Administrators now have a choice if they are looking for more than just a software distribution product but don't need a desktop management suite such as Intel's LANDesk, which includes software and hardware inventory, remote-control capabilities, and software distribution. LANovation's LAN Escort, Version 3.5, is the only product I've seen that combines an easy-to-use software distribution tool, Windows desktop management, and graphical NetWare administration tools.
LAN Escort's uniform graphical interface for NetWare 3.x's Syscon and NetWare 4.1's NWAdmin utilities eases administration of tasks such as creating users and updating NetWare rights. Having set up printers using Pconsole, I could then use LAN Escort to select printers, queues, and ports. This greatly simplifies the process of printer selection for end users.
In addition to supporting Windows 3.x and Windows 95 clients, LAN Escort supports NetWare 4.1 NetWare Directory Services (NDS) and NetWare 3.x binderies, which allow for multiple server administration. Version 3.5 includes utilities for copying or exporting any LAN Escort-created software distribution package across an NDS tree or to different servers. This is a real plus, eliminating the need to re-create the software distribution package on each server.
Installing LAN Escort was a snap. I installed the four disks from my 100MHz Pentium-based workstation onto my NetWare 3.12 server. LAN Escort used approximately 5Mb of disk space.
I was extremely impressed with the graphical user interface of LAN Escort's administration program, which made adding users to my network an easy task. Once I had created new users, I simply dragged and dropped those users into groups and assigned them the appropriate rights, log-in scripts, and print queues. I also modified the system log-in script to include the ESCORT.BAT file, which executed two files that enabled each user to accept predefined software distribution packages and allowed me to manage my users' Windows desktops.
To avoid the problems that arise when users change their Windows configurations, LAN Escort lets administrators manage their users' Windows desktops. I created several different Windows desktops and assigned them to different users. This is a great option for users in a given department (such as accounting) where they may use only a spreadsheet, word processor, and e-mail.
On the downside, however, creating complex desktops can usurp available server hard-drive space, because LAN Escort copies all of the Windows .INI and .GRP files into a predefined user directory on the network hard drive. My busy desktop, for example, took up 650K of disk space.
LAN Escort's Auto Refresh feature is especially handy for managing novice users' desktops. By enabling the option in a user's desktop, you ensure that the originally assigned desktop returns when the user restarts Windows, regardless of changes made during the previous Windows session.
Version 3.5 now has the capability to record changes to REG.DAT files. I simply had to compare the changes between the standard desktop profile and a user's Windows desktop after installing a new application in the REG.DAT file.
I did uncover two shortcomings in LAN Escort. The compare process in creating a software profile for distribution is, unfortunately, painfully slow. Another drawback is that LAN Escort doesn't provide a software distribution log. Although I could view a software profile and see to whom it was assigned, there was nothing to indicate that the user had successfully received the software package. This is a serious omission for a software distribution product. However, LANovation plans to include a software distribution log in the next version.
With LAN Escort, I also could distribute network applications by selecting them from a list generated by the Applist icon. I selectively distributed executable icons to each desktop using a software distribution profile.
The Applist icon is unique in that I've never encountered a software distribution package that not only distributes icons for applications executed from a file server but also distributes setup icons for installing software on users' hard drives.
For example, I added the Netscape 2.0 installation file to the list of application icons, selected users, then installed the program on their local hard drives. The capability to set up a suite of shared network resources and let users update specific software is a nice feature.
I really liked LAN Escort's user interface, with its drag-and-drop and right-mouse-button functionality. I could click on any user, group, or profile for more concise data entry and information retrieval on these elements, for example.
The documentation was very informative and followed a step-by-step tutorial format. Using the manuals in conjunction with the context-sensitive on-line help made LAN Escort extremely easy to learn.
The Bottom Line; Very Good
LAN Escort, Version 3.5
For administrators who don't need a full-fledged management package, LAN Escort provides desktop management and a uniform graphical interface to NetWare administration tools.
Pros: Easy-to-use interface; supports Windows 3.x and Windows 95 workstations; supports NetWare 3.x and 4.1 environments.
Cons: No log file for software distribution; Windows desktop profiles can consume a lot of server disk space.
LANovation is looking for an Australian distributor. Interested parties can contact Joan Linck, director of marketing. Resellers can also contact them directly to order stock.
Price: $US1,250 for unlimited consoles and 50-user licence; $1,250 for additional 50-user packs.
Platforms: NetWare 3.x and 4.1 servers; Windows 3.x and Windows 95 clients.
Tel: +1-612-379-3805ÊFax: +1-612-378-3818 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org info: www.lanovation.com