Microsoft is finally loosening the reins on users who see disk imaging - known as cloning - as a faster way to replicate workstations.
The company this week confirmed that it is building software tools that will let users incorporate disk cloning in their Windows 98 and Windows NT Workstation 5.0 deployments. Microsoft still frowns on cloning for Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0.
Analysts said the cloning reversal makes sense because Microsoft needs help persuading administrators with large installations of Windows 3.x to upgrade.
"For companies that think successfully upgrading lots of users to Windows 98 or NT might be akin to winning the lottery, cloning products are a possible answer," said Chris Le Tocq, a Dataquest analyst.
Cloning uses snapshot imaging to copy the operating systems, programs and data from one hard disk to another in a single repeatable procedure.
Shannon Perdue, a Windows product manager, said the upcoming tools won't change Microsoft's rule that technical support isn't available to Windows NT Workstation 4.0 users who have cloned systems.
Neither Windows 95 nor NT Workstation 4.0 was designed to be cloned, and concerns about hardware compatibility and duplication of system ID numbers remain, Perdue said.
But Microsoft wouldn't comment on whether it had postponed an announcement endorsing cloning software. For now at least, users who want to keep their Microsoft support agreements intact must endure the mind-numbing task of individually loading each system with Windows first and applications second