NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2010
Dozens of Free Utilities from NirSoft
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)


It is no secret to regular readers of my column that I am somewhat of a software junkie, often very willing and eager to download and install interesting software. I am especially fond of free software (freeware), and recognize the great contributions that the freeware authors have made to the computing public. One of my favorite sources of freeware is a one-man software operation aptly named NirSoft, a combination of the developer's name, Nir Sofer, and the word "software". While this is a part time one-man operation, Nir Sofer has developed over one hundred excellent programs and utilities that are well written, enormously popular, lack any form of advertising pop-up or adware, and are totally free of charge.

I have been using several of the NirSoft utilities since my Windows 98 days, and always found them efficient and useful. I have used some of the password recovery utilities, USB utilities, and several others. According to the website, nirsoft.net, the most popular utilities are IPNetInfo, Volumouse, MessenPass, and Protected Storage PassView.

IPNetInfo, available for download from nirsoft.net/utils/ipnetinfo.html, is designed to retrieve information about IP addresses, those numerical sequences that identify a particular computer or server. Typically in the format of 123.45.678.90, these IP (Internet Protocol) addresses point to a specific computer or server location, and can be used to determine the likely source of an email, website, server, or other internet connected appliance. The program is small and written in tight code, and requires no additional installation or utilities in order to run it. Accord to Nir, " IPNetInfo is a standalone program, so it doesn't require any installation process or additional DLLs. In order to start using it, simply copy the executable file (ipnetinfo.exe) to any folder you like, and run it." I copied the file to my desktop, and use it mostly to determine the (mostly) true location of the sender of an email, or the (likely) real location of a website or server; while this is not typically necessary for the casual user, I use it as a quick tool to forensically locate the probable source of spam email and scam websites.

Many of us routinely watch TV or videos over the internet, and listen to a variety of audio. Sometimes we need to adjust the volume in order to better hear the audio, and the standard Windows volume controls are often inconvenient or located on an external speaker. Not all computers have a volume control in the keyboard, so NirSoft provides a small utility that can control the volume by simply using the wheel on the mouse. Most computer mice today are wheel mice, and not many people use the wheel as a scroll tool as intended. By installing Volumouse (nirsoft.net/utils/volumouse.html), the user has complete control over all of the audio volume of the system, utilizing only the wheel on the mouse along with a function key, usually the "Alt" key. If the "Alt" key is pressed, the mouse wheel is a comprehensive volume control, otherwise it functions normally as a scroll device. This has proven to be a very handy utility to improve my enjoyment of computer audio and video.

Many of us use one or more instant messenger programs, such as Yahoo Instant Messenger, AIM (AOL), MSN Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, and others. While I have a secure password manager on my home desktop computer, and I use difficult to guess alphanumeric passwords, sometimes I get confused or forget some of the many passwords I use while instant messaging. NirSoft has a utility to help find instant messaging passwords, MessenPass. Available for download from nirsoft.net/utils/mspass.html, MessenPass can find the passwords for all popular instant messaging programs, including MSN Messenger, Windows Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, AOL Instant Messenger, AIM, AIM Pro, Trillian, Trillian Astra, Miranda, GAIM/Pidgin, MySpace IM, PaltalkScene, and Digsby. It should be noted that this is not a hacker or cracker utility, as it can only be used to " ... recover the passwords for the current logged-on user on your local computer, and it only works if you chose the remember your password in one of the above programs. You cannot use this utility for grabbing the passwords of other users." One warning is necessary for users of MessenPass is that sometimes antivirus and other security programs occasionally report it as a virus of some type. This is a false positive, as MessenPass is not a virus or Trojan, and this false positive is documented at nirsoft.net/false_positive_report.html.

Protected Storage PassView is another small password utility that can display " ... the passwords stored on your computer by Internet Explorer, Outlook Express and MSN Explorer. The passwords are revealed by reading the information from the Protected Storage." Available for download at nirsoft.net/utils/pspv.html, Protected Storage PassView can display the users' registered passwords for password protected websites accessed in Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express passwords, auto-complete passwords in Internet Explorer, and MSN Explorer passwords. As with the other password utilities, this is not a hacker program, as it can only display passwords of the current logged in user, and cannot display the passwords of other users. Also as with the other password utilities, some security software displays a false positive warning when the utility is opened; using a reputable third party utility, virustotal.com, I have personally verified that these original utilities downloaded directly from the NirSoft website were indeed clean of any malware, and that any such reports were indeed false positives.

Password utilities are not the only utilities available from NirSoft, as many of the one hundred plus utilities serve other functions. Some that I periodically use are the network utilities, some of which can be used to determine the actual download speed of my internet connection, view computers attached to the network, display details of wireless and Bluetooth networks in the area, and other network functions. There are about a dozen free internet related utilities available, including cookie managers, cache viewers, screen capture utilities, HTML converters, DNS utilities, and several other internet related utilities. Some of the free desktop utilities include a file search utility, uninstaller, and file type manager. NirSoft has about 10 free system tools, including a USB device manager (USBDeview, nirsoft.net/utils/usb_devices_view.html, one of my most frequently used tools), a hardware device manager, driver manager, registry scanner, and several other helpful tools. One of the system tools that I used a great deal with Windows XP was BlueScreenView, which displayed the details of Windows crashes, making them easier to resolve. NirSoft also has a selection of free tools to improve the functioning of the Outlook email program.

Other than the occasional false positive warnings from some security software, I have always found that NirSoft's free utilities can efficiently carry out their intended tasks with a minimum of effort. Nir Sofer personally writes all of his software, and frequently posts updates and bug fixes, helping to insure that the software is up to date. While NirSoft is only a part-time operation, and Nir Sofer does not directly charge for any of his software, there is a link on the site for voluntary donations. For users that may need some small, free, well written, specialized utilities, NirSoft would be a worthwhile source for that software.

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