As a system administrator, you’ll need to know about the utilities that can make your life easier. In this video, you’ll learn about REGEDIT, MSTSC, MSINFO32, System Restore, and much more.
<< Previous: Windows Migration ToolsNext: The Windows Control Panel >>
In the Windows user interface, you can certainly use your mouse to move around and find almost anything that you might need. But you can also start a number of utilities from the Run line. This is where you can type in manually exactly what you’re looking for and run it directly from the Windows interface. You can get to this Run line by using the run/search capability in Windows 7 or Windows 8, or you can start a command prompt and run the applications from there. If you’re running from the command prompt, you can even add on additional options to customize exactly what you’re trying to run. You would get to this command line by starting the command CMD, stands for command. This is where you can run a lot of utilities and programs directly from Windows itself. There are a lot of options from the command line as you’ve probably seen in our previous videos. If you really want to take advantage of the power of Windows then you need to become very familiar with the command line.
One utility that can really help you when you’re troubleshooting is a Regedit. This stands for Registry Editor. This is a big database that Windows uses called the Windows Registry. Everything that Windows does seems to go into this database. This is used by Kernel settings, your device drivers put information into this database, your services, your applications, the user interface settings, almost anything that has to do with configuration settings in Windows is going to be found in the Windows Registry. Because so much is in this database, you want to be very careful about the changes that you’re making. So when you go into Regedit and you’re changing a specific set of configuration settings, you may want to back up the Registry or section of the Registry before you do that. These sections of the Registry are called hives. So you can back up a hive of information, make changes, and if there’s any problems, you can restore just that section of the Registry.
To start the Registry Editor, we could of course go through the Windows Start screen and find the application that we’re looking for. But it’s just as easy from the main screen to simply start typing and the search box will appear. I’ll start typing Regedit. And you can see that regedit.exe is the option the does appear, and here is the Registry Editor. The Registry Editor allows you to drill down into different settings inside of the Registry. You can see the hierarchy that’s used in place. And then you can make changes to the different settings that are inside of the Registry. Again, you don’t want to make changes in here unless you know exactly what you’re doing, and usually the tech note that you’re reading will tell you exactly where to go on the Registry, and what configuration settings to make.
Our Windows services are these background applications that are always running inside of our operating system. We can get to the Windows Services screen by typing in services.msc. Alternatively, you could go to the Control Panel under Administrative Tools and choose Services. These services are very useful for understanding what background applications might be running in our Windows environment. And if we’re having a problem with one of these services during the startup process, we may want to go into this services applet and begin enabling or disabling certain services to try to find out where the problem might be occurring. Also from the Services view, you can tell what services rely or are dependent on other services. This way you can see if there’s one service that might be causing many other services to fail simultaneously. MMC stands for the Microsoft Management Console. This is a framework that you can use to build your own management view with plug-ins that you can add inside of this console. You can add in a very specific set of utilities, maybe it’s one or two, or you can have many different utilities listed inside of the management console.
Let’s start the Microsoft Management Console by typing MMC and hitting Enter. And here is our empty Management Console. So we can now start customizing this console for our own use. If we go to the File pulldown menu, we can choose Add or Remove a snap-in. And you can see all of the different snap-ins that are available. So let’s choose Computer Management, and we can say that we’d like this to be managing the local computer, but you could also have the snap-in managing other computers as well. Let’s see, I want to also add in maybe disk management. And again, it’s for this computer. And let’s scroll down here to the bottom and add services in here as well. So now I’ve got three snap-ins configured and I’ll click OK. And now my snap-ins are right here on the menu. I can easily access all of these different utilities just by clicking around the Microsoft Management Console. Makes it very fast to find what I need, and everything is in one place for management of my system.
If you’ve been sitting in one building and you’ve needed to manage a device that’s in another building, then you’ve probably used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Connection. This is abbreviated with the MSTSC executable. That stands for Microsoft Terminal Services Client and it is effectively the remote desktop connection utility. This allows you to access and view what’s on the desktop of another computer simply by sitting at your desk. This makes it very easy for troubleshooting and management and in some cases you don’t even need to have a monitor connection on a separate device. You can simply use remote desktop to connect to that device whenever you need to use it.
On my network, I have an Active Directory server that I’d like to manage, but it’s in another room. So we’ll use MSTSC, which is our remote desktop connection. And we’ll connect to this device sgc.local. I’ll click Connect and it asks me for authentication. So we’ll put in our password, and now the screen updates and shows me what’s on the main screen of that Active Directory server. You can see I’m at the Server Manager dashboard of this device. And now I have local access to this device as if I was sitting in front of the physical device itself. So I can make changes, I can shut down, I can restart and do anything else that I would normally do as if I was sitting in front of that physical server. One thing that is a little bit different, as you can see, there’s a toolbar at the top for the remote desktop session. I’m going to click the X to disconnect. And it says, programs on the remote computer will continue to run after you’ve disconnected. That’s what we would expect. So we’ll click OK. And it will return me to the main screen of my local operating system desktop.
Whenever you’re working inside an operating system, especially making configuration changes or wanting to view log files, then you’re going to need a good text editor. And Notepad is a text editor that is included with almost every version of Windows. You can load log files, view information, you can make changes to the documents and save them back again all by using this Notepad utility. If you don’t need to change the contents inside of a file but you need to change the files themselves, then you might want use Windows Explorer. You can start Windows Explorer by simply typing in Explorer at the Run line. This allows you to view files, copy them, you can launch applications from here. Windows Explorer also makes it easy for me to see resources that may be located across the network. I can connect to a Windows share and see all of the files it may be located on that device.
If you’ve ever sat down at an unfamiliar computer and wondered what the software and hardware configuration of this device might be, then you might want to run MSINFO32. This stands for System Information and it tells you everything about the software and hardware inside of this device. From a hardware perspective, we can find out memory information, DMA settings, interrupt settings, conflicts between all of those. We can also see what components might be installed. Are their multimedia components? What display drivers happen to be installed? We might also want to look at print jobs that may be running or what tasks maybe executing on this device as well. And you can see all of that from the Windows System Information.
We can start System Information by typing in MSINFO32 and here is our System Information screen. You can see that we have the categories of System Summary, Hardware Resources, Components, and Software Environment. And we can click through and see all of the different settings for those. For the memory, you can see what’s being used in memory. If we go to our software environment, we can view all the system drivers. Makes it very easy to see exactly how this system is configured and what the settings might be for the different operating system components.
If you’re trying to troubleshoot problems with multimedia devices, you may want to run DxDiag This stands for the DirectX Diagnostics Tool. And this gives you a view of how the system is configured from a graphics and audio and an input options perspective. DxDiag also makes a very good diagnostic tool. So if you wanted to check the display settings or be able to listen to what output may be coming from the system, you can run all of those diagnostics from DxDiag.
As we’re saving files to our storage devices, our operating systems will segment those files into many pieces and put them in different locations on that storage device. In order to improve the read and write time, it might be useful to gather together all of those different pieces and put them together in one contiguous unit. This defrag utility is specifically designed for spinning hard drives. Windows will not perform a disk the defragmentation on an SSD because you don’t have problems with fragmented files on a solid state drive. If you wanted to run the graphical version of the disk defragmentation, you can go into the drive properties of the device, and click Defragment Now. You can also run the defragmentation process at the command line without using the graphical user interface. You simply type the defrag command and then the drive letter of the volume you’d like to defragment. When you start to the defragmentation application, it will tell you exactly what the predefragmentation report is. And in this case, you can see that our drive is 12% fragmented. When it finishes the defragmentation process, it gives you a report afterwards and shows the differences between the 12% fragmented space before the defragmentation and the 0% fragmented space afterwards.
When you make change to the Windows operating system, everything usually works just fine. But what if you were to make a change and then your system stopped performing properly? One thing that you can do is use the Windows utility System Restore to change your Windows configuration to go back in time to an earlier working config. You can access System Restore upon startup by pressing F8, going to the Advanced Boot Options and choosing Repair. If you’re in Windows Vista, you can click All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and access System Restore from there. In Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, you simply go to the Control Panel and choose the Recovery option. One thing to keep in mind with System Restores is that this does not necessarily resolve any virus or malware infestations. The malware authors know that you’re using System Restore, so not only do they infect your normal working configuration, they also go back and infect all of your separate restore points as well.
Let’s have a look at the Restore settings on this particular computer. I’ll start the Control Panel, and we’ll select that, and then we’ll choose our option for recovery. This will show us the advanced recovery tools where I can create a separate recovery drive, open System Restore, but let’s configure System Restore. On this system System Restore has not been configured. I can click the Configure option to turn on the system protection, and then I can set the Apply option and it’s going to use, by default, 5% of the drive for these restore points. And now any changes that I make to my system will now be protected using this System Restore.
One thing you may have noticed is that your Windows operating system will automatically update itself periodically with the latest files and settings for your computer. And this is by design. It’s using a utility called Windows Update. It’s going to provide you with bug fixes, operating system updates, and security patches so that your system remains as safe as possible. Windows Update can be set for an automatic , installation this is the recommended setting so that your system simply keeps itself up to date without any type of user intervention. You can also configure this to download the updates but wait for you to decide when those updates should be installed. You can check for updates but not necessarily download those updates. This may be useful if you have a limited amount of bandwidth available in your environment. And of course, you can turn Windows Update off completely. This is clearly not recommended in the Windows configuration, so you will have to manually determine when you check for updates, when they’re downloaded, and when they’re installed all through a manual process.