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IT professionals worry about availability of Sysinternals tools

In the wake of Microsoft's acquisition of Sysinternals, IT managers worry about how long the software giant will continue to make free tools available on the Web site.

Microsoft's recent acquisition of Winternals and its Sysinternals Web site, a leading source of Windows admin freeware, has some IT managers so nervous about the future availability of the free software that they are downloading it just in case the site disappears.

Earlier this week Microsoft acquired Winternals Software LP, an Austin, Texas-based company that provides Windows-based systems recovery and data protection products. The deal also includes the acquisition of the Winternals Web site, called Sysinternals, an enormously popular destination for Windows users that includes forums, blogs and free software tools. Microsoft said in a statement that it was the technical expertise of Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell -- the two men who co-founded Winternals in 1996 -- as well as the Sysinternals Web site that prompted it to make the acquisition.

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Russinovich said after the acquisition in his Sysinternals blog that the free tools would stay on the Web site for the time being. He added that at some point Winternals tools will be integrated into existing Microsoft products or offered as Microsoft-branded tools.

That realization struck an unsettling chord with some users.

"Without his free tools, I can't do my job," said Clyde Johnson, senior network and systems engineer at Ametek HCC Industries in New Bedford, Mass. "There is no other tool offered that can let me see what's happening at the operating system level. Microsoft doesn't offer anything like it," he said. Johnson is not taking any chances. He said he has already downloaded all the tools available on the Sysinternals Web site in case they vanish.

Based on threads attached to Russinovich's blog on the Sysinternals Web site, Johnson certainly is not alone. Some said they too are downloading the tools before they disappear. Others bemoaned Russinovich's loss of independence from Microsoft, but there were also many congratulatory messages and hopes that Microsoft tools would now improve.

Hope for better, faster tools from Microsoft

"I'm not in a panic," said Michael Bodette, systems administrator for Mayo Medical Ventures in Rochester, Minn. He added that he uses some of the free tools available from Sysinternals, but he doesn't think they will go away any time soon.

"At the same time I would hope that Microsoft would apply that technology to their existing technology to bolster their server systems," Bodette said. "I've found trying to monitor a Windows server for activity to be cumbersome. I hope they use some of this newly acquired technology to make that process a bit better," he said.

John Pescatore, a security analyst with Gartner Group, the Stamford, Conn.-based IT research and advisory company, sees the acquisition as more about Microsoft bringing in fresh talent than about acquiring tools.

"Just as they bought Groove and got Ray Ozzie as a successor to [Bill Gates], they're bringing in outside blood and that's good," Pescatore said. It also brings in more people who have experience developing products quickly, compared to Microsoft's lengthy product cycles of as much as five years.

Well-renowned expertise put to good use

The acquisition is also recognition on Microsoft's part that they have nothing as good as Winternals and Sysinternals tools to offer customers, according to Neil Macehiter, a partner in the UK IT analyst firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton.

"Microsoft, by virtue of Russinovich's new role, acknowledges that his well-renowned expertise can be put to good use to address some of these omissions," Macehiter said. "Microsoft will have to tread carefully though and avoid the temptation to subsume the Sysinternals/Winternals technologies too quickly. Operations personnel will want continued access to them and will not be prepared to wait for future capabilities to be rolled into the Microsoft product delivery process," he said.

"I think this is Microsoft sending a message to one of its key constituencies -- that it is listening to what they are saying and taking positive action to respond," Macehiter said.

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