PC-Duo is a suite of applications that allow the system manager to keep control of the computers on the network. The system comprises remote control, asset/inventory management, software metering and distribution, remote diagnostics and helpdesk software, all of which are controlled from a central "enterprise console". The package comprises client and server components. Obviously, you put the server components on the computer you're going to be using as the console (with the exception of the helpdesk package, which runs as a Web application and needs to sit on a machine running IIS). For each client machine, you need to install the "enterprise client". If you want to make a computer remote-controllable you'll need to install the remote control client separately. The installations are all managed from a single menu on the installer CD and you just pick the bits you want to install. To get started in the Enterprise system, you create a new "site". The first time you run the Enterprise Console (which is an MMC snap-in) you're taken through a wizard that asks a few simple questions (such as the name of the site) and configures the back-end database appropriately. Part of the process is to create a preconfigured "client kit", which the server makes available in a shared directory and which you run on each client computer to (a) enable PC-Duo functions and (b) make it aware of how to communicate with the server. When the client installer is run, it spends some time looking into the client computer's settings and installed software before reporting back to the server, which polls at a given interval (which you can change) for new clients. The sensible place to start is the Clients' section, which is where you can list the various computers on the network based on their physical characteristics. Along with an All clients option, there are a bunch of pre-defined client "groups", which are defined based on physical properties of the computers. So there's an item for IBM computers, an item for computers with 64MB RAM, and so on. If you want to define your own groups that's fine. You'll actually find yourself building SQL queries, though there's a wizard to help you. If what you want to do is similar to an existing entry, you can clone it and simply make the necessary changes. Each item in the right-hand pane can be examined in detail for both its in-depth hardware profile and installed software. The latter item uses a semi-intelligent mechanism to figure out what applications are installed - so it knows that a particular combination of files equates to a particular application. Applications it knows about are listed in one area, applications it thinks it's recognised in another and applications it doesn't know in a third. If you have home-built applications, you can add them to the list of recognised applications via a wizard that figures out what files each one uses. The Asset Management section is where you can monitor the various software installed and in use on the PCs around the company. You can define 'packages', which are collections of applications that a PC might use (so you might have one for sales staff, one for secretaries and so on) and allocate these packages to PCs. The system will report on who has stuff they shouldn't have, who doesn't have stuff they should have and who has been running what. If the products you use can be licensed, based on concurrent usage, these screens will give you the concurrent usage data as well. Related to the asset management aspect is the software deployment tool, which adds the ability to roll out applications to client computers based on a schedule and the Diagnostics component, which allows the system to automatically take "snapshots" of applications and their related files. Consequently, if something breaks with an application you can roll back to a known-working version. The Remote Control package, as it sounds, allows the central console to take control of a client computer. There are three modes you can choose: complete control (so the user can't do anything while you're fiddling); shared control (so both you and the user can move the mouse and do actions) and watch only (where you have no control, you're just watching the user). Next along the list of options, the HelpDesk is a Web-based issue logging and reporting tool, although if you're using it from the MMS snap-in, the Web images pop up in the right-hand window as if they were just another Windows application. There's nothing particularly complex to the helpdesk but it provides a useful mechanism for tracking issues and enabling issues to report problems to the IT department. The final thing to mention about PC-Duo is the inevitable reporting facility, which enables you to run either built-in reports (which can be found both embedded in the various other sections, such as the software auditing area, and in a separate reporting section) or to produce your own custom data. Because the underlying data store is a relational database (which can be a big RDBMS if you so desire, although if not it'll install a runtime version of Access and use that) you can dip into the tables at random, if you're feeling adventurous. The main potential downside with PC-Duo Enterprise, though, is not that it doesn't work (because in our lab that wasn't the case) but that more and more of its functions are being built into Windows. Windows XP has remote control built in, for instance, and if you want to roll out software across the organisation, you can do so via Windows policies. That said, however, we think that on balance there is a market for PC-Duo. Although you can indeed do stuff, like software installations, using Windows standard functions, some of them (such as software rollouts) rely on you defining often-complex policies. You also need to have the appropriate software available in a supported "installer package" form (which isn't the case, for example, with Oracle's client drivers or a shedload of other packages for that matter). And anyway, PC Duo doesn't rely on you farting about with domain or Active Directory settings, whereas many of the Windows equivalents do. PC-Duo has some very interesting and useful features. The hardware and software inventory functions are extremely useful, and the software asset management functionality is also useful, though a bit clunky to use. The remote control package is also rather good and coped with all the weird screen resolutions and whatnot we threw at it. The helpdesk's basic but usable, the various reports are pretty comprehensive and although the software distribution tool takes a bit of getting to grips with, central distribution is certainly more attractive than walking around with a CD. Additionally, the server-end functionality is collected together into a central console, making it relatively simple to use.

OUR VERDICT

When buying an integrated package like this, consider whether you actually need all the functions, or whether your real need is for one or two packages that give merely a subset of the integrated system's features. Bear in mind, though, that if there's not a huge price difference between the integrated system and the standalone packages, the fact that the former's components work together may be worth the extra money.