We know Microsoft mainly from Windows and Office and also from services such as OneDrive and Bing. If we ask you to list a few more free tools, it gets more difficult. They are there, but still pretty well hidden in all kinds of corners of the internet. We have brought together a number of those tools in this article.
Tip 01: Key work
When you google for something like 'free software from Microsoft' you will quickly come across links pointing to free Microsoft tools that are no longer offered or under development, such as Movie Maker, Mathematics, Security Essentials and WebMatrix. Microsoft therefore has the (bad) habit of stopping the development of free software after some time. At best, the functionality is integrated into Windows or other software.
You can of course go to the official Microsoft Store for a lot of freeware apps. These apps are (usually) not from Microsoft itself, and in terms of quality and quantity, Microsoft's store is nowhere near the same as the App Store or Play Store. The software does come from Microsoft from the somewhat experimental 'Microsoft Garage'. Both the page and the applications are usually in English and in principle still in beta, although usually stable. You can filter by platform (like Web, Windows, android, iOS and Xbox) and issue date.
In this article we look at a few apps from this collection, but feel free to take a look yourself regularly: new programs and updates are added regularly.
Tip 02: Admin Suite
We immediately throw in a strong candidate: a suite of 74 tools that is mainly aimed at the somewhat advanced (home) network administrator. The creator of the tools is actually Winternals, but this company has been owned by Microsoft for over a decade.
When you have extracted the downloaded zip file, you will find a whole bunch of exe files, for both 32bit and 64bit versions of Windows (for example PsInfo.exe and PsInfo64.exe). These are portable tools that you can also start from a USB stick.
The programs serve a variety of purposes: you can request detailed system information, check which processes are running, delete files thoroughly, locate shared resources, analyze network traffic, and so on. On the mentioned webpage you will find all the tools listed separately, divided into headings such as File and Disk, Networking, Process, Security and System. Click on each section for detailed feedback and an overview of the available command-line parameters. However, some tools from this suite deserve your further attention. We briefly introduce them to you in the following two tips.Autoruns tells you in detail which applications and processes start automatically
If the Sysinternals Suite from Microsoft sounds like something to you, but you would still like a graphical interface from which you can start all these tools more easily, then the portable WSCC (Windows System Control Center) certainly deserves your attention. After unpacking or installing the tool (32 or 64 bit), you will initially only see a graphical shell. However, the underlying tools can be downloaded at the push of a button and also updated afterwards. In total there are approximately 300 tools. A lot more than the 74 copies of the Sysinternals Suite, but you can also retrieve about 230 tools that come from another suite, called NirLauncher. Sorry, Microsoft.
Tip 03: Blackheads
One of the most popular tools in this suite is Autorunsfor Windows. This tool can also be downloaded separately and for enthusiasts there is also a command-line version available (Autorunsc).
The program comes in handy when you want to check which applications and processes start automatically with Windows, your browser, and so on. This can help when, for example, Windows starts up noticeably slower. The built-in Windows task manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc; tab Startup) will show you that, but Autoruns is more thorough and much more informative.
When you start Autoruns, you will by default see all 'autorun' items, collected in the tab everthing. From one of the other tabs, such as logon or Scheduled Tasks, you can zoom in on specific subcategories.
From the context menu you can temporarily disable a selected item (remove the check mark) but also delete it permanently (via delete). You can also save a snapshot (via File / Save) that you can compare with another situation via File / Compare. If you do not completely rule out the possibility that one of the items is malicious, you can have Autoruns send the detected items to VirusTotal. Go to Options / Scan Options, put a check next to Check VirusTotal.com and preferably also at Submit Unknown Images. Confirm with Rescan; in the column VirusTotal you can see how many virus scanners consider the items to be malicious.
Tip 04: Process analysis
While Autoruns basically shows a (static) snapshot of the applications and processes that are automatically started in one way or another, Process Explorer gives you a real-time look at what processes are running on your system. Right click on an item from the list and select Properties. A dialog box with several tabs will appear, showing, among other things, the cpu, gpu, disk and network usage of the selected item. The visor icon in the toolbar is also handy: if you release this above an application window, you immediately know which background process is associated with it.
Process Monitor provides other interesting and real-time information. This allows you to find out for which disk, registry or network activity a program is responsible. As soon as you File / Capture Events select, the tool logs all system activity; the number of events is shown in the status bar. Click again Capture Events interrupts this registration. Fortunately, there is help on board to search this extensive logbook quickly and in a targeted manner. Similarly, this tool also includes a crosshair icon, which you can release above an application window to see all the information about that application. Or click on the filter icon and select one or more filter conditions, such as Process Name begins with winword then Include. Of course there is also the built-in search function that allows you to search for specific items.
Tip 05: Installation medium
If you want to install Windows 10 on a PC, it is best to use a program such as Media Creation Tool. At startup you have to choose between Update this PC now and Create installation media […] for another PC. The first option ensures that the latest version of Windows 10 is retrieved and installed, whereby you logically choose the variant for which you have a license. The second option is to create an installation media for another PC. This can be a USB stick, but also a DVD or an ISO file. You can then place the latter on a stick yourself or possibly link it as a virtual station.
An advantage of the Media Creation Tool is that it makes USB sticks bootable, for use on both BIOS and UEFI systems. If you use a tool like Rufus, you have to make that choice yourself by setting the corresponding parameters.
Tip 06: Multi mouse
You have a desktop PC and a laptop on your desk and maybe you also have a server running on an older PC hidden in the closet. With Mouse Without Borders, a tool from the Garage project, you can control up to four Windows computers simultaneously with the same keyboard and mouse. The intention is that you install the tool on your 'main PC', the one with mouse and keyboard, where you immediately note the computer name and the security code shown.
Leave the window open and install this tool on your other PC(s), where you enter the same computer name and code. If necessary, give your firewall permission to set up a connection. You should now be able to drag the mouse pointer in front of the screen edge of your first PC and it will pop up nicely on the screen of your second PC. In the preferences of the program you can click on the tab Options possibly Easy Mouse on Disable to make; you can no longer drag past the screen edge of a PC. To switch to another PC, press Ctr+Alt+F1, F2, F3 and F4. A nice extra is that the Windows Clipboard is also shared across the PCs.Mouse Without Borders lets you control up to four PCs with the same keyboard and mouse
Tip 07: Photo transfer
Photos Companion also comes from the Microsoft Garage project and is a useful tool for those who use the Windows 10 Photos app and regularly want to transfer photos or videos from their mobile device to the computer. You don't download this separately, but you launch it from the Photos app. Start it up, press the hamburger button, choose Institutions and put preview on On. Over to your mobile device, where you install the Photos Companion app from the official Apple or Android app store.
When you start it up, it expects a qr code; you bring it up in the Photos app on your PC, via the button Import / From Mobile via Wi-Fi. As soon as you have scanned the QR code, you can select the desired photos or videos - for example, you will also see the WhatsApp photos received in this media overview. Tap on Done to transfer the photos or videos, which turns out to work pretty quickly. The downside is that you have to recreate this link via QR code with every new session.
Tip 08: Panorama
Although you can take panoramic photos with your smartphone's built-in app, you may prefer your good (old?) digital photo camera and prefer to compose the panoramas afterwards on the basis of partly overlapping photos. Then Image Composite Editor is for you (32 and 64 bit version). You can make such a panorama not only from photos, but also from video images.
For the sake of convenience, we'll stick to photos here. First of all, select a number of suitable photos and choose (for example) for Simple Panorama. Press on the stitchbutton: the tool will now attempt to compose the panorama, choosing from different projection methods, such as Cylindrical, Spherical and perspective. Then click on crop and define the desired panorama contours. Finally, you can save the result in various formats via Export to disk.Dictate add-on lets you talk to Office programs
Tip 09: Dictaphone
There are a few free plug-ins available for MS Office users, some of which are added to the Microsoft Office suite even after a successful trial period. Dictate such an app. This dictation feature is now part of Word, PowerPoint and Outlook. With this tool you simply speak your text, after which it is automatically typed into the document. As soon as you get the dictationbutton you can start dictating. The tool also understands a limited number of instructions, such as new line and comma. According to the makers, the tool can handle about twenty languages and can translate to up to 60 languages in real time, but on our test PC the number of supported languages appeared strange - and unfortunately - limited to a few variants of English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Chinese. We tested the English, French and German languages and that yielded very solid, if not flawless, results. Hopefully a Dutch language module will be available (again?) soon.
Tip 10: Even more add-ons
The Social Share app is now also part of Office, specifically in PowerPoint there is the add-on Social Share. As the name suggests, this tool makes it easy to publish (parts of) your slideshow, especially on Facebook and Twitter. You must first authorize the add-on with these services. For Facebook, this add-on has the most functionalities. For example, you can have your slide presentation converted to a movie, including transitions. You can also follow your friends' reactions from PowerPoint.
If you use Excel and are struggling with manuals for Excel functions in other languages that you can't quite translate into Dutch, the add-on Functions Translator for Excel (Office 365) offers a way out. The add-on's installation puts an additional heading on the ribbon: Functions translator. Click here translator, then a window with two input fields appears. It is the intention that you type or paste a formula in one field and after pressing the button the translated formula appears in the other field. Use the gear icon to set the desired source and target language, with a choice of several dozen languages.
Microsoft's WorldWide Telescope (WWT) should also not go unmentioned. Although a Windows client is also available, WWT is primarily a web application that you can view entirely from your browser. WWT allows you to explore space based on real images taken with the most advanced telescopes. You can select specific space objects, but it is also possible to follow guided tours and create your own. You can find various instructional videos on YouTube.