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Web-manage the end-user

Does the Web trump automated software distribution tools? Intelligently managing end-user computing Automated software distribution tools made sense in the client/server world, but does the Web change the way we manage end-user devices? By Maggie Biggs

Well, this year you all lucked out! April Fools Day was yesterday, so I cannot really pull any pranks in this column today. Actually, I have more serious things on my mind this week.

I’ve been testing a new release of Cognet Corp.’s Cognet 3.5–a software distribution and desktop management tool. Priced at $75 per user in small-business settings, Cognet helps you automate the process of distributing software to your end-users by managing the effort centrally. (It’s limited to Windows-based applications and end-user platforms.)

Cognet works as advertised. I used it in a traditional client/server test environment that included a Windows 2000 server and 40 Windows-based client machines. I was able to easily package and deploy a variety of Windows-based software with ease.

The testing process got me thinking, however, since most small businesses are not simply running Windows-based software and systems. Although my test network does contain some Windows-based systems, I also have other platforms, including Macintosh, Linux, BSD, Solaris, AS/400, and several others. Many small businesses are running varied platforms to support specific business functions, or open-source platforms to reduce the cost of doing business.

So, the question becomes, how can you manage software distribution and standardized end-user systems in a mixed platform, post-PC world? The answer is quite simple: leverage Web standards and leave the proprietary world behind. This will reduce the costs associated with desktop management.

One successful small business I know of has embraced Web technologies as a way to support end-user computing. For its approximately 200 end-user systems, this company provides a series of pages on its intranet that list the supported software on each platform the company uses. Users find links to available software and can pull it down at will. Special instructions are also included on the intranet. If a special software update is necessary, network administrators send a notification with an appropriate link.

Even the least-experienced end-users at this small business are able to click through to locate the appropriate software and follow the instructions to install and configure it. Even operating system release updates are handled in this manner.

The contrast to the traditional software distribution solution, such as Cognet, is an interesting one. A few years ago, end-users were not as savvy, and thus we had to invest in software to control and manage end-user desktops.

Today, users have gained knowledge and are taking control via Web technologies. Self-service is the order of the day. Thus, it strikes me that perhaps automated software distribution solutions are not as great an investment as once thought. It seems to me that by leveraging Web technologies rather than proprietary control mechanisms, we approach end-user support in a more economical fashion. We also free ourselves from a single-platform, single-vendor paradigm. That added choice will go much further toward better supporting small businesses.

Do you agree? Write to me.

Contributing Editor Maggie Biggs has more than 15 years of business and IT experience in the financial sector.

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