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Tools spring up to harness Group Policy's potential

From software that eliminates login scripts to tools for software deployment, third-party products are emerging to help enterprises get more out of a key component of Microsoft's Active Directory.

Many administrators have shied away from using the myriad features of Group Policy when managing Microsoft's Active Directory, but third-party software is emerging that may make the software more useful.

"There are all sorts of opportunities for third parties to get in the game for Group Policy," said consultant

There are all sorts of opportunities for third parties to get in the game for Group Policy.

Jeremy Moskowitz, consultant

and Group Policy expert Jeremy Moskowitz, and there are several niches that these developing products can fill.

"What we saw from our experience in desktop management was that people wanted to do things that couldn't be done," said Eric Voskuil, co-founder and chief technology officer of AutoProf Inc., a Portsmouth, N.H., company that has developed Group Policy desktop and patch management extensions.

"Everybody has to implement Group Policy to really have an Active Directory network, but some people don't use it beyond that," Voskuil said. To fill holes in what administrators want the software to do, "people have been left using scripting utilities or legacy utilities, and that's not Group Policy," he said. "What we did was took a lot of the things that people needed to write scripts to do and made them a part of Group Policy."

Bill Van Aacken, senior IT specialist with Minneapolis-based Bemis Company Inc., was looking for a product that could eliminate the lengthy login script needed to start all of his company's

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5,000 computers. "It was a typical programming language, and I run it through debuggers, but invariably something will not work," Van Aacken said. Third-party software should alleviate the problem, he said.

Using third-party software also allows Van Aacken to go on vacation without worrying that his network will disappear in his absence. "We're just coming off of a holiday, and I was out for a week and a half. If someone needed mapped drives or mapped printers, it's GUI controlled," he said. "We're still in transition, but [in the] long term I think it will [make my job easier] because we can have a lot of the things be more dynamic and more graphical."

Lindon, Utah-based Vintela Inc., a founding partner in the Group Policy Task Force to develop Group Policy standards, has developed a product that allows Microsoft's product to run on Unix and Linux hosts. And Special Operations Software, a Swedish software company, recently announced the release of a product that it hopes will simplify the software deployment functionality of Group Policy.

As more products emerge, Moskowitz is attempting to make them easy to access and understand for Group Policy users. He is launching a Web site later this year that will host paid listings from vendors of third-party Group Policy tools to make them easier to find for administrators and those who need them. Listings will be grouped by company, by product and by "problem that you're trying to solve."

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