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Utility Spotlight BGInfo
Lance Whitney

Download the code for this article: BgInfo v4.10 (274KB)

You're trying to resolve a problem with a user's PC and need info about the computer—name, IP address, gateway, memory, free disk space, and so on. Gathering all that data usually forces you to scour multiple sources or ask the user a barrage of questions. Wouldn't it be handy if everything you needed to know about a PC was in one single place? It can be, thanks to a free tool from Sysinternals called BGInfo.
Written by Bryce Cogswell, BGInfo (short for Background Information) queries a Windows® workstation or server for key data— everything from network-related stats (IP address, router, domain name, MAC address) to hardware and software info (computer name, memory, OS version, and Service Pack level). The program then displays all that data on the desktop as part of the wallpaper, thus making the information clearly visible without being obtrusive (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 BGInfo displays system information on the desktop (Click the image for a larger view)
To run BGInfo, just double-click the bginfo.exe file—no installation is required. The configuration screen appears for you to review and select the data fields to display. By default, BGInfo reveals 24 separate pieces of information. You can remove any field you don't want visible, and then add it back later if you change your mind. You can also easily pop in additional fields. BGInfo will display any environment variable, most registry values, and the output from VBScript and Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) queries. The WMI interface provides a simple way to build queries by selecting values from a dropdown menu. BGInfo can also tap into certain files to display their version information, time stamp, and contents.
The display is highly customizable. You can change various attributes of the text—alignment, font, point size, and color. Furthermore, you can juggle the position of the data around different parts of the desktop and specify the maximum width of its display area in inches. Finally, BGInfo lets you add graphics alongside the text data, so you can pop in an image, such as your corporate logo. Conversely, if you'd rather not display all this information on the desktop, just set up BGInfo as an icon in the system tray instead. Click on it, and the full display appears.
After you've made your formatting choices, you can click the Preview button to check the display before you commit, then apply it if it looks good. You can run BGInfo manually on any PC whenever you need it or keep it updated automatically. To refresh the data on a regular basis, add the BGInfo.exe file to the startup folder or set it up as a Scheduled Task. After you've customized BGInfo on one computer, you'll probably want to use the same settings on other PCs. Just save your settings as a BGI file, and then load them onto other computers running the program.
Though you can run BGInfo on one PC at a time, you might want to trigger it on multiple network clients. You can insert the bginfo.exe file into a login script; the program provides several command-line options to control its behavior. The data collected by BGInfo can also be exported to an external file—a text file, Excel® spreadsheet, Access™ database, or a SQL database, so that you have a handy resource of all your network PC stats.
The Help information included with BGInfo is thorough and easy to follow. It even offers tips on how to write simple VBScript and WMI queries whose output can be captured by BGInfo. The program runs on all versions of Windows from Windows 95 to Windows Vista®. Learn more about BGInfo and download the tool from microsoft.com/technet/sysinternals/Miscellaneous/BgInfo.mspx.

Lance Whitney is an IT consultant, trainer, and technical writer. He has spent countless hours tweaking Windows workstations and servers. Originally a journalist, he took a blind leap into the IT world 15 years ago.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.
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