LOGINventory is a software inventory tool for Windows that claims to allow you to perform a hardware and software audit of your entire fleet of Windows machines, without the need to install special client software on each computer. Although this sounds a little far-fetched what it's actually doing is using the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) system to communicate with the various machines on the network. This is technology that ships with all modern versions of Windows and which is used by Windows' built-in management applications.
Although you don't need to install client software to use LOGINventory, you do need to configure the machines on your network to permit the LOGINventory application to make WMI connections in order to interrogate them. You can do this by hand by running WMIMGMT.MSC from the Start->Run box, or if you're using domain/AD policies you could distribute the settings via Windows' policy mechanisms.
Assuming you've configured the machines on your network to permit WMI to work, step one is to let LOGINventory find your computers. It does this via a little application called LOGINquiry, which is basically an IP address poller. You tell it the IP ranges in which you want to look (although it will pre-complete entries in the list for the ranges it knows about via the LAN settings on its own NICs) and then set it off to find what's out there on the network. It took only a couple of minutes to find all of the machines on our lab network (a standard Class C in the 192.168.1.x range) and it correctly identified what was a Windows machine and what wasn't.
When LOGINquiry has found compliant Windows machines, it passes their details to LOGINsert, which is the application that goes off and interrogates the remote devices. It doesn't seem to hammer the life out of the remote devices as it talks to them, presumably because the WMI infrastructure on each machine keeps a cache of its various parameters and so there's no need to go searching across the whole disk for software packages.
Once you've done the discovery and information fetch, you can get into the LOGINventory application itself, which lets you look at the data that the discovery programs found. It's an MMC plug-in, so the GUI follows the usual MMC structure. You can dig into the data either by computer ("Tell me what software is on Bob's PC"), by user ("Tell me which machines have a user called Administrator") or by item ("Tell me all PCs that are running application X"). The data is grouped into categories within two catch-all "Hardware" and "Software" sections. There's a subfolder for each variant, so if you have 10 600MHz machine you'll see a folder called Hardware->CPU Speeds->600 with 10 items in it, and so on.
The Analyse section is particularly interesting, as it allows you to define customised variants on what the Hardware and Software sections have told you. So while the Software section has one folder for each variant it's encountered of, say, Photoshop, you could define a custom section in the Analyse area that catches all versions of Photoshop. And it's here that you can do the other clever tricks like "Tell me all machines with less than 256MB RAM or a processor with a speed less than 500MHz".
Going back for a moment to the Software section of the package you can, in fact, tell the system what licences you have for each package via that package's Properties box, and let it work out what's legal and what's underlicensed. The reporting engine is accessed by right-clicking on each item. Although you can't customise a great deal, you don't really need to because the report it generates is logical - based on what you clicked. So if you select Report from the PCs entry, it'll do you a summary of the PCs' specs, whereas if you select Report from the Software entry, it'll do you a licence summary. Reports can be run on-screen and (optionally) printed, or saved to HTML versions for later perusal.
LOGINventory is one of those applications that does everything you want it to, with the minimum of fuss and with a user interface that works just how you'd expect it to. Everything you want is a click away. All the features (such as the custom analysis) that you expect are present. Although you'll probably have to muck about with WMI settings on your machines to make any use of it, this is the right thing to do - the vendors have clearly decided (correctly, in our view) that since Windows ships with WMI, why fart about with proprietary protocols when all we have to do is get the system manager to turn on the built-in features?
Other applications that do this kind of stuff are generally parts of suites, and so by choosing LOGINventory you may miss out on some of this functionality. LOGINventory is, however, a powerful application in its own right and it works so neatly that we think it's useful (and good value) in its own right.