows may show different tools.)

Admin Tools in All Programs

Figure 5. This procedure also adds the admin Tools to the All Programs portion of the Start Menu, should you find that means of access more convenient (Win7's tools shown).

Most Windows Secrets readers are using Windows 7, so I’ll focus primarily on its administrative tools. Vista’s tools are nearly identical, and even some of XP’s are the same. If you need more specific information for Vista and XP, Microsoft describes Vista’s Administrative Tools on the Help & How-to page, “What are Administrative Tools;” you’ll find XP’s on a related site.

A capsule summary of Administrative Tools’ tools

Here’s the quick overview of Win7’s administrative tools, in alphabetical order — the way they’re shown in Figures 4 and 5. I’ve also included the links to the best and most authoritative Microsoft explanations and definitions, so you can start digging in right away, if you want.

Note that while some of the tools are highly specialized and pretty geeky, others can be of use to most serious Windows users. In the following list, I’ve called out those tools of special interest to those of us who do troubleshooting and repair work on our own PCs — and on other people’s.

Component Services: Although this tool comes first alphabetically, it is admittedly one of the geekier offerings. Highly specialized, Component Services lets you configure and administer Component Object Model components, COM+ applications, and the Distributed Transaction Coordinator. (If you’ve never heard of any of these, you’ll probably want to skip Component Services.) You can read more on the TechNet page, “Overview of Component Services administration.”

Computer management: An extremely powerful troubleshooting and setup tool, Computer Management lets you manage local or remote computers in many ways, including these:

  • Monitor system events, such as sign-in times and application errors
  • Create and manage shared resources
  • View a list of users who are connected to a local or remote computer
  • Start and stop system services such as Task Scheduler and Indexing Service
  • Set properties for storage devices
  • View device configurations and add new device drivers
  • Manage applications and services

You’ll find additional info on a TechNet overview page.

Data Sources (ODBC): Another more advanced tool, Data Sources lets you use Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) to move data from one type (source) of database to another.
MSDN has good introductory information in its article, “What is ODBC?” and in a related background article, “Why was ODBC created?” MSDN offers more advanced how-to information, starting on the “Open the ODBC Data Source administrator” page.

Event Viewer: A great troubleshooting tool, the Event Viewer can show you detailed information about important system events such as crashes, programs that don’t start properly, security issues, and so on. Microsoft has additional information on a Win7 info page.

iSCSI Initiator: iSCSI (pronounced “eye-scuzzy”) is a way of connecting different kinds of storage devices (discs, CD or DVDs, tape, etc.) over a local area network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), a storage area network (SAN), or over the regular Internet. Microsoft has general info its iSCSI Help & How-to page and detailed tech info on the “Microsoft iSCSI Initiator step-by-step guide” page.

Local Security Policy: Among other things, LSP lets you refine the (sometimes annoying) way Windows User Account Control (UAC) works and lets you make some changes that are simply not possible in the standard UAC settings dialog box! Find more on LSP in its TechNet Tip page.

Memory Diagnostics Tool: When RAM goes bad, your whole setup is undermined. You can run this tool on demand (or when Windows tells you it’s detected a memory problem) to help track down RAM troubles. This MS Win7 Help & How-to page has details.

Print Management: This tool lets you see and control what’s going on with your local and networked printers and print servers. You’ll find specific information on the TechNet page, “Overview of print management.”

Performance Monitor: The Performance Monitor lets you view detailed information about your PC’s central processing unit (CPU), memory, hard disk, and network performance. Use this tool to view — either in real time or by analyzing logs — the effect any given piece of software has had on your system. You’ll find detailed information starting on the tool’s TechNet page.

Services: A typical Win7 setup has around 50 to 60 services running in the background, providing essential functions such as file serving, printing, error reporting, event logging, Web serving, encryption/decryption, and so on. The Services tool lets you start, stop, and otherwise manage these essential background programs. For a list of typical Win7 services, see Noel Carboni’s post in a TechNet Win7 IT Pro forum discussion.

System Configuration: Another great troubleshooting tool, System Configuration can help you track down problems that might prevent Windows from starting correctly. An MS Win7 Help & How-to page provides an overview.

Task Scheduler: Possibly one of the more familiar Administrative Tools,
Task Scheduler lets you schedule automated tasks that Windows will perform at specific times or when certain events occur. You can add your own tasks or modify those that Windows sets up on its own. Look for detailed information starting on the TechNet “Task Scheduler overview” page.

Windows Firewall with Advanced Security: This tool lets you configure advanced firewall settings on both local computers and remote, networked systems. There’s good general information on an MS Win7 Help & How-to page, plus more details on a related TechNet page.

Windows PowerShell Modules: Windows PowerShell is an evolved command-line and scripting tool (the successor to the old DOS-based batch language). It lets you manage and automate many administrative tasks. TechNet has a ton of information available on its “Windows PowerShell” page.

Looking ahead to future details

Now you know how to put Administrative Tools on your Start Menu, and you have an idea of what these tools are for.

Periodically, in upcoming issues, I’ll show how to use the generally most beneficial of these tools in more detail, with illustrated step-by-step examples — in the best Windows Secrets tradition.

When the series is complete, you’ll be able to use Windows’ Administrative Tools with authority!

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.