Beginning September 15, Microsoft will offer four Web cast presentations that will explain enhancements the company is planning for the next-generation of Software Assurance (SA). I'll be covering these changes in Windows IT Pro Magazine UPDATE, of course, but if you're interested in the red Kool-Aid version, Microsoft will present the Web cast at midnight, 8:00 A.M., noon, and 6:30 P.M. Pacific time on September 15.

Although Microsoft has changed the SA program several times, September's Web cast volley leads me to believe that this year's changes will be quite a bit more drastic than we've seen previously. Microsoft has come under fire from many of its SA customers for signing them up for its volume-licensing program with a promise of future software updates, only to delay most major software updates beyond the SA subscription period. My guess--and this is only a guess--is that Microsoft will address these concerns in its presentation. You must sign up for one of the Web casts to participate. Here's the address: https://microsoftsoftwareassurance.savvislive.com

Thinking About Email End to End I had an interesting discussion with Symantec Senior Director for Product Management Nick Mehta last week. Symantec, as you might know, recently merged with VERITAS Software, maker of such products as Backup Exec and Storage Foundation. The resulting company will use the Symantec name and will seek to integrate the Symantec and VERITAS product lines into a cohesive, integrated enterprise solution. It makes sense. VERITAS is known largely for its storage solutions, whereas Symantec is, perhaps, the world's best-known supplier of security software.

Integrating the two companies' products will take time. With the merger completed, Symantec is now working to identify synergies and to communicate to its customers how the new company's products can benefit them. Then, Symantec will likely look into product-bundling opportunities and begin work on integrated management tools that work, as appropriate, across its product line.

Right now, however, Symantec is still trying to figure out how the pieces fit together. And the most obvious benefit of the newly combined company is that it now offers complete end-to-end email security and availability offerings that can help enterprises keep email safe (i.e., prevent spam, viruses, phishing attacks, and other malware attacks outside the firewall, inside the firewall, and at the mail server itself); manage the email lifecycle by providing record discovery, retention, and retrieval capabilities; and ensure that email stays up and running at all times, through backups, clustering, and offsite replication.

"Email is much more critical than previously imagined," Mehta told me. "Your business goes down when your email goes down; it's not just an application. Everything you do is in there, so it's also a smoking gun for liability. Email is basically your corporate memory."

Symantec doesn't have one cohesive solution that targets all enterprise needs. Instead, the company is first identifying the vast set of Symantec and VERITAS software that can work together to tackle this enormous challenge. But Mehta's points about the importance of email are well formulated. Email is no longer just a way to communicate with others. Instead, it's the primary face of your business with most customers and between employees. We need to start thinking about email safety and resiliency in a more holistic way. Whether the solution comes from Symantec, Microsoft, or another company doesn't matter--we just need to start addressing the problem.

New SyncToy Gives Briefcase the Boot Like many business travelers, I maintain roughly overlapping sets of data on two PCs--my desktop PC and my notebook. Although various ways exist to synchronize data between two such devices, including the out-of-date Briefcase tool that first appeared in Windows 95, Microsoft recently released a beta version of a free new PowerToy called SyncToy for Windows XP that lets you keep the contents of a folder synchronized between two locations, regardless of where they are.

As a PowerToy, SyncToy is unsupported, but if you're looking for a super-simple way to keep data files up-to-date in two different locations, you could do a lot worse. The SyncToy interface is pure simplicity: You create a folder pair, which represents the two locations you'd like synchronized. After selecting the two folders, simply called Left Folder and Right Folder, you determine how to pair them: Choices include synchronization (new and updated files are copied each way); echo (new and updated files and renamed and deleted files are copied from the Left Folder to the Right Folder); subscribe (updated files from the Right Folder are copied to the Left Folder when a file of the same name already exists); contribute (new and updated files and renamed files are copied from the Left Folder to the Right Folder, but deletions aren't repeated to the Right Folder), and combine (new and updated files are copied both ways, but renamed or deleted files aren't copied either way).

The tool is amazingly powerful. You can preview how the synchronization will change things, run synchronizations, and manage existing folder pairs from a simple interface. SyncToy is available from the Microsoft Web site and requires Windows XP. Definitely check it out if you have a need for this kind of functionality. http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?familyid=e0fc1154-c975-4814-9649-cce41af06eb7&displaylang=en