ZENworks upgrade provides key improvements

Only a few months after Novell shipped its initial release of ZENworks, the company hasn't wasted time getting a follow-up version out the door. Currently in beta release, ZENworks 1.1 provides many key improvements. Although none of these additions is ground-breaking on its own, together they strengthen the product considerably and provide a promising upgrade for current ZENworks customers.

With ZENworks 1.1, Novell retains its exclusive bragging rights to a solid, directory-enabled desktop and application management system.

It smooths rough edges and steps forward in three key areas: better ease of use, support for new product releases (such as NetWare 5 and Windows 98), and tools for mastering year 2000 compliance.

Policy package wizard

Novell has done a good job of taking ZENworks forward, such as adding a Policy Package Wizard that takes away the confusion associated with deploying a ZENworks policy package. However, there are still areas I think need more attention. For example, in the beta version I tested, I was unable to get the applications I deployed through Novell Application Launcher to show up in the Start Menu or on the task bar on my Windows NT workstations.

When assigning Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows NT policies to users, this version provides a helpful feature that allows you to point to an existing .POL (created in Microsoft's System Policy Editor) file for defining user policies. However, I would have preferred it if ZENworks had actually imported the policy settings into Novell Directory Services. Plus, this feature was only available for user policy settings and not computer policies.

One added bonus in ZENworks 1.1 is a bundled five-user version of Greenwich Mean Time's Check 2000 Client Server 3.1, which enabled me to perform year-2000 consistency checking on my clients. I really liked this tool. It covers system BIOS checking and performs a hard disk scan to find files that are likely to be noncompliant. But Check 2000's reporting told me only that files of a certain kind were suspect; it didn't analyse file data to point out specific problems.

Novell also gave ZENworks' application distribution features a shot in the arm by providing licence-metering software. This feature works with the Novell License Server (NLS) and is supported on both NetWare 5 and NetWare 4.11.

But I had to install Support Pack 6, which was not yet available on Novell's Web site, for the latter. Fortunately, Novell included a pre-release version of the support pack on the beta CD. But I still had a few problems getting the feature to work on NetWare 4.11 because Support Pack hit a snag during the installation of NLS.

For administrators, ZENworks adds subtle helpers to make management easier. I really liked the ability to edit ZENworks properties - such as Remote Control, Associated Workstations, and Policy Packages for multiple users - from a single dialogue box. You can also apply ZENworks attributes to NetWare user object templates and support roaming profiles for Windows 95 and Windows 98.

Although ZENworks 1.1 isn't an earth-shattering release, there's definitely enough here to warrant an upgrade for current customers. If Novell can smooth out a few rough edges, I'd be really satisfied.