Product Reviews

Falling from Orbit

Desktop Orbiter doesn't live up to its promises.

Whenever I review a product, I always start off with what the product says about itself. When the package says that it’s “the all-in-one remote management solution for Windows NT/2000/XP networks…a security application that will make networks safer and an administrator’s life easier,” I treat it with a high level of scrutiny, as this is quite a claim.

Desktop Orbiter from Anfibia is a simple client-server package that allows machine control from a single point of administration. The package comes with two basic pieces: the Orbiter (or console) and the Satellite (client).
The Satellite rolls out by performing a setup on one machine. Once that’s done, the executable can be used, with a bit of scripting, to install it to multiple boxes?although it requires a reboot to fully install the service. The attended install affords the opportunity to hard-code or auto-scan a server. Once installed, the Satellite runs silently on a client as a service, using 2.9MB RAM.

The Orbiter console is a single install and generally painless. A number of simple tasks are available from it. You can ping machines; lock consoles; disable keyboards and mice; take snapshots of screens; and logoff, reboot or shut down machines. You can also view a Task Manager and send messages as well as remote commands. The software provides a limited amount of policy control, allowing administrators to prevent certain applications from running by terminating them as they start, hiding desktop features, and preventing specific windows from appearing by targeting the title of the window.

One feature I found rather handy was the Satellite logging. From the Orbiter, I can pull a text log of everything a client did since the Satellite was loaded. I can see applications opening and closing, when the machine went online, and when my operations were ordered from the console; but that was about the only thing truly valuable.

The first annoyance cropped up after installing Orbiter to a Windows 2000 workstation. The program shortcuts were put in the user Start Menu and not in the All Users folder, forcing me to move the Start Menu icons to All Users to allow multiple people to use the Orbiter.

Also, Desktop Orbiter doesn’t favor mobility, which creates a few problems. All clients point to a specific IP as the server; if that IP changes, you have to go to every client and reinstall. As a result, you can’t use multiple consoles on the network. In addition, you can’t use VPN or remote solutions to connect to clients. The only remote solution that would work would be something like WinVNC or Terminal Services.

Related to this is the software’s dependence on the IP address itself. The Orbiter keeps track of machines by registering the IP. However, if the Satellite’s IP changes, Orbiter indicates a disconnected entry. If the Orbiter’s IP changes, all Satellites are lost. IP changes are certainly a concern in DHCP environments.

When I disabled a client’s keyboard and mouse from the Orbiter Console, I merely had to press Ctrl+Alt+Del at the client and press the Escape key. At that point, I had control of the workstation again, which seems to defeat the purpose of locking the interface.

All in all, this tool falls short of what it says it can do. Between the operating system and the Resource Kit, I can do many of the same tasks this product features. While it’s a nice toy, it’s not ready for prime time. Anfibia Desktop Orbiter is $65 for 1 to 49 licenses to $45 for more than 100 licenses.

About the Author

Rick A. Butler, MCSE+I, is the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

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