Date: Dec 22, 2009
Windows 7 expert Mark Edward Soper, author of Easy Microsoft Windows 7, helps you discover and use advanced tools built into Windows 7 for managing your system.
Administrative Tools is an umbrella term that Microsoft uses for advanced system management programs. Windows 7, like its predecessors Windows Vista and Windows XP, includes shortcuts to a number of programs in the Administrative Tools folder.
In this article, we'll focus on the tools and features that are new to Windows XP users transitioning to Windows 7.
Locating Windows 7's Administrative Tools
Administrative Tools can be launched from Windows 7's Control Panel's System and Security category (Figure 1), or from the Large or Small icons view.
Figure 1 When you access Administrative Tools from the System and Security Category, you can also start Disk Cleanup or Disk Defragmenter.
As with Windows Vista or Windows XP, you can also choose to have Administrative Tools available from the Start or All Programs menu:
- Right-click on the Start orb and select Properties.
- Click Customize.
- Scroll down to System Administrative Tools.
- Select the display option (All Programs or All Programs and Start menus) desired (Figure 2).
- Click OK.
Figure 2 Configuring Windows 7's Start menu for easier access to Administrative Tools
Figure 3 Starting Administrative Tools from the All Programs menu or Start menu
Holdovers from Windows XP and Windows Vista
Of the administrative tools included in Windows 7, the following work similarly to their predecessors:
- Component ServicesManages COM+ software development components.
- Computer ManagementManages computer hardware, services, and events.
- Data SourcesManages database sources and access.
- Local Security PolicyConfigures local security policy settings.
- ServicesEnables, disables, and manages services.
The interfaces used by these tools are essentially unchanged from Windows XP and Windows Vista, and are not discussed in detail in this article.
What's "New" in Administrative Tools for Windows XP Users
Windows XP users will find plenty of "new" and enhanced features in Administrative Tools, including the following:
- Event ViewerDisplays details of hardware, software, and Windows events, including warnings and failures.
- Performance MonitorProvides real-time performance analysis of user-selected subsystems (processor, memory, and more).
- Print ManagementManages local and network printers.
- System ConfigurationConfigures startup and boot options and launches system utilities.
- Task SchedulerSchedules tasks to run at user-determined times.
- Windows Memory DiagnosticChecks system and cache memory before Windows desktop boots.
- Windows Firewall with Advanced SecurityConfigures Windows Firewall to operate in two-way mode.
- iSCSI InitiatorConfigures iSCSI storage on enterprise networks.
- Windows PowerShell ModulesReplaces snapins as a way to organize and extend Windows PowerShell.
While Event Viewer, which provides a shortcut to the Event Viewer section of Computer Management, has been a part of Administrative Tools since the Windows XP days, Windows 7's version (which is based on Windows Vista's version) provides a much better interface than its Windows XP counterpart as well as a much more detailed view of your system.
Windows 7's Event Viewer (refer to Figure 4) includes three panes:
- Use the left pane to select the information to view from the Custom Views, Windows Logs, Applications and Services Logs, and Subscriptions.
- The center pane displays information about the selected node.
- The right pane (Actions) enables you to create open saved logs, create custom views, locate selected events, and get help.
Digging Into Your System with Event Viewer
When you start Event Viewer, the center pane displays an overview of your system. The Summary of Administrative Events portion displays statistics for the last hour, 24 hours, and last seven days for errors, warnings, information, and audit success events (Figure 4).
Figure 4 Opening the Event Viewer.
Click the plus (+) sign next to a category to see individual events. Double-click an event to open it in the center pane.
When you open an event, the right pane offers additional options for the event, including the ability to attach a task to the event, such as sending an email when another event of the same type takes placea serious error, for example (Figure 5).
Figure 5 Viewing action options for an error event
Reviewing Windows Logs
Open the Windows Logs folder to see log entries for applications, security, setup, system, and forwarded events.
Here are some examples of how to use these logs:
- Use the Applications log to find out when a service starts or stops, or to troubleshoot problems with services such as Backup.
- Use the Security log to determine whether logon and logoff security is working.
- Use the Setup log to determine when Windows updates were installed.
- Use the System log to learn about maintenance activities, problems with transaction logs, and system uptime.
- The Forwarded Events log lists events you are sharing with other systems.
Reviewing Applications and Services Logs
Windows 7, like Windows Vista, breaks out Applications and Services Logs into their own folder in Event Viewer. Media Center, Windows PowerShell, and Microsoft Windows all have separate logs, as do hardware events, Internet Explorer, Key Management Services, Windows Backup, and other Windows utilities.
By opening the Backup/Operational log, you can see the status of recent Windows Backup jobs. Open the log for a specific Windows 7 feature (Microsoft>Windows>featurename) to see when the feature was used or last reported problems (Figure 6).
Figure 6 Viewing an error reported by Windows Backup
Windows 7's version of Performance Monitor uses line graphs to track system performance as with other versions. It also provides additional resources to help you see what's happening in your system.
When you open Performance Monitor, it displays an overview with a link to Resource Monitor (for real-time information) and directions on how to start monitoring performance (Figure 7).
The System Summary pane below the overview provides information about memory, network interface, physical disk, and processor usage.
Figure 7 Starting Performance Monitor
Click the Performance Monitor link shown in Figure 7 to open the familiar Performance Monitor graph. By default, Windows 7 graphs % Processor Time.
To add additional counters, click the green plus (+) icon and select counters from the Add Counters window. Use Ctrl-Click or Shift-Click to select multiple counters; then click Add to add the selected counters.
Click OK to return to Performance Monitor and see your graph (Figure 8). To remove a counter, clear the checkbox next to the counter.
Figure 8 Graphing system performance factors with Performance Monitor
Performance Monitor also provides a convenient way to view system diagnostics. Open Reports>System>System Diagnostics to see the most recent diagnostics report (Figure 9).
Figure 9 A portion of the System Diagnostic report
By default, System Diagnostic expands the Diagnostic Results sections (Warnings, Informational, Basic System Checks) and Performance section to provide a quick read of system condition.
Other sections (Software Configuration, Hardware Configuration, CPU, Network, Disk, Memory, and Report Statistics) can be expanded as desired.
Windows Vista introduced Print Management (and added it to Administrative Tools), and Windows 7 follows its example.
Use Print Management (Figure 10) to view active printers, form settings (paper, envelopes, labels), printer ports in use, and drivers for local and network printers.
Figure 10 The Print Management interface
System Configuration enables you to temporarily or permanently change how your Windows system starts. By placing System Configuration (MSConfig.exe) in the Administrative Tools folder, Windows 7 makes this program easier to start than in Windows XP, where it is usually started from the Run command. However, that's not the only difference.
The General tab continues to be used for selecting normal, diagnostic (basic devices and services only), or selective startup option. However, other tabs have been removed or changed.
Windows 7's System Configuration no longer includes the now-obsolete System.ini, Win.ini, and Boot.ini tabs. The Boot.ini tab is now replaced by the Boot tab for managing boot order and boot options.
The Startup tab, as before, enables you to manage startup programs. However, it now tracks when you disable an entry, so it's easier for you to determine the impact on your system when you change startup information (Figure 11).
Figure 11 System Configuration's Startup tab now tracks when a program was disabled (right column).
The last major change is in the Tools menu, which includes shortcuts to a different combination of tools than in Windows XP (* indicates those new or enhanced in Windows 7 versus XP):
- About Windows
- Change UAC Settings*
- Action Center*
- Windows Troubleshooting*
- Computer Management
- System Information
- Event Viewer*
- System Properties*
- Internet Options
- Internet Protocol Configuration
- Resource Monitor*
- Performance Monitor*
- Task Manager *
- Command Prompt
- Registry Editor
- Remote Assistance*
- System Restore*
As you can see from this list, you can use System Configuration as a "one-stop shop" for most computer management needs.
While Windows XP includes Scheduled Tasks, the Task Scheduler included in Windows 7 is a much more powerful tool. Based on Windows Vista's Task Scheduler, Windows 7's Task Scheduler (Figure 12) includes a library of Windows utilities and installed third-party applications that are scheduled to run at various times.
Figure 12 Task Scheduler is used to automatically run Windows Defender scans.
Windows 7's Task Scheduler uses a tabbed interface to specify security and general settings (General), when the task runs (Triggers), what the task performs (Actions), what conditions need to exist to run the task (Conditions), how the task operates (Settings), and information about previous operations of the task (History).
To set up a new scheduled task, you can use a wizard to create a task, as in Windows XP. To get started, select Create Basic Task from the Actions menu in the right pane. Or, to use the tabbed interface to set up a new scheduled task, select Create Task instead.
Windows Memory Diagnostic
Windows Vista introduced Windows Memory Diagnostic (previously available through Microsoft's Online Crash Analysis website) as a standard part of Windows, and Windows 7 follows in Vista's footsteps.
Because Windows Memory Diagnostics checks your system's standard and cache RAM before the Windows desktop appears, you are prompted to choose when to run the program: either now (requiring you to restart the system) or the next time the system is started.
When Windows Memory Diagnostic is running, it displays a plain blue screen with white and yellow text. A status bar indicates the progress of the selected tests (Figure 13).
Figure 13 Testing system memory with Windows Memory Diagnostic
To change the number of test passes (the default is two), select a different mix of tests, or to turn memory cache on or off, press the F1 key and select from the options displayed (Figure 14).
Figure 14 Viewing memory test options in Windows Memory Diagnostic
If Windows Memory Diagnostic detects any problems, it displays the results after the Windows desktop boots.
Specialized Administrative Tools
While most of the software tools in Administrative Tools are of use to a wide range of intermediate to advanced users, the following tools have a relatively narrow focus:
- Windows Firewall with Advanced Security
- iSCSI Initiator
- Windows PowerShell Modules
They are discussed in the following sections.
Windows Firewall with Advanced Security
While Windows XP includes an integrated firewall, it is designed to stop unauthorized inbound traffic only. Windows Vista's version of Windows Firewall introduced the ability to configure the firewall to block unauthorized outbound traffic, and Windows 7's Windows Firewall follows suit.
To enable Windows Firewall to run in two-way mode, you must start Windows Firewall from the Administrative Tools shortcut ("Windows Firewall with Advanced Security") and configure or create rules for outbound traffic. To create new rules, follow these steps:
- Click the New Rule[el]button in the Action menu.
- Specify the type of rule to create (Program, Port, Predefined, or Custom).
- Select whether the rule applies to all or selected connections.
- Specify whether to allow the connection, allow only secure connections, or block connections.
- Select when to apply the rule (Domain, Private, or Public connections).
- Enter a name and description.
As you can see from this brief overview, using Windows Firewall in its two-way (Advanced Security) mode is not the best choice for most individual or small-business users. These users are better served by firewalls that can set up rules for outbound programs on an as-needed basis.
However, if you work with a corporate network that uses Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers, you might prefer the standardization of rules possible with Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.
The iSCSI Initiator enables a Windows-based PC to access iSCSI devices on a storage area network (SAN). If your network does not have SAN capabilities or does not use iSCSI storage, you don't need to use this feature.
The iSCSI Initiator was introduced in Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.
Windows PowerShell Modules
Windows PowerShell is a powerful .NET-based command-line environment for scripting and system administration in Windows. It was introduced in Windows Server 2008 and is also included in Windows 7. It can also be added to other recent versions of Windows via download.
PowerShell modules enable developers to create reusable, self-contained program code units. Windows 7 includes the following PowerShell modules:
While many of Windows 7's Administrative Tools provide functions that can be started from other places in Windows, Administrative Tools makes access to advanced management features very easy. With the improvements made in these tools since Windows XP, Windows XP users will find many of their favorite tools more powerful and easier to use than ever.