Product Reviews

Getting Through the Maze

Active Administrator simplifies Group Policy management.

Active Directory’s Group Policy probably intimidates system administrators more than any other Windows 2000 feature, including AD itself. The complexity of Group Policy prevents many IT pros from taking advantage of this powerful feature—or from upgrading to AD altogether.

Active Administrator, one of many Win2K administrative utilities from Small Wonders Software, can make the process of Group Policy implementation much easier. You still need to develop expertise in Group Policy, but Active Administrator can provide invaluable help when planning, deploying and troubleshooting Group Policy Objects (GPOs).

Active Administrator boasts a more useable interface for Group Policy management than Microsoft’s AD Users and Computers. As the figure shows, the Group Policy Objects tab allows you to select any GPO in the enterprise and display details about it, including its filter settings and links. You can create new GPOs, edit the GPO settings (using the Microsoft default GPO editor), and link the GPO to sites, domains and Organizational Units (OUs).

Active Administrator includes some much-needed Group Policy features lacking in Win2K. Among these is the ability to copy GPOs across domains, which Win2K surprisingly can’t do. Also, Active Administrator can selectively back up and restore individual GPOs or groups of GPOs (normally, this would require a full backup of the domain controller’s system state). Also, the “Group Policy Objects by Container” tab allows you to select any site, domain or OU and easily list all the GPOs that apply to it, either through inheritance or direct links.

The powerful Resultant Set of Policy (RSoP) feature is probably worth the purchase price alone. This invaluable tool allows you to test Group Policy "what-if" scenarios. Active Administrator can also generate detailed RSoP reports that, based upon your queries, include a breakdown of the specific policy settings that will apply to the user and/or computer in your scenario. (The many different types of reports are another selling point.)

Active Administrator
Active Administrator’s Group Policy Objects display exposes essential information about a domain’s GPOs.

Active Administrator achieves less success in its goal of completely replacing Microsoft’s AD administration tools. Active Administrator certainly does a better job of exposing security settings than AD Users and Computers; its ability to produce reports on security settings—especially delegated administrative rights—is invaluable. However, if Small Wonders Software really wants to convince administrators to forgo AD Users and Computers altogether, it should add some simple but much needed features that Microsoft’s snap-ins lack: drag and drop functionality, for example, as well as the capability to make changes to several directory objects simultaneously.

Still, the fact that I wanted to use Active Administrator instead of AD Users and Computers speaks to the overall quality of the product. The utility is definitely worth a look.

About the Author

Ronald Stewart, MCSE+I, MCT, is an IT consultant in Vancouver, Canada. He has more than 10 years of experience in IT. He’s worked with, consulted on, and taught DNS.

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