IT angst continues over future of Filemon, Regmon

With Vista migrations on the horizon, IT managers want more details about the future of Filemon and Regmon, two of their favorite free utilities, which are now a part of Microsoft.

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With few details given by Microsoft about the future of the Sysinternals' free utilities, and no equivalent alternatives available in the marketplace, Windows IT administrators are still nervously waiting to hear more about Microsoft's plans for its acquisition of the freeware site.

Microsoft took ownership of the free utilities and the Sysinternals Web site -- a popular destination for Windows administrators -- when it acquired Winternals last week. No financial terms were released for the acquisition.

So far, the only news about what's to become of the widely used Sysinternals troubleshooting tools -- Filemon, Regmon and Process Explorer -- is that Microsoft will retain the status quo for the time being until the company decides how to best integrate them into its own community.

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IT admins use Filemon and Regmon to get applications up and running, and those utilities will likely be called for next year when companies start their Vista migrations. Microsoft's Windows desktop Vista will become available later this year.

Plenty of IT administrators are echoing the general sentiments of Dave Driggers, IT asset manager and deployment desktop systems team leader at Alabama Gas Corp. in Birmingham, Ala., who said he was surprised by the acquisition.

"I just want to know [Microsoft's] intentions," Driggers said. "Where do we go from here, and what happens to this technology?"

A Microsoft spokeswoman said that more information about the future of the utilities, and information about the role of Mark Russinovich, one of the two founders of Winternals and Sysinternals, will be forthcoming.

There are hundreds of free tools available for IT shops running Windows. Many of them are built by Microsoft and often customers are unaware of them, said Nelson Ruest, president of Resolutions Enterprises Ltd., a Victoria, B.C.-based consulting firm.

Other vendors offer free tools too. Quest Software Inc. has a few, including Object Restore for Active Directory, which helps managers recover deleted objects using the Windows Server 2003 Tombstone Reanimation feature.

Another example comes from DesktopStandard Corp., in Portsmouth, N.H., which makes a free tool to help IT administrators control their Registry through Group Policy.

But unlike the Sysinternals utilities, vendors often wrap their free tools in marketing information. Also, the utility sometimes has a time limit, in which case it must be uninstalled and then reinstalled if the manager wants to continue using the tool.

"If you're a systems administrator without a big budget, you learn to live with these inconveniences," Ruest said.

For application installation, Filemon and Regmon are the two most important tools in Sysinternals' portfolio, according to administrators and experts. Filemon monitors and displays file system activity on a system in real time. Regmon lets administrators see what applications are accessing a Registry.

So popular are the tools that Windows manageability vendor Altiris Inc. considered bundling them with its own product. Rich Bentley, a product segment manager at Altiris in Lindon, Utah, said his company had discovered that many of its customers were using them anyway. Bentley said Altiris did make it possible for users to easily add the tools to its Workbench interface.

"We found that a lot of systems administrators who are packaging software want to see what is going on at a low level," Bentley said.

Altiris is asking the same questions about the future of Sysinternals' tools that the customers are asking, he said. "We don't know anything at this time," Bentley concluded.

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