Product Reviews

From Cradle to Grave

NetInstall manages an application’s complete life cycle.

NetSupport Solutions Net-Install 5.7 is a software life-cycle management system that can distribute, deploy, configure and maintain applications through hotfixes and service packs and by updating security settings. Out of the box it offers powerful workstation management and software deployment with bare metal, application, and device driver and printer options.

NetInstall 5.7 includes support for Active Directory, Windows Server 2003, and Windows XP. It also supports add-on modules for integration with Microsoft’s System Management Server (SMS), and several other modules such as hardware and software inventory reporting.

NetInstall's central management console
The central management console contains the NetInstall site structure, with corresponding configuration parameters on the right. (Click image to view larger version.)

Setting up this serious software is lengthy and demands proper planning. Once installed, you’re presented with the NetInstall Manager screen, which helps create a software project; sets permissions and scheduling; installs the NetInstall workstation components; and installs the projects to your workstation.

Creating software projects requires use of a reference workstation—a system equipped with a default OS installation and service packs. Using the Initial Status analysis tool, NetInstall saves a system snapshot that includes the current file information, system variables and Registry settings. You then install the software you want to distribute on the reference workstation. NetInstall takes a second system snapshot that collects information and settings similar to the first snapshot, compares the two snapshots and notes any changes. There’s also a wizard to help build a distribution package and add information such as package name and custom variables, which is then stored on the distribution servers.

Another wizard then removes all traces of the package created on the reference workstation. This wizard lets you completely remove an application from the reference workstation after completing a distribution package, so the reference workstation is ready to create another distribution package with different software.

The NetInstall Manager allows you to map out administration based on a hierarchy of Organization, Sites and OUs.

When configuring Windows workstations, NetInstall runs as a service. I remotely installed and configured my XP workstations in a matter of minutes. The NetInstall Manager allowed me to monitor workstations individually or as a group. NetInstall’s useful administrative consoles allowed me to configure the right set of permissions even for my AD objects. This is a smart design and a great timesaver for enterprise networks.

To distribute the package to my test workstations, I configured them using the NetInstall Manager by viewing the workstations I wanted the packages installed on, and which users had permission to install the packages. To distribute packages, you can let users initiate a logon script or set an automatic deployment in a logon script. You can also use an automatic package distribution method in which the service on the workstation handles the installation without user intervention. I tested both methods, and they worked flawlessly.

NetInstall 5.7 is an enterprise-class product for workstation management and software deployment. Equipped with many online Help files and good documentation, NetInstall proved to be a powerful and well designed product. IT staff that face endless software upgrades will find this product worth its weight in gold.

About the Author

Andy Barkl, MCT/MCITP/MCSA, A+, Network+, Security+, CCNA has been studying technology for 30 years. Of the last 15 years, he has spent much of his time parting the knowledge and experience he has gained through IT exams, over 300, to help others be prepared and successful. He teaches classes in Phoenix, Ariz. where he has lived most of his life. He can be reached by e-mail at andy.barkl@gmail.com.

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