Article

Startup offers new way to manage, protect public PCs

Margie Semilof

A Utah startup company last week released software that could give IT administrators a new way to manage publicly used PCs, which are easy targets for viruses and abuse.

FSLogic Inc.'s Protect product is an application that is essentially a storage management

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system for Windows-based PCs. It runs just below the operating environment, where it takes file and registry data from each user and keeps it in a separate storage container, said Jared Blaser, a company founder and also a former Novell Inc. executive.

The company is targeting the software at organizations that have computers used by more than one end user. Libraries, kiosks, labs and college campuses are examples of such public locations. One of the first opportunities to see the software in action will happen this week at Skate America, an international figure skating competition to be held in Reading, Pa.

At Skate America, Protect will be loaded on PCs in a cyber cafe for the skaters, so they can log onto any PC, check e-mail and use applications. When each skater signs off, the PC reverts to its original configuration, said John Weidenhammer, president of Weidenhammer Systems Corp., a Wyomissing, Pa., integrator which helped create the cyber cafe.

Blaser said that a computer's file system today is integrated with the user's data, but Protect makes the two physically separate, which keeps the computer's baseline unchanged. There are two DLLs, he said. One is in the baseline and one is in the layer that Protect creates.

"The personality data is above the baseline," he said. "When it is decoupled [when a person logs off] another person gets a pristine PC."

Blaser said IT admins can save money because they don't have to waste time reconfiguring machines in public access areas. "Staff can be redirected to more pressing needs," he said.

One analyst said that although he thought the software might be helpful to some, the company also might be challenged to find uses for its software beyond these environments where you have more than one person using a machine. "I don't hear a lot of people thinking about this," said Fred Broussard, a senior research analyst at International Data Corp., a Framingham, Mass., market research firm.

"IT departments aren't screaming about security at this level," Broussard said. "It's more about how do I manage log-ins on a network standpoint, not an individual standpoint."

Weidenhammer said he believes the software's potential is larger than most people think. "We tend to underestimate how many PCs are in a public-use venue, and it's a significant investment to keep those PCs current and operational," he said. "There are a lot of smart and mischievous students who are interested in leaving their mark behind," he said, referring to its potential for use in a college setting.

Weidenhammer said there are options, within Windows 2000 server and Windows XP, where an IT administrator can implement rules that can lock down the desktop. "In my estimation, it doesn't go as far as Protect, which creates an industrial strength barrier," he said.

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