When there's a problem with a system (it isn't doing what you expect, it runs slow, it won't connect, it has unexpected program terminations) it's always good to know what interactions are going on. And that means you need to know the state of the system, what hardware is connected, which drivers are installed, what software is available, what software is running and more information of that type.
Most users in your organization won't have a clue about this kind of info. But Windows XP makes it easier for administrators to figure out what's been installed on a system through a set of wizards in the Help and Support Center. Select Help and Support from the Start menu, then pick on the Use Tools link in the Pick a Task section. The first tool in the list that is offered is My Computer Information. Among the wizards you will find is a general hardware wizard, system information, installed software and registration numbers (particularly for Microsoft software), and an advanced system information selection that will open up a number of tools such as MSInfo32.exe, the Services dialog box, the Group Policies Applied dialog box, the Error log, and a remote computer view.
The My Computer Information tools are a very convenient location from which to build a profile of a system, and the generated lists are typically printable for later reference. It's a good idea to keep a set of printout for each of the clients you are managing for future reference and planning.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield, Mass.). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.