Windows users have typically used the Task Scheduler to set up programs to run at a given time. Unix users have had the same thing for a long time via a daemon named cron. The Task Scheduler's somewhat limited in its functionality, so a number of third-party replacements for it have sprung up.

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VisualCron is one of the best. It's a powerful task scheduling engine that uses the Windows GUI to make it easy to work with. All the standard functions available in the Task Scheduler are here as well: jobs can be scheduled to run once or at intervals under the default user account or under another account, and can be run on demand if needed (for instance, if a task was scheduled to run when the server experienced downtime).

The more advanced functions of VisualCron are what make it really worthwhile. The administrator can define exception lists for scheduled tasks, such as preventing a given application from running on holidays. Jobs can be run "hidden" (i.e., with no visible process) or even at random over a given period of time. You can execute remote scripts or perform HTTP GET/POST operations to, for instance, update a Web page or make sure a remote server is still running. Local users can be reminded when a task is running (or is about to run) -- for instance, if the task in question is likely to disrupt a user's work on the system, such as a defrag operation.

VisualCron includes functions for local automation when jobs are run, such as sending keystrokes to an application when it runs. Output from jobs (including nonzero error messages) can be redirected to a file or a given e-mail address. You can set jobs to run either on the local computer or on a machine accessible by RPC.

A single-machine personal license for VisualCron is $37; more licenses are available at a discount.


Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!

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This was first published in November 2005

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