Your software may be more versatile than you think

Desktop management software is an example of a technology that can take on chores that go beyond its original intent.

In this time when every dollar spent on IT must be justified, it's good to know that some of the products that you already own can do double duty -- in ways that you might never have imagined.

Desktop management software is one example of a product that can take on chores that go beyond its original intent. Users are adapting products to do things that programmers never thought of when they created their software, said Mel Raff, chairman and executive vice president of product operations at OnDemand Software Inc., Bonita Springs, Fla. Raff is the inventor of WinInstall, a desktop management tool and OnDemand's flagship product.

"Adaptability of your desktop management software to take care of different problems is a key advantage of that product," Raff said. "It's worth your while to see what capabilities you have, because you can possibly save big bucks."

Desktop management tools are usually associated with jobs such as software distribution and inventory. Some products may do one or the other, or both. Some products can also be used to push out software-configuration changes, Raff said.

Separating configuration changes

Most of the time, customers are thinking about distributing an entire application, but you can make configuration changes that may have nothing to do with the application. "You could make a change to the network configuration, or to the wallpaper [or] the default desktop settings," he said. "You can capture those settings and roll them out as if they were a software package."

Desktop management software can also help IT managers lock down security settings, so settings are reset every time a user logs on. There are security settings in Internet Explorer that an IT staff may not want their end users to change. You can use your existing inventory package to figure out which PCs are using IE, and which version they are using. Then you can decide which PCs should get a particular policy, he said.

Raff said that IT staffers can use their in-house software distribution tools -- especially those that are integrated with an inventory product -- to download patches and test them. And when a patch is ready to roll out, it can be wrapped in a software-distribution package.

"If the software distribution package is integrated with inventory software, you can probably do a quick query to find out which workstations are appropriate to receive the patch," Raff said.

Making migrations easier

And desktop management products can also be used to help automate a migration. During a migration, IT administrators go through a series of steps. First, they determine which workstations are candidates. They wipe the PCs of data and migrate the users' data to other places. Then they format the hard drives, install software and perform quality-assurance testing.

Depending on the type of desktop management product you have, it could be used to format the hard drive or install the operating system and applications. Most administrators might think of using desktop management software as part of a rollout of new hardware, not as part of a migration, Raff said. "This is a permutation of that," he said.

Desktop management software can also be used to make sure users have current virus definitions.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Tip: Top 10 ways to improve desktop management

Special report: News from Microsoft Management Summit 2004

Best Web Links: Desktop management

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