Executive Summary:
MTM Software’s SysCompare Pro lets systems administrators compare many systems across their organizations.

SysCompare Pro 1.2
PROS: Fast installation; easy to use; no nagging forms to fill out just to access the trial software
CONS: Color schemes are useless; no way to export entire differences report to Excel; can't select multiple computers to scan
RATING: 2.5 out of 5
PRICE: $1,499 for the Pro version; $99 for the Lite version
RECOMMENDATION: The Lite version is worth a look if you need a fast, easy, inexpensive, and lightweight way to compare a pair of systems at a time. Features missing from the product make the price of the Pro version hard to swallow, however.
CONTACT: MTM Software • 503-427-1680 • www.mtmsoftware.com

A critical aspect of proper IT management is to regularly examine the systems deployed across your organization. Comparing one system to another, or even many others, is useful to ensure that all your systems have the same or similar hardware specifications, driver versions, installed printers, and so on.

In the past, this task was arduous. Administrators had to manually compare each system or write a script to compare systems. The advent of Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) made the task of comparing systems much simpler—and products that can make WMI queries on your behalf are plentiful.

One such product is SysCompare Pro, published by MTM Software. SysCompare Pro lets you compare many systems across your organization through a friendly, easy-to-navigate GUI. I tested SysCompare Pro 1.2 on a Windows XP Professional machine and ran scans against both Windows Vista and XP targets. SysCompare Pro is also available in a Lite version that has fewer features and limits the number of computers you can target at a time to two.

Installation was ridiculously easy, consisting of a single MSI file and requiring only Microsoft's .NET Framework 2.0. MTM Software provides a download link for a trial version of the software on the company's website, with no annoying forms asking for your personal information or forcing you to create an online account. The 15-day trial version's only limitation is that you have to wait for a 10-second timer to expire each time you launch the software.

Once the product is installed, you're greeted with the friendly GUI that Figure 1 shows. Selecting machines to collect data from is as easy as clicking the computer icon with the green plus sign. A Browse button is provided that lets you search and select a computer from Active Directory (AD), but there's no way to select multiple computers at once. It would be helpful if you could select all the computers in an organizational unit (OU), all the computers in a domain, or even a range of IP addresses—but this isn't possible.

When your computers scans are complete, the Computed Differences node expands automatically. From here you can drill down into various subsections, such as Disk Drives and System Patches. As Figure 2 shows, system differences are highlighted in red text and with a red exclamation mark that blinks for a few seconds to call your attention to the line items that differ. You can also export the subsections to Excel, although you can't export them all at once. In addition, the export file is formatted as XML rather than a standard Excel workbook (XLS) as you might expect.

This limitation, in addition to the inability to select more than one computer to scan at a time, the blinking exclamation mark, and the option to change the color scheme of the differencing report, are my only real gripes with the product. Having the exclamation mark blink just for effect when the text is already in red seems unnecessary, and the alternative color schemes make the reports more difficult to read rather than easier. The inability to export the entire differencing report to Excel is the real pain point, however. No way would I sit through the process of separately exporting all 19 subsections, then take the time combine them into my own Excel spreadsheet later on—especially after I've paid $1,499 for the product.

All in all, SysCompare Pro is a decent product. If you need to compare the differences between machines that you manage, give the trial version a run through and see if it meets your needs. Because of the limitations that I discuss, the Lite version is a better buy than the Pro version—but only if you can live with comparing just two machines at a time.