SAN MATEO (05/01/2000) - One of the biggest challenges facing system administrators is finding a manageable way to distribute software, especially on the enterprise level. A simple manual software installation or upgrade can cost IT staff members an obscene amount of time and productivity. Even if all goes well, about two staff weeks are lost for every 40 PCs -- and usually all does not go well.
Human error and configuration variances make it difficult to install software identically on a large number of machines, and the resulting inconsistencies cause support problems and additional IS visits to user PCs. To compound all this wasted time, the employees to whom the software is being distributed are often unable to use their computers during this nightmare; hence, a costly loss of overall productivity.
By taking a "picture" of the file and registry changes that occur on a PC when software is installed, and packaging these changes for staff members to access, Lanovation's PictureTaker Enterprise Edition (PTEE) 3.0 allows employees themselves to easily install or upgrade software within a matter of minutes.
The product eliminates the need for in-person IS visits to employee PCs and ensures that the software will be identically installed everywhere. However, the features that would make PTEE a true enterprise-class solution, such as the option for system managers to force software upon a user's PC, are lacking.
Therefore, I can score the product no higher than Very Good.
A key advantage of the PTEE software distribution package is its new Conflict Checker Professional feature, which allowed me to compare several distribution packages and examine any conflicts -- such as registry entries and DLL files -- that may exist between them. This greatly helps prevent problems when installing multiple packages at the same time.
PTEE does not include a transport mechanism, which is at once a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that the system manager can use existing tools to install software, such as adding instructions to log-in scripts, incorporating the PTEE files into Web pages where users can invoke them, and using PTEE files with other installation tools. But while this makes PTEE a very flexible package, it reduces feedback to the manager.
PTEE can install software through log-in scripts, e-mail, and Web interfaces.
It can create self-installing executables and work with any other software distribution package. I especially appreciated that it can be used as part of a troubleshooting process.
With all of these useful features in mind, it may seem churlish to complain that the product's software distribution options are limited. However, PTEE does not allow network managers to force software installations from their desktops. There are times when users won't want to install software themselves, and the ability to push it to them can be invaluable.
Similarly missing is the administrator's ability to get feedback from PCs on which the software was installed. Lanovation recommends using a scheduler to recover the installation log files, but an integrated solution that would return completion results and exception reports would make this a much stronger product.
A final lacking feature is the option to automatically stage software for distribution to remote servers, allowing users to install from nearby servers.
These deficiencies notwithstanding, PictureTaker Enterprise Edition 3.0 is still a solid product that will pay for itself the first time you use it, and it earns a score of Very Good.
Mike Avery (firstname.lastname@example.org), is a networking consultant in Beaumont, Texas.
THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD
PictureTaker Enterprise Edition 3.0
Business Case: PictureTaker Enterprise Edition 3.0 reduces the costs, downtime, hassle, and inconsistencies associated with manual software distribution. At around $20 per seat, PTEE can pay for itself the first time you use it, and you'll use it a lot.
Technology Case: PictureTaker Enterprise Edition records changes before and after software installation and creates simple-to-use distribution packages.
But critical enterprise options are missing, such as the ability to push software upon users.
+ Allows quick and easy software installation+ Flexible interoperation with a wide range of NOS and management platforms+ Minimizes multiple-package installation conflicts+ Very attractive priceCons:
- Lacks ability to push software
- Lacks integrated status reporting
- Lacks multilevel software staging capabilityCost: $2000 for 100 PCsPlatform(s): Windows 95/98/2000, and Windows NT 4.0Lanovation, Minneapolis; (800) 742-8253; www.lanovation.com