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Toolbox New Products for IT Pros
The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Microsoft. All prices were confirmed October 2, 2008, and are subject to change.
The typical computer user probably has no need or desire to muck around with the partitions of his system. But if you are in the IT business or you are a serious computer user, or both, it has probably been necessary for you at one time or another to shuffle the partitions on your system drives.
If the latter description is true of you, then you will be happy to learn that there is a great free tool out there that can help you manage your partitions—GParted. GParted, also known as Gnome Partition Manager, is a community-supported and open-source project. It is an industrial-strength package for creating, destroying, resizing, checking, and copying partitions and the file systems on them.
A side venture of the project and the focus of this review is GParted Live, which is basically the GParted application bundled onto a small bootable live CD version of Debian GNU/Linux. It enables you to use all of the features of the latest versions of GParted.
To get started, you simply download the .iso file from the project Web site and burn it to a CD. Once that has been completed, you reboot your system to the CD and GParted Live kicks into action, starting a small Linux instance in memory. The tool then automatically detects your subsystems and launches XWindows, presenting a graphical UI for GParted.
The desktop includes big buttons for launching a shell (command prompt), changing your screen resolution, mounting a USB drive, taking a screenshot, and rebooting the system. Once you're up and running, you can easily create, move, resize, mark as bootable, and delete partitions on your drives. You can also do the same for file systems of pretty much any type you need on those partitions. In addition to marking a partition bootable, you can also set flags, such as hidden, LVM, and RAID.
The project Web site offers instructions and downloads for a bootable USB version of GParted. You can link to numerous walk-throughs that can guide you through the issues you may encounter when resizing Windows Vista system partitions. If you're looking for a robust and easy-to-use partition management solution, consider adding GParted Live to your toolbox.
Manage system partitions with GParted Live (Click the image for a larger view)
Check Site Links
Xenu Link Sleuth
Whether you run a giant content-driven Web site, you are responsible for your company's intranet, or you just have a personal blog, it's a good idea to verify that the links within the content and on the site remain valid over time. One tool that will help you identify rogue and dead links is the free Link Sleuth from Xenu.
Link Sleuth has a simple design and is easy to use. You simply point the tool to the URL (or set of URLs) that you wish to use as your starting point and click OK in order to start crawling your site. Even SSL links are fair game.
The utility then kicks off a number of parallel threads to request the pages referred to from your starting point. As the spidering progresses, feedback includes a collection of color-coded links in which green means good and red means bad.
In addition to the link on the site, the UI also shows you a specific status code for the request's response, the content type of the response (such as text/xml or text/html), the size of the page request in bytes, the page title, the number of links into and out of that requested page, the type of Web server, the type of error if one is encountered upon request, and the time it took to get a complete response from the request. The error messages returned contain more than the response code; they include helpful messages.
In terms of options, you can choose whether to follow external links encountered to help you verify that any external content you're linking to is valid. You can also choose what types of links you want to report, such as redirects, broken links, FTP URLs, text URLs, and orphaned files.
As a default, Link Sleuth kicks off 30 threads in parallel when it crawls your site, but you can adjust the number to be between 1 and 100, depending on your environment. Once finished, the application can generate an HTML report of the links it found, as well as a site map and a bunch of useful aggregate data reports about what it encountered. From the UI, you can also choose to retry any broken links or export the results to a tab-delimited file. All in all, Link Sleuth is a useful, free, and simple link checker.
Validate site links with Link Sleuth (Click the image for a larger view)
Manage Your Environment
Centralized control over desktops throughout your organization can be a real time saver. This can help you enforce company policy and security procedures as well as mitigate threats by ensuring machines are up to date with antivirus, anti-spyware, and the latest applicable patches. But most important, you can do all this without having to walk around to individual machines.
One application that can help you manage your environment is Desktop Authority from ScriptLogic. Desktop Authority lets you manage your Windows clients (Windows 95 through Windows Vista) from a centralized graphical user interface (though some of the features are only supported for Windows 2000 and later). With this tool, you can ensure that corporate standards and regulatory compliance are enforced across the machines within your environment.
One of the features that make this solution stand out from some of its competitors is the granularity to which you can perform management tasks, allowing you to adapt the configurations to meet the needs of a diverse set of end users. You can turn on and modify the exceptions for Windows Firewall on your client machines, for example. You can also add printers, map network drives, set environment variables, and specify file permissions. Other profile options allow you to manage Outlook profiles, Microsoft Office preferences, and Internet Explorer defaults.
It is also easy to ensure power schemes and inactivity timeouts, modify registry settings, display legal notices, and apply Group Policy templates across your domain. You can add any custom pre- or post-logon script you may need. You can even coordinate application installations and updates through remote Microsoft Installer deployment on a scheduled basis.
All user profile, customization, and hardware and software inventory information is stored in a centralized SQL Server database (a requirement for installation). This allows for easy recovery and auditing.
Desktop Authority includes a reporting tool that is useful when you need to audit the machines in your environment. It offers a number of pre-configured reports that cover hardware and software inventories; patch and OS status; and profile details, such as Outlook settings, power schemes, and Windows Firewall settings.
Most of the reports can be tweaked, but if you have a very particular requirement, you can use the Report Wizard to generate the exact data you need. Report layouts, graphics, and details are all customizable, and reports can be generated as PDFs, Excel spreadsheets, RTFs, text, TIFFs, and HTML. And, for convenience, you can schedule and e-mail the reports to keep automated tabs on your environment.
ScriptLogic offers optional add-on components that let you achieve even greater control over your workstations. The USB and Port Security option allows you to lock down things such as USB ports, Bluetooth devices, PCMCIA controllers, and WiFi devices. The Patch Management option can automatically download and distribute patches for the operating system and other applications based on the schedule, validation, and patch class logic you choose to apply. And a Spyware Detection and Removal option consolidates scanning, removal, and reporting of malware in your environment.
Price: Starts at $39 per seat.
Manage your environment with Desktop Authority (Click the image for a larger view)
Cheat at Administering Office Communications Server 2007
Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 is an expansion from Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005, and it represents a huge leap forward from the previous LCS 2003. This server application set delivers integrated management of real-time communication in your organization, covering Voice over IP (VoIP), voicemail, IM, and Web conferencing. It even supports integration with PBX systems.
OCS 2007 clearly offers a lot of new features and capabilities. Fortunately, How to Cheat at Administering Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (Syngress, 2007) can help you get up to speed quickly, whether you are planning a new deployment, managing an existing deployment, or simply curious about what OCS 2007 can do.
If you are familiar with other books in the How to Cheat at … series, you will notice that this book sticks to the familiar format. It starts out with a chapter on what people mean by unified communications, offering a short history of software communication, the advent of IP communications (and the technological hurdles therein), and an explanation of the Microsoft strategy for unification.
The book then gives an overview of some of the new and improved features you'll find in OCS 2007, such as "enhanced presence" capabilities (this, in case you're wondering, has to do with how OCS 2007 provides the availability, connectivity, and location of a user you are trying to connect with), group IM, Web conferencing, archiving, and improved federation. There is also an overview of the different server role components: the front-end server, edge server, mediation server, archiving server, and communicator Web access.
After the introductory chapters, the book guides you through the installation of a front-end server. This server handles basic presence functionality; authentication; filtering of SPIM (the IM equivalent of SPAM); and routing of VoIP calls, IM, and conferencing traffic.
The book then covers the new Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, which is basically the end user's front end to OCS. This tool allows the user to control presence, contacts, history, alerts, and audio/visual features for voice calling and video conferencing. The book explains these capabilities as well as covers the basics of how to customize Office Communicator by tailoring menus and features for your environment.
The next few sections explain how to set up a consolidated edge server (the services that connect your OCS environment to the outside world) with all three edge services on the same machine—Access Edge, A/V Edge, and Web Conferencing Edge. Moving on to the Mediation server component of an OCS deployment, the book demonstrates the installation and configuration options for handling PBX and Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) legacy system integration.
Archiving and standards compliance is now a legal necessity that touches many parts of your infrastructure and communications. The following chapter focuses on this, detailing how OCS 2007 addresses those issues through the archival and call detail record (CDR) server role. Here the book also touches on the specifics of compliance for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the SEC, and Sarbanes-Oxley as it relates to IM history, meetings, and call history.
Next, you find out how to configure conferencing services in an OCS deployment, and you learn how to configure and use Office Communicator for videoconferencing. The book also explains how Office Communicator integrates with Outlook and details the differences between on-premises and hosted live meeting conferencing. Here, too, you can find out how to use the Live Meeting client to share applications, desktops, and whiteboards, as well as how to conduct real-time polls and Q&A sessions as the conference progresses.
Following conferencing, the book goes on to cover other forms of integration, such as joining PBX and IP-PBX systems to your deployment through the use of two voice solutions: the Enterprise Voice option (which uses computer microphones and speakers or headsets) and a gateway device to connect to your traditional PBX system and Remote Call Control, or RCC, (in which the office communications client sends the digits of your call to a PBX phone that then handles the call).
The book provides useful information on how to get OCS 2007 to work with the Unified Messaging features offered by Exchange 2007. This covers the basics of configuring and integrating the two systems so users, for instance, can create and access voicemails from the Communicator client and receive missed-call notifications in Outlook and Communicator. If you already have an LCS 2005 infrastructure in place, you will find great benefit from the chapter that covers upgrades, options, and strategies for migrating.
The book ends with a section discussing OCS 2007 management. It explains using logs, usage records, the route helper, and the snooper tool to tune and monitor your own deployment.
Greg Steen is a technology professional, entrepreneur, and enthusiast. He is always on the hunt for new tools to help make operations, QA, and development easier for the IT professional.