One of the coolest resources that Microsoft employees have is an internal website filled with hundreds and hundreds of small but useful apps and utilities, many of which were written by Microsoft employees. Sadly, few of the tools are made available outside of Microsoft, but here are a bunch that have made it out and places to look for more.
Fiddler: In the author’s own words: “Fiddler is a HTTP Debugging Proxy which logs all HTTP traffic between your computer and the Internet. Fiddler allows you to inspect all HTTP Traffic, set breakpoints, and “fiddle” with incoming or outgoing data. Fiddler is designed to be much simpler than using NetMon or Achilles, and includes a simple but powerful JScript.NET event-based scripting subsystem.”
Sandcastle: This is the actual tool that Microsoft uses to generate the .NET Framework’s MSDN-style documentation. NDoc works fairly well, but Sandcastle is the new tool of choice for building help files.
FxCop: The same tool behind “Code Analysis” functionality in select Visual Studio 2005 Editions, this is one of the most important tools for .NET software developers. This outstanding tool analyzes managed code assemblies for over 200 types of defects, and will point out all kinds of “gotchas” that you never would have noticed on your own.
LogParser: A truly amazing tool, LogParser allows you to write SQL queries against data stored in random files in all kinds of different formats, including XML, CSV and various IIS log formats, and it can write the results to lots of different formats — all without loading the data into a database! If it doesn’t support the format you need, you can write an extension for it.
WiX: One of the first, if not the first, internal Microsoft tool to go open-source. A set of command-line utilities that build MSI/MSM files from XML command files. Great for building installers in an automated build process.
RoboCopy and much more: RoboCopy is a very powerful and reliable file copy/move tool that also includes directory synchronization. It is packaged with dozens of other great tools in the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit Tools package. (Many of the tools do not require Windows Server 2003.)
One of the newest and fastest-growing places to find Microsoft-created tools is CodePlex, Microsoft’s newest “community development” website. There is no good way to determine exactly which projects originate from Microsoft, but some are clearly stated. One of the tools you will find here is the Team Foundation Server Administration Tool.
Some tools turn up on the official Microsoft website as unsupported downloads. For example, Lookout, released in early 2005, is an Outlook add-in that lets you quickly search all types of Outlook and file system data. Not very useful, perhaps, in this age of Windows Desktop Search and Google Desktop, but it’s an example of what you can find if you dig around in Microsoft Downloads.
Know of more useful tools that originated inside Microsoft? Please share them!