7 free and cheap ways to learn about Windows administration

These projects can help you get real on-the-job experience before you get the job.

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In most areas of IT, you can learn only so much from school or certification courses; eventually, it’s crucial to get hands-on experience. And so it is with Windows administration.

Most fields have an experience conundrum to some degree: You need experience to qualify for a particular job, but you can’t get that experience until you have done that job. A great thing about IT, though, is that it’s sometimes possible to do an end run around the problem. In IT, hands-on experience can often be acquired using tools on your own computer or accessible through your current job before you try to get the new job.

Another thing about IT, or more specifically, the techies who work in it, is that we love to play around with new things. Here are seven Windows administration-related projects you can perform, either at home or at work, to get real hands-on experience. Best of all, you can do all of these very inexpensively, possibly without spending a cent.


Project 1: Discover the Reliability Monitor

Since Windows Vista, Microsoft has given us the Reliability Monitor, a diagnostic tool that provides a daily or weekly report (via chart and list) about any Windows or application failures, critical events, warnings and other vital alerts. But the Reliability Monitor is buried in the legacy Control Panel. If you haven’t checked it out, do so. It can be quite informative and help with troubleshooting a known problem or catching issues before they become a real problem.

A quick way to access the Reliability Monitor: Click the search field in the lower-left of Windows or on the Start Menu, start typing “reliability monitor,” and then select it from the results.

You’ll see a chart of the days with icons representing the alert type. The alert types are also labeled on the right of the chart. The top of the chart is a line graph of overall stability. This all gives you a quick visual on the reliability of the computer. Clicking on a day shows a list of the alerts, and you can click on each alert for additional details.

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