ConfigSafe provides a safety net for making NT configuration changes

I'm sure you have a horror story about loading some software and finding out it doesn't work properly. Then after uninstalling the software, you find applications that worked fine before you installed that horror software are now filled with bugs or crash your system. Worse, you have no way to return your system to its previous functional state (unless, of course, you backed up the system along the way). I've had this kind of experience, which is why I was pleased to come across ConfigSafe, a small software package by Artisoft. Once installed, ConfigSafe logs changes users make to system files, crucial directories, and the Registry. You can then use the logged information to instruct ConfigSafe to restore your system to a previous configuration.

Cracking ConfigSafe
ConfigSafe for Windows NT comes on one 3.5" floppy­the package includes floppies for Windows 3.1x and Windows 95. The user manual is simple to use and surprisingly thin, but has no lack of information. The well-written manual explains the user interface, controls, and options. A supplement document includes a few extra screen shots and feature explanations.

To install and run ConfigSafe, the logged-on user must have the following privileges: Backup files and directories, Managing and auditing security log, and Restoring files and directories. Typically, members of the Administrators group will have the rights necessary to perform all the ConfigSafe functions. Users who will be taking system snapshots need only Backup files and directories privileges.

My test computer was a Compaq Deskpro 5100, armed with a 100MHz Pentium, 32MB of RAM, and a 693MB hard disk. Installation was flawless; all I had to do was run INSTALL.EXE and follow the onscreen instructions. After you complete the installation, ConfigSafe takes an initial system snapshot, capturing the current system configuration. From this point, ConfigSafe monitors the system configuration for changes.

ConfigSafe tracks five basic areas: File changes, system changes, drive changes, directory changes, and Registry changes. The five uppermost icons shown in Screen 1 represent the five monitored areas.

The most recent system snapshot date, time, and name appear in the Changes Starting text box. After installation, the initial snapshot date and time appear here. By selecting the Snapshot command button, you can take snapshots at any time. You can name each snapshot and select specific files to include. This capability can be helpful in managing the snapshots. For example, I took a snapshot before configuring system hardware, and instead of accepting the default System Snapshot, I named the snapshot Before hardware config. The snapshot taken before installing Microsoft Office 95 was called Before Office 95, and the snapshot before installing a large DOS game was named Before game demo.

The ConfigSafe window displays changes that have occurred from the last snapshot to the present condition of the system. The Changes Ending text box has the default Now. You can also have ConfigSafe show changes made at other times. For example, if you record five different snapshots, you can view changes that have occurred from any snapshot to the present or changes made between any two snapshots.

The scroll list below the snapshot area details each monitored area; by default, ConfigSafe opens to the File changes area. You can use the plus or minus button to add or remove items in the scroll list. Through this interface, you can configure the files, directories, and Registry areas that ConfigSafe logs. You cannot change the drives or system areas because they track the addition or removal of hardware components.

In the main text box, ConfigSafe shows the changes that have occurred since the last snapshot. Screen 2, displays Registry changes made during a snapshot named Second Stage, in which four additional computer user accounts were created. A red font signifies that a line was deleted, and a minus sign precedes deleted lines. A blue font signifies that a line was added, and a plus sign precedes a new line. A green font and arrow show that a line has changed.

I tested ConfigSafe's ability to restore the computer to previous configurations, including recovering my configuration after a faulty program installation. Before I made any changes to my test computer, I used the Report command button to generate a printout. I received a one-page printout of basic information: start and ending time for the report; processor type; RAM; hard drive space; and files, directories, and Registry folders being monitored.

I then added four users, changed a few screen properties, and added a game and some NT accessories from the NT 4.0 Workstation CD-ROM. Screen 2 shows a few changes made to the Registry during my actions. I printed out a second report and was inundated with 180 pages of file, directory, and Registry changes. The report annotated each change, line by line, as a deletion, addition, or change. I had no idea that the addition of four users and a few applications would create so many system changes.

I created snapshots of before and after installing Office 95. When I requested a report again, ConfigSafe detailed every change and produced a 325-page printout.

I also installed a large DOS game that I knew to be troublesome when run under NT. Under NT, the program gets half way through installation, and then NT stops it for performing an illegal operation. As side effects, the installation process creates large files in the Temp directory and causes other applications to lock up. The system will crash if you start Microsoft Photo Editor or Paint. I thought this demonstration would be a good test for ConfigSafe's restore feature.

When you select the Restore button, you see the Restore Configuration window shown in Screen 3. By selecting the drop-down arrow under Snapshots, you can select any of the configuration Snapshots stored in memory. I simply started backward and selected the snapshot I took before I installed the DOS game. In ConfigSafe, you must reboot your system after performing a Restore. After the reboot, the large temp files were gone, no traces of the DOS game were left, and all other applications worked fine.

Next, I selected the snapshot taken before the installation of Office 95 and selected the Restore button. I was very impressed with the results. The shortcuts on the Programs menu were deleted, and so were the folders and DLLs associated with Office 95. I proceeded to the initial snapshot configuration taken immediately after ConfigSafe was installed, and did another Restore. Sure enough, the screen settings had been changed to the original configurations, and my four new users no longer had accounts on the system.

Features Galore
ConfigSafe includes other features that complement its core log/restore functions. One such feature is the Undo function, which you can use if you select the wrong Restore snapshot. For example, suppose I want to restore the configuration to the status of the snapshot taken before the installation of the DOS game. If, by mistake, I select the snapshot taken before the installation of Office 95 and perform a Restore, the system will no longer include the DOS game nor will it have Microsoft Office. By selecting the Undo button, I can return to the system configuration in effect when I initiated the Restore.

Another nice feature is that ConfigSafe can automatically take snapshots at regular intervals. The best feature is that I can change the configuration to any snapshot stored in memory at any time. This feature provides tremendous flexibility­and tremendous protection­in almost any computing environment.

Of course, ConfigSafe has a downside, too: To access ConfigSafe and its features, you must be able to boot NT. ConfigSafe cannot help you if you can't get past the NT startup process.

I was impressed with the software's performance and recommend it as an excellent option for safeguarding your system's configuration. With ConfigSafe's simplicity of installation and ease-of-use, I find it unlikely that you'll need much technical support. For future releases, my only recommendation to Artisoft is to create bootable floppies of snapshot configurations to rescue the computer in case of a serious Registry or data corruption.

Contact: Artisoft * 800-846-9726
Price: $39.95
System Requirements: NT 3.51 or 4.0, VGA color monitor, and 5MB of disk space