September brings Microsoft goodies, US football

Von Oliver Rist

I"ve blown out my back, but I don"t much care. A ray of light has re-entered my life, and that ray is football season. Pigskin has absolutely nothing to do with the three new Microsoft software toys I"m about to discuss, but sometimes you"re so giddy (and doped up on painkillers) that you simply can"t come up with a better lead-in. Two of this week"s software toys are available right now, whilst the third is merely a new Redmondian feature that you"ll wish you could get.

The latter would be Freeze Dry , and no, this doesn"t refer to my last date"s disposition. It"s a Longhorn -- whoops, I mean Vista -- feature that (aptly) "freeze dries" your system state prior to you"re applying those highly reliable software updates, critical security patches, and service packs that the Northwestern horde deems fit to toss our way so often. Supposedly, Freeze Dry is designed to give Vista sys admins a warmer and fuzzier feeling about using Automatic Updates instead of updating patches manually over time.

The idea is if you save application states and open data with Freeze Dry, a patch install is less likely to lose that data or crash applications. I suppose that"s true, but it"s not the primary reason I delay patch and pack updates. I don"t know about you, but what I"m looking to avoid is a dozen angry support calls at 8 a.m. complaining that critical business applications no longer function properly -- or at all. It"s far safer to test patches fully with each departmental OS image in my safe, cramped datacenter before releasing them into the wild.

While Freeze Dry may cut down on application loss due to auto-installations, it can"t guarantee patch compatibility with existing business applications without prior testing. Doesn"t sound like Freeze Dry is going to cool down the ferocious-user problem. Then again, it"s better than nothing, especially if you"ve got multiple clients with pretty standard desktop setups, which is why I wish we could get it for XP.

Oh, well.

What you can get for XP, however, is SyncToy Version 1.0 (available as a free download here). This mini-application helps users copy, move, rename, and delete files not only between different folders, but more importantly, between separate computers. Check it out. I"ve tried SyncToy across several PCs now and found it to be not only intuitive, but surprisingly customizable.

SyncToy allows users to manage an entire list of folders simultaneously. Not only can it match content, but it can combine files and keep track of things like file renames. Although it"s pretty obvious that it was meant for folks who use their digital cameras more than is healthy, it"s also pretty handy for guys like me who swap their environment amongst numerous travel notebooks.

SyncToy, which was released as a beta in April, is one of Microsoft"s Windows XP PowerToys, which also include the Tweak UI, Power Calculator, HTML Slide Show Wizard, and more. I actually haven"t used any of them except Tweak UI -- and I really like that one.

You might think the next big Redmond software toy will be the freely downloadable Acrylic 2005 Community Technology Preview, Microsoft"s graphic-design tool. Even though that"s gotten some hype lately, I"m not that interested in it, further illustrating the rift between myself and graphically talented people. DTCPing is another new utility Microsoft just posted, but as its sole function is to aid in troubleshooting DTC firewalls, it"s not really sexy enough to spend time on, either.

Instead, let me once again mention the Baseline Security Analyzer , now in 2.0. We"re compliance-terrified and we"re using probably the most security-complex OS on the planet -- any help in that department should be exploited, and BSA really does help. You can use BSA graphically or off the command line. Just point it at all the various Microsoft servers on your network, and BSA will spit back things like missing security updates, patches, and a variety of other Microsoft security esoterica and errata. It still won"t auto-download them, but at least you"ll know where to go and what"s required.

OK, go play with all your new toys. I have to get back to preseason.