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

ReactOS

ReactOS offers an interesting alternative between sticking with seven-year-old XP and avoiding Vista. ReactOS is a Windows XP-compatible OS, meaning it is meant to work with all the applications and devices that are available for Windows XP. Now ReactOS is in the alpha stages -- so it is strictly a test-only product at this point. Like a few other products on this list, it comes available in a preloaded VMware virtual machine. Therefore, VMplayer is all that is needed to demo the software and see it in action. I have to say that when it is launches it is impressive. Not at all the look and feel I would expect from a non-windows OS. The menus remind me of the XP classic style or Windows 2000. Overall, the navigation and file structure is very much like Windows (sans the color schemes, but a very good imitation all the same). I even found one of the most Windows-like features, the Start Button (see screen shot). Now being Alpha software, I was not able to test out installing XP -based software. We need to await the more stable Beta that should arrive very soon in June. ReactOS is a nice tool that I can think of lots of uses for -- an intern's PC or testing environments, for instance. Definitely, ReactOS is worth a look.

Thunderbird

Of course, Thunderbird is the younger sibling to the wildly popular Mozilla Firefox. Thunderbird is to e-mail and news clients what Firefox is to Web browsing. I actually know some businesses that run Microsoft Works and use Thunderbird as their e-mail client. Here is where it gets tricky: Thunderbird trumps Outlook Express 6.0 for Windows XP. However, if you are one of the few (it certainly seems these days as if we are in the minority) that run Windows Vista, well then, it is a toss-up between the two e-mail clients. However, Thunderbird is simple to configure and even has the ability to manage your Gmail account. That's another plus for Thunderbird even in Windows Vista and especially now that Outlook Express and Windows Mail have both decided to remove support for cloud/http mail services. Now I would love to see Thunderbird support all cloud/http mail services, since I personally seem to use them all (Hotmail, Live, Yahoo ...). It would be great to use one tool to collect and deal with them all. Even Thunderbird isn't there yet, but it is more likely to make such a move then Windows Mail.

Filezilla Server

This is another tool that is again part of the Mozilla family and has not exactly been flying under the radar without notice. Still, I believe it belongs on this list because unlike our superstar open source projects, FTP apps do not get the glory and recognition they should. However, FTP is still widely used for file transfer. If you are installing XAMMP to work with Joomla! then Filezilla is installed automatically. Now, I have always found Microsoft's FTP service to be sufficient but very simple in the area of FTP servers. Funny that Filezilla would actually be more graphical and easier to administer than a Microsoft product! Nevertheless, Filezilla has more options and better usability. If your organization has a need for FTP file transfer, Filezilla Server is a great way to go.

jNetStream

As IT pros we love the fancy tools that have all the bells and whistles. Occasionally though you need to get back to the basics. jNetStream may not be the sexiest tool out there, but it doesn't have to be. jNetStream is a protocol analyzer and sniffer but that is not all. With jNetStream, you can decode the captured packets. This takes some work to utilize in Windows and you will need the Java VM installed since this tool is completely written as a Java application. jNetStream uses Network Protocol Language (NPL) and this allows it the ability to create protocols using NPL as the basis. Now I've never been that kind of admin, but if you are and you need to really customize the way protocols work in your environment, here is a tool that will sniff, analyze, and decode all in one package. If you are the kind of IT Pro who just wants to really dig deeper to understand your environment, or maybe to make your boss proud with your in-depth knowledge of protocol analysis, jNetStream is a tool that can take you there.

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