In-Depth

Editors' Choice Awards: Thumbs Up!

Redmond's resident critics pick their favorites in this year's Editors' Choice Awards.

The movies have "Ebert & Roeper" and fine restaurants have The New York Times reviews. When it comes to opinions about Windows tools, Redmond magazine's experts have them in spades. Now they're revealing their insights and picking their favorite products in 19 categories for our 2005 Editors' Choice Awards.

One thing is certain: The Windows software arena continues to shift and evolve. This year's winning entries hail from giants such as Microsoft and CA, smaller firms like Future Systems, and open source providers like The Mozilla Foundation. So without further ado, let's see what our panel of experts thinks is state of the art in the Windows market.

Categories
Web Browser Network Monitoring
Desktop Virtualization Software Distribution
Anti-Virus Group Policy Manager
Anti-Spyware Network Automation
Anti-Spam Asset/License Management
Firewall PC Migration
IDS/IPS Scripting Tools
Security Systems/Access Control PC Backup
Patch Management Exam Prep Product or Service
Systems Management

Web Browser
Mozilla Firefox
Judge: Don Jones

Mozilla Firefox Web Browser
(Click image to view larger version.)

Speed and simplicity is a powerful combination. These attributes have drawn Don Jones to the Mozilla Firefox Web browser. After using beta and production versions of Firefox for a couple of years, he is convinced. "Firefox is an obvious pick. It's got a clean UI, tabbed browsing and doesn't have the complex security issues—like browser helper objects and ActiveX controls—that IE must deal with," he says. "The one thing that really sets Firefox apart is its blazing performance, especially on Web pages that have a lot of DHTML. It just renders the pages—a Web browser's primary job—fastest."
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Desktop Virtualization
VMware Workstation 5
Judge: Don Jones

When it comes to virtualization, VMware Workstation has it locked up. "I prefer VMware Workstation primarily because it has more features. I've also found its performance—particularly in disk-intensive activities like installing software—to be superior," says Jones.

Jones lauds the flexible user interface with its tabbed windows for accessing multiple virtual machines. He points out that the closest competitor—Microsoft Virtual PC 2004—is a strong competitor, but falls short of VMware. "I've been using both [products] for several years now, and while they continually leapfrog one another as my favorite, VMware Workstation 5 is the current king of the hill."
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McAfee Antivirus
(Click image to view larger version.)

Anti-Virus
McAfee Antivirus
Judge: Dave Tschanz

The onslaught of Web-delivered viruses and malware makes protecting systems an absolute priority. Dave Tschanz says that McAfee's proven track record and superior software update process makes it the clear choice. "McAfee has been an industry leader for years."

Tschanz singles out McAfee Antivirus for its ease of use, automation, flexibility, scalability and both the frequency and accuracy of its virus update program. "I think the truth of the matter is that all these anti-virus software products do the same basic thing, which means you're looking at the other stuff like frequency of updates and ease of use."
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Methodology

To determine the winners of the 2005 Redmond Editors' Choice Awards, we relied on the experience of our most trusted editors, writers and contributors. Our judges evaluated products within their individual areas of expertise, bringing years of hands-on insight to subjects ranging from firewall systems and patch management to virtualization technology.

After assigning judges to their respective categories, we opened the process to nominations from the vendor community. Vendors were invited to submit nominations, along with information such as product benefits, unique features, target audience and competitive positioning, giving our judges a complete picture of the product category. Ultimately judges simply chose winners based upon what they like the best.

Anti-Spyware
Lavasoft Ad-Aware
Judge: Dave Tschanz

Spyware is another pernicious scourge that threatens every Internet-connected PC. To keep his systems free from these malicious little programs, Tschanz prefers Lavasoft's Ad-Aware. "The SE version is free, frequently updated and easy to use," he says. "It's pretty good about telling you what it has and when updates are available. The feature set is good and it has a high detection rate."
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Anti-Spam
GFI MailEssentials (for larger organizations)
MailFrontier Desktop (for smaller organizations)
Judge: Dave Tschanz

Spam management is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, which is why Tschanz tabs a pair of solutions for different sized organizations. Tschanz singles out GFI MailEssentials for medium- to large-sized networks, while MailFrontier Desktop gets the nod in smaller organizations. He points out that GFI's Bayesian filtering works particularly well.

GFI MailEssentials
(Click image to view larger version.)

Tschanz says that while anti-spam solutions do pretty much the same thing—detect, flag and can incoming spam—they differ in their flexibility and ease of use. GFI MailEssentials and MailFrontier do have several things in common, says Tschanz. "They have exceptional customer service, and provide updates on a regular basis. They also have exceptional Web sites that are easy to use and contain extraordinarily useful information."
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Firewall
Network Engines NS 6000 Series
Judge: Joern Wettern

Network Engines NS 6000 Series

The enterprise-class functionality, managed software updates and outstanding ease of use are three reasons why the Network Engines NS 6000 series is Joern Wettern's pick for firewall system. "I was impressed with the usability, especially for smaller company's branch offices that need enterprise-level firewall protection, but don't have extensive experience in configuring firewalls," he says. "It's an ingenious customization of turning an existing product (Microsoft ISA Server 2004 running on Windows Server 2003) into a true appliance. At the same time, it shields an administrator from tasks that are not part of the firewall, such as operating system configuration and software updates."
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Intrusion Detection System/Intrusion Prevention System
Websense Web Security Suite
Judge: Joern Wettern

The Websense Web Security Suite keeps constant tabs on emerging threats from malicious sites and other sources, earning it Wettern's choice. "It handles client protection at multiple levels and uses a database of actual threats that is constantly updated," he says. "Its use of a constantly updated database of malicious Web sites is a fairly unique feature. It's easy to manage and gives you a comprehensive view of client security, including malicious Web sites, malicious applications and unusual network activity."
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Security Systems/Access Control
Datakey Axis
Judge: Rick Butler

To stem unauthorized network access, security professionals are turning to biometrics, tokens and—most commonly—smart cards to authenticate users. Rick Butler says Datakey Axis is just the solution for companies making the switch to smart cards.

"I'm a big fan of Datakey Axis," says Butler. "I've used it to manage smart cards, and I found the functionality to be very simple for the sheer power behind it. I am impressed by its interoperability with Group Policy. All I had to do was plug in the card reader and walk away. Datakey takes care of the rest."

As smart card systems are not yet commonplace, it's helpful that Datakey has simplified the setup process by using a comprehensive system of policies. Butler also appreciates that Datakey uses existing technologies, rather than coming up with something completely new.
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Patch Management

BigFix Enterprise Suite Patch Management (for larger organizations)
PatchLink Update (for smaller organizations)
Judge: Dave Tschanz

Patching systems and software is a full time job. If you manage more than a few machines, you need a capable tool to avoid exposing your network to security threats.

BigFix Enterprise Suite Patch Management
(Click image to view larger version.)

As our patch management expert, Tschanz considers two top choices for different types of environments. He singles out PatchLink Update for smaller organizations and individuals, and BigFix Enterprise Suite Patch Management (formerly called BigFix Patch Manager) for larger enterprises. He praises both for their broad feature sets, impressive ease of use, and programmability. "These are exceptional. PatchLink and BigFix are leaders in the field."
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Systems Management
Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003
Judge: Greg Shields

Systems management is such a broad discipline that a top-rated product must be able to do it all, from software deployment and patch management to system monitoring and administration. Finding a tool to cover the entire waterfront costs money, but Greg Shields says only one stands out—Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS). "There's absolutely nothing you can't do with it," he says. "It is expensive, but compared to other enterprise-level management tools, it's reasonable."

Shields is most impressed with the strong feature set and flexibility of SMS. "You can determine client health, do patch management, completely rebuild workstations from scratch, deploy software...there are even some plug-in tools to work with Linux and Unix," he says. With that breadth of features, though, he acknowledges that IT managers face a learning curve.
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Network Monitoring
Ethereal
Judge: Rick Butler

When it comes to network monitoring, Ethereal is Butler's tool of choice. "It's free and full featured, easy to set up and configure. You can search whatever packets you need to see. In fact, Ethereal helped me do a porn bust last year at a school."

Ethereal currently supports 706 protocols and media. It reads live data from an extensive array of connections, including Ethernet, Token-Ring, FDDI, serial (PPP and SLIP), 802.11 wireless LAN and ATM. Licensed under the GNU General Public License, organizations are free to adapt the software to their specific needs, making it a highly customizable network monitoring solution.
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Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003

Software Distribution
Microsoft Systems Management Server 2003
Judge: Rick Butler

Software distribution can be a tricky business—IT managers must carefully plan rollouts and manage loads, or risk degrading network performance. Butler says that Microsoft SMS stands apart as the most sensible and effective option for a distribution tool. "I really like Microsoft's approach in SMS to rolling out software," he says, pointing out the improved scripting support and detailed application deployment planning features. "There isn't much I couldn't use SMS to do and with it's pricing (at least in the volume licensing space), SMS is more attractive."

Butler emphasizes that there is room for improvement. "The only thing that would probably catch my eye more is if a tool came out that let you manage cross-platform," Butler says. "But for a homogeneously Microsoft platform, I would be more inclined to use SMS than anything else."
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Panel of Judges

Rick Butler
Rick Butler, MCSE+I, is a long-time contributor to Redmond and MCP Magazine. He has a broad base of experience in network and enterprise storage, desktop and server configuration management, and systems engineering in both the private and government sectors. He has recently been involved in projects relating to business maturity through applied IT in his current position as the Director of Information Services for the United States Hang Gliding Association.

Don Jones
Don Jones is a contributing editor for Redmond magazine and writes the monthly Beta Man column, which previews beta release software. He also writes reviews and other features and is a popular presenter at Redmond's TechMentor conferences. He is the founder of ScriptingAnswers.com, a Web site for automating Windows administration. The author of numerous books, his most recent is Managing Windows with VBScript and WMI by Addison-Wesley Professional.

Greg Shields
Greg Shields, MCSE: Security, CCEA, is a regular contributor to Redmond magazine. He has extensive experience architecting and administering enterprise collaboration systems using Microsoft, Citrix and VMware technologies. As a senior systems engineer with Raytheon Co., his recent projects include architecting a multi-company, multi-site collaborative software development environment, deploying an enterprise patch management system using SMS and authoring the best practices for its use. He is also a veteran speaker and technical trainer.

Chad Todd
Chad Todd has written four books on Windows XP, Windows 2000 Security, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Software Update Services. He is the Chief Technical Officer for Training Concepts, and manages the Microsoft, CompTIA, Citrix, Novell and Certified Ethical Hacking training programs. He has been a Microsoft Certified Trainer for more than six years, teaching hundreds of classes and helping thousands of students get certified. He has trained students on Windows NT 4.0, 2000 and 2003 operating systems, as well as ISA and Exchange. He is also the project manager and lead engineer for dozens of Windows and Exchange migrations every year.

David Tschanz
David Tschanz, Ph.D., MCSE, CIW, has been a regular contributor to Redmond and MCP Magazine since 2001, writing primarily on security, anti-virus, anti-spam and patch management. He lives in the Middle East working on a number of projects to support health informatics and Web-based applications for a large medical system. He is also CEO of Gideon Enterprises, which specializes in technical writing projects, white paper development and an eclectic range of consulting projects. He is co-author of Mastering SQL Server 2005 by Wiley Publishing.

Erik Westgard
Erik Westgard, MCSE, CQS-CFS, CCNA, contributes product reviews to Redmond magazine on a regular basis. He works as a VPN design consultant for a major managed services provider. After spending a few years in management working for IBM and NCR, he is back to work developing and managing training and certification programs. He has an MBA from Metropolitan State University, and his outside interests include amateur radio and emergency communications.

Joern Wettern
Joern Wettern, Ph.D., MCSE, MCT, Security+, writes the Security Advisor column for Redmond. He also has written several books and developed training courses on networking and security topics. He owns Wettern Network Solutions, a consulting and training firm that helps companies implement network security solutions. He also teaches seminars and speaks at conferences worldwide.

Group Policy Manager

Microsoft Group Policy Management Console
Judge: Chad Todd

Microsoft Group Policy Management Console
(Click image to view larger version.)

If you need to manage Group Policy on a Windows-based network, Microsoft's own Group Policy Management Console is well-suited for the task. "The GPMC works great. You can back up, restore and copy GPOs," says Chad Todd. "You can pick all these 'what-ifs' and it builds effective policies on the fly. Then you can test it all before you deploy the first system. That's a huge feature."

Backup capabilities are equally important, says Todd. "It lets you back up policies, so you can restore from a local backup and you're up and running in seconds."
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Network Automation
ScriptLogic Desktop Authority 6.5
Judge: Rick Butler

It seems that most IT managers are short on time, money and patience. Automated network management streamlines client administration and helps IT departments cap costs. Butler found that ScriptLogic Desktop Authority provides a comprehensive and accessible range of features, point-and-click ease of use and granular control of system settings. "I felt the tool is a heavy hitter. There wasn't much you couldn't do with it, and flexibility is key in a tool like this."
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Asset/License Management
Microsoft Systems Management Server
Judge: Greg Shields

Notice a trend? Microsoft SMS is a veritable Swiss army knife of a tool that stands out among other asset and license management tools because of its interface and flexible configuration. Shields says SMS is a well-supported tool that proffers a sensibly designed and powerful interface. "You can connect individual SMS servers in a hub and spoke configuration that lets inventory data move up to a central site," he says. "Everybody reaps the benefits. Dell and HP even have plug-ins [for SMS] to do hardware inventory. All devices connected to those machines come into the inventory."
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Computer Associates Desktop DNA Migrator

PC Migration
Computer Associates Desktop DNA Migrator
Judge: Dave Tschanz

Client system migration is a high-stakes business. Botch it, and both you and your users are staring at hours of downtime and lost productivity. For Tschanz, Computer Associate's Desktop DNA does a better job of easing the transfer of user and system settings from one PC to another. His reasons are simple. "It works," he says. "It's simple to use, and you can recover if the user goofs." What helps Desktop DNA stand out is its ease of use and the fact that it migrates not only files and folders, but also system settings and preferences.
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Sapien Technologies PrimalScript 4
(Click image to view larger version.)

Scripting Tools
Sapien Technologies PrimalScript 4
Judge: Rick Butler

When you have to do it yourself, scripts are often the best way to get it done. Butler says Sapien's PrimalScript is the most powerful tool for customizing operations and automating specific tasks. "Primal takes the taco here," he says. "Primal is ultra-flexible, letting you code in many different scripting languages." PrimalScript has much broader language support than its competitors. It also supports Macromedia Flash ActionScript, an array of Web files and programming languages and frameworks like .NET.
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PC Backup
Future Systems Casper XP
Judge: Dave Tschanz

A good backup and recovery tool can help pull you back from the brink. For his safety net, Tschanz prefers Casper XP from Future Systems. "I was looking for a disk copy system that was better than [Norton] Ghost when I upgraded from an 80GB to a 200GB hard drive," he says. "It turned out to be an excellent tool for making backup copies."

Casper XP can create disk images for disaster recovery, new hard disk installations or routine backups. While Tschanz praises the versatility and affordability of Casper XP, he notes that other solutions can get the job done faster.
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Exam Preparation Product or Service
KnowledgeNet Express
Judge: Erik Westgard

It's still a tough haul getting ready for a certification exam, whether you're going for a basic MCP or more advanced levels like MCSE and MCSD. To gear up for the big test, Erik Westgard trusts KnowledgeNet Express. "It has the 'closest to classroom' online/CD based certification training experience," he says. "You really feel you are getting a full course experience with authorized materials. You are close to the source."
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Reader Comments:

Tue, Sep 14, 2010 CCIE preps http://www.certificationkits.com

I use vmware daily for my testing.

Wed, Jun 10, 2009 bj79 http://www.userful.com

A really interesting green computer technology I found is desktop virtualization. It's where multiple people can use the same computer at the same time each with their own monitor, mouse and keyboard. This saves a lot of electricity and e-waste. A company called Userful recently set a virtualization world record by delivering over 350,000 virtual desktops to schools in Brazil. They have a free 2-user version for home use too. Check it out: userful.com

Tue, Nov 1, 2005 Don Houston TX

Hooray to Dave Tschanz for awarding CasperXP !
I've used their software for soem years now, and it's been a true winner.

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