I often joke about being the only IT guy with a 36-inch pipe wrench in his toolbox. It’s funny, but it’s also probably true. But I do carry one IT tool in my kit that is just as powerful and hefty as that pipe wrench – it’s the Windows System Control Center on my Tools USB flash drive. Now, we had an article recently on the desktop installed version of WSCC, which mentioned its USB-portable identical twin brother. Yet, I think if you’re going to download one version or the other of this wonder tool, then make it the USB-portable one. It’s like having a 3 foot pipe wrench in your back pocket! Only considerably more comfortable.
Now, the Windows System Control Center itself isn’t really that amazing, it’s just an interface that gives you access to two different suites of tools, and categorizes those tools according to their functions. But when you realize what two suites we’re talking about, you start to realize just what a dynamite combination this is. Think of this as the IT world’s version of “You got chocolate in my peanut butter.” That’s right, when they come together they are worth more than the sum of the parts. We’re talking about SysInternals and NirSoft.
Once you have WSCC downloaded, simply unzip the package. Inside, you’ll find an executable file called wscc.exe with an icon that looks like a lifesaver. A very apt icon indeed. To install wscc.exe on your USB thumb drive, simply copy the file and paste it onto your thumb drive. That’s it. Takes about 2 seconds. If you go ahead and do it now before you run into any Windows’ issues, you’ll be glad you did!
On the first run, WSCC will prompt you to download all the latest versions of all the utilities. You may as well do that to be up-to-date. Because most of these utilities are very lightweight, well under 500KB for most of them, the process is quite quick.
Unfortunately, if you have good antivirus software, the process can take a bit longer. Some of the NirSoft utilities will get flagged and quarantined because they do gain access to intimate parts of the operating system. These are false positives, rest assured.
Setting WSCC Options
There are four tabs with options in WSCC: General, Software, Network, and Console. I’ve chosen some different options for my setup, and I’ve highlighted those in yellow below. By default, these options are not checked. It’s up to you if you want to select them or not, I can’t say that they make a great difference, it’s just a matter of preference.
General: I’ve chosen to have Windows System Control Center Minimize to Tray, when not in use. I just prefer it to be there rather than in the task bar. I’ve also chosen to Show Hidden Items, just because I don’t like hidden things. I like to know ALL of my options.
Software: I’ve chosen to utilize Windows Services as well. Again, just because I like to know all of my options.
Network: Under Update Manager, I’ve also chosen to Include new software when checking for updates. Again, it’s about having options. The Use the 64-bit version if possible option seems like another nice-to-have since most 64-bit machines will also run the 32-bit versions.
Console: I see no sense in changing things here, it’s just window dressing.
What Can You Do?
More like, what CAN’T you do?! The utilities are organized in a directory fashion based upon their functionality. The major categories of tools are:
- File and Disk – For anything related to file recovery, file access, disk usage, disk or file defrag, etc.
- Network – Anything related to network functions such as Active Directory viewing, remotely opened file viewer, whois, network adapter tools, etc.
- Process - Covers the gamut of viewing open DLLs, what programs are set to autorun at startup, file process dependencies, etc.
- Security - Registry keys, password utilities, scan for root-kits, etc.
- System Information – Active logons, system clock, process monitor, system info, etc.
- Console – Includes a command line console, available by clicking on the New Console button in the bottom-left corner. Perfect for running command line utilities from your USB drive.
Mark Russinovich was an independent general computer god who got tired of not having the tools he needed to solve his Windows problems. So like any god, he created them. Like any other god, he also created a trick that was funny to some and very distressing to others, the iconic BSOD Screen Saver. Somehow it was the trick that got him the attention he richly deserved for his work on the Windows tools. At least, that’s how I came to know of him.
When people started realizing how powerful and simple to use Mark’s tools were, word spread to the progenitors of Windows and there was a deal struck. Now SysInternals Suite is an official, and free set of tools for computer techs to use. There are 70 tools in the SysInternals suite, of which I only make regular use of about 3. To date, I have not used all the tools, but it is a comfort to know that they are there.
Let me show you how powerful a tool this can be for someone to have. Let’s say you’re at a friend’s house and they just can’t get their computer to boot very quickly. You’ve got your USB flash drive with you. Plug it in, start up WSSC, go to SysInternals, click on Process, then click on Autoruns…well, watch the video.
Of course, there are several other very powerful and useful tools in SysInternals. Really, we’ve written so many articles on the different components of SysInternal Suite, that I can’t even point you to one article. Please, do the search on SysInternals on our site, you’ll find so much. Now let’s take a little look at NirSoft as well.
NirSoft is another Windows god in the same sense as Mark Russinovich. It is the brainchild of Nir Sofer, a software developer with an excellent knack for cryptography and reverse engineering. In his spare time, he develops these applications that he would find useful, posts them on his website and we all get to benefit. That’s a sort of altruism that I don’t completely understand, but am very grateful for.
Much like Mark Russinovich’s tools, NirSoft’s tools are already portable in the sense that they don’t have to write to the Windows registry in order to be able to use them. Which makes perfect sense. If you’re having Windows issues, you need to be able to fix them from outside of Windows.
Where NirSoft goes that SysInternals doesn’t go, is into things like Password Recovery and Web Browser information. Recently we’ve been talking about technology after you’ve passed on, on MakeUseOf.com. Morbid as it is, it is a reality for all of us. So perhaps your friend has passed on and his widow needs to access somethings on the Internet, but he didn’t leave any information. Or, maybe he told you to delete stuff, so his widow wouldn’t see it! Either way, NirSoft has a strong suite of Password Recovery tools. With the tools available, you can get his passwords from Chrome, Internet Explorer, or Firefox. You can also get them from his Outlook or even online mail service. You can recover a stored WEP key for your wireless configuration as well. Pretty powerful, possibly even scary.
The password recovery tools only touch the tip of the dozens of NirSoft utilities available through the WSCC interface. How handy to have these tools in your pocket! If your looking for more on NirSoft utilities, check out Tina Sieber’s article on another USB-based NirSoft utility launcher.
The Take Away
If you are a budding computer tech, you need this tool on your emergency USB flash drive. It’s that simple. Yes, there are other tools that you need, but this is certainly an excellent start to your portable toolbox. The price is right – free – and the size is right too – 3 MB, so why wouldn’t you? If you like the software, please donate to the folks that helped make it possible.
I hope you enjoyed our journey through this handy tool. Have you ever used it before? If so, I’d like to hear how and what the outcome was. Do you know of other excellent portable tools like this that we should know about? Plug them in the comments and we’ll have a look at them. We are IT, and we’re here to help.