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Scot Abel, CEO of Spiceworks, says that IT, particularly at small and midsize companies, gets the shaft when it comes to systems management software, which he contends is expensive to buy and overly complex to install and manage. In contrast, Abel claims that his Spiceworks IT Desktop software offers "dramatically simplified" management capabilities.

And it's free -- as long as you don't mind letting a portion of your screen's real estate be used to show context-sensitive ads. For example, if you're reviewing a printer's status, you might see an ad touting ink-jet supplies. Abel says IT Desktop gives you reports about what software is on your network, the available disk capacity on your storage systems, printer ink levels and much more. In early 2007, look for Spiceworks to add support for log-ins from multiple accounts and for attachments that contain info about the trouble tickets IT Desktop generates.

Gather your dispersed development team ...... in a single (virtual) space. Such is the vision of Darren Levy, founder of GatherSpace.com, an online service offered by Levy Consulting. According to Levy, even small and midsize companies like his are using outsourced or offshore developers on software projects. But many can't afford spendy project management tools to keep track of whether a new application's features meet the original specifications. Levy says GatherSpace.com's service is based on the so-called use-case approach to application requirements management, enabling users to prioritize software features, check their status and see how well they match the original requirements documents. "It helps build software by consensus," he claims. Next month, GatherSpace.com plans to add test management tools for quality assurance engineers, and a licensed, on-premises version of the software is due next year Levy says. The online service costs US$75 per month for a 20-member project team.

'Tis the season to fret about ...... the online experiences of your Web shoppers. Although it may be a bit late to improve your Web site for this year's holiday season, Keynote Systems can help you get a jump on the 2007 shopping action with a testing service called Transaction Perspective High Frequency, which it plans to launch in late December. Using Internet Explorer to automatically bang on your site up to four times per hour from as many as 114 locations, Keynote will let you see how shoppers interact with all those Web 2.0 features you've been adding. "You can measure whatever an IE browser can touch," says Abelardo Gonzalez, a Keynote project manager. Among other capabilities, you'll be able to determine how fast pages load and locate performance bottlenecks. Pricing starts at US$1,295 per month for testing from 10 locations.

Inventory what's on your network, then ...... manage access to it. "IT has no idea what's connected to their network," contends Lior Tal, CEO of Insightix Ltd. in Ra'anana, Israel. Tal says that's especially true if you're using management frameworks like Tivoli and Unicenter. He claims that they miss a lot, including mobile devices that aren't connected to the network during the inventory process, outsiders who attach to a LAN with static IP addresses and PCs that have active firewalls. You can't get a good idea about what policies to apply for network access until you have a complete inventory, Tal says. His company's Insightix Network Access Control Server is a card-and-software combo that runs on your network's switches and sniffs each packet going by to locate its device of origin. Once you've set policies on access rights, devices found to be out of compliance are placed in quarantine and only permitted to communicate with a remediation server, according to Tal. Version 3.0, which ships this week, provides graphical views of a network's logical connections and lets you sort your systems inventory in a variety of ways, such as Windows PCs with live firewalls. Pricing starts at US$5,000.

Highlight info on the Internet ...... via an online service. A free, ad-based service offered by i-Lighter lets end users highlight content on a Web page and save it to a folder as a separate file. According to CEO Marcy Hoffman, you can annotate highlighted content and designate folders for public viewing or keep them private. The service initially works on IE; next week, i-Lighter will add support for the Firefox browser. Hoffman says the company also is working on a licensed enterprise version and on making i-Lighter work with Word and PDF documents.

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