20 great Windows open source projects you should get to know

A list of 20 great open source projects for Windows that will appeal to the management and maintenance of your network

No one loves to pay crazy per-user licensing fees, not to mention 15- 22 per cent annual support residuals. (And no one loves the endless, mind-numbing meetings with non-technical financial folks trying to pry budget for these tools from their clenched fists.) So today we're going to discuss tools that are free. However, we are not naming them to this list of "great" tools simply because they cost nothing. These are some of the best lesser-known tools out there.

Of course, whenever we speak of great open source Windows projects we need to acknowledge the obvious players. These are the ones that have crossed over to the mainstream and have given paid software a run for its money. We all know them: OpenOffice.org, Firefox, MySQL, Xen, JBoss, and SugarCRM. These are what I like to refer to as the superstars of Open Source for Windows.

But you don't need me to tell you about the superstars. Instead, I have tested and compiled together a list of 20 great open source projects for Windows that will appeal mostly to the management and maintenance of your network. Some of these tools are just for the desktop and some are just for fun -- because happy IT folks are good IT folks. (They are not locking everyone out of the network while sneaking into the server room with a sledgehammer and ... oh, come on! Admit it, I can't be the only one to have had that fantasy!) But enough of my outlandish ranting.

The list that follows is organized by my own personal taste. The tools I think are really the unsung gems are first, with the ones that seem to be far more widely known are last.

Juice

Juice is a podcast receiver and falls into the category of "fun tool." The first thing that impressed me is its speed. The tool downloaded two podcasts (about 45MB each) in just under a minute. I enjoyed the fact that Juice also came pre-populated with some popular podcasts and the interface for adding your own favorites is simply cut-and-paste. The one thing that takes some work is getting it to work with Windows Vista. Vista is not supported officially although I did find a solution to the error message Vista gave in Juice's support forum. (It was a simple enough fix. I just needed to change the download directory to Documents from My Documents.) Two minutes and I was up and running. Juice is platform independent, fast, and easy to use. If you need something to bring you down from a stressful day and podcasts do the trick, this is a great tool.

Eraser

No, this isn't the1996 movie with Gov. Arnold. I'm talking about a tool for the truly paranoid. If you're in IT, you ought to be paranoid at least to the proper degree. Eraser is a program that will dispense with sensitive data on your hard drive and do it according to US Dept. of Defense standards in overwriting the data using various methodologies to ensure it is not recoverable. I'm certain some IT guys wished they had this tool when they found out how "creative" their accounting departments were being on the earnings reports that led to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Eraser can be set to overwrite any unused space on drive. Alternatively, it can be used to delete particular folders, sub-folders, and files. Additionally you can set schedules and create several tasks that can run simultaneously. Right clicking on the tray icon allows you to disable scheduled tasks. Another cool feature is the ability to create a "DBAN" disk. This can be used to bulk erase systems that come off lease or that you donate to charity. (Note: it is illegal to erase the illegal activities of your CEO before the FEDS come to get him and you.) Seriously, this is a good tool. I could see myself loading this onto laptop users' systems and creating a folder called dump and then setting a schedule. I would instruct users to put everything they wanted to disappear permanently into that folder. Nothing more would be required on their part or mine.

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