Free software converts Group Policy templates in Vista

IT shops should save a one-time conversion problem using a free tool to help migrate Group Policy templates in older versions of Windows to Vista.

Microsoft and FullArmor Corp. will immediately make available a free download to help IT administrators using Vista migrate Group Policy templates from their current proprietary format in Windows 2000 and XP.

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The technology, called the ADMX Migrator, is being demonstrated this week in Barcelona, Spain, at IT Forum, a Microsoft conference for IT managers. The ADMX Migrator, which was developed by FullArmor, automatically converts existing Administrative Templates (ADM) to the new ADMX format used in Vista Group Policy. ADMX uses an XML-based file format for describing Group Policy settings. Using this tool, administrators don't have to rewrite their existing templates to migrate to ADMX.

Microsoft is providing incentive for IT shops to migrate to ADMX files. In the first service pack for Vista, due out around the time Windows Server code-named "Longhorn" ships, those using ADMX will have the ability to search through and comment on about 2,500 Group Policy settings, for example.

A lot of managers currently have custom ADM files, which are not policies necessarily but preferences that "tattoo" to the registry. IT managers have custom ADM files with preferences. "It will be nice to immediately recycle these ADM files to ADMX format," said Jeremy Moskowitz, a Group Policy MVP and Philadelphia-based independent consultant. Moskowitz is site owner of GPAnswers.com

And administrators with ADM files now don't have to learn the ADMX language for a one-time conversion, Moskowitz said.

ADMX will become a snap-in within the Microsoft Management Console. A snap-in is a module in the console that is used to perform a specific function.

For IT managers, the only way to describe settings in Group Policy is by using an ADM file. With ADMX, managers can support multiple languages, for example, in an ADMX file, which can be managed in one central store, said Danny Kim, chief technology officer at FullArmor, in Boston. "[With ADM] you would need to create more than one file to support multiple languages," Kim said.

Having a single store for files is also expected to improve Group Policy management. In organizations where there are several administrators, they might create several versions of an ADM file. Each ADM is stored in a Group Policy Object and there might also be a version stored in the local copy of the operating system. "There might be multiple versions of it everywhere," Kim said. "And sometimes, older versions rewrite newer versions."

Now ADMXs are stored in one central location that will be replicated.

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