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Microsoft buy promises easier Group Policy management

Microsoft snapped up closely held DesktopStandard, a small software company that specializes in policy-based management tools.

IT managers looking to manage their complex Group Policy environments may get the help they need with Microsoft's acquisition today of a small company that makes policy management tools.

Microsoft acquired privately held DesktopStandard Corp., based in Portsmouth, N.H., for an undisclosed sum. The deal includes the acquisition of the DesktopStandard's tools GPOVault, ProfileMaker, PolicyMaker Standard Edition and Share Manager.

The acquisition does not include DesktopStandard's PolicyMaker Application Security business. That tool will be spun off into a separate company called BeyondTrust Corp., both companies said.

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Group Policy is a useful but complex technology that helps IT admins add rights and settings across their networks. Products are designed with this feature, for example, to help administrators consolidate their Group Policy Objects and add new extensions for the desktop environment.

By adding DesktopStandard tools into the fold, Microsoft will likely fill some gaps in its own Group Policy Management Console. "There are blank spots in the native Microsoft tools to administer policies," said Laura Hunter, IT project leader at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "[DesktopStandard] knows this and has been filling in those holes. It's fairly common for Microsoft to go after companies that are doing cool things and extend the capabilities of [its] existing products."

Many IT managers are happy for any help they can get when it comes to managing Group Policy. The technology is not difficult to understand, but there are many variables to make it complex -- and for good reason.

"The more policies you set, the better Group Policy is," said Dave Chacon, information services technical services manager at Ping Inc. in Phoenix. "But the more settings you have the more complex Group Policy becomes," he added. "We try to manage as much as possible through Group Policy because it saves us effort in having to manage each setting."

Hunter said a big focus for IT managers is not only Group Policy but also overall change management and network administration.

"It's easy to set up a policy, but the question many [IT managers] are wondering is should they create it or does it already exist somewhere else and [they are] just adding another unnecessary layer," she said. "So change management is on a lot of people's minds and something that DesktopStandard is trying to bring to the table."

Margie Semilof, News Director, contributed to this story.

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