LANovation's PictureTaker Enterprise Edition 3.1 lets administrators create software update packages and deploy them to network PCs through a third-party network management suite, network share, logon script, CD-ROM, intranet, or email. PictureTaker has two components: an administrative console and a network client. The product also includes a utility called Conflict Checker that helps you determine whether DLL file or registry conflicts will result on target machines after installation.

I installed the administrative console on Dell OptiPlex GX110 workstations that had 500MHz Pentium III processors and 128MB of RAM and ran Windows 2000 Professional and Windows 98. (PictureTaker supports Win95 and later.) I installed the network client software on several other Dell OptiPlex PCs running a variety of Windows OSs. The product installed easily.

When you launch the administrative console, a wizard takes you through the package creation process, which scans the PC's registry and takes a snapshot of installed applications and system settings. Then, you can install new applications or change system settings, and PictureTaker will rescan the registry and create the package file. You can define environmental variables that add user-specific settings to applications. I created a package for QUALCOMM's Eudora Pro 4.3.2. From the PictureTaker console, I searched for email-account-specific information in the eudora.ini file. I created a wildcard variable and pointed it to the registry subkey that stores network logon account information. Then, I logged on to the test machine and launched Eudora Pro. The PictureTaker package had entered my email account settings automatically, and the account was ready for mail.

PictureTaker can install software to locked-down Win2K and Windows NT desktops. You need to touch desktops initially to install the network client as a service, but then users can install packages. You can also install packages to all user accounts on a particular workstation. Simply go to the Requirements tab on the software's File Properties page and select the Unattended\All Users Installation Method, as Figure 1 shows.

PictureTaker performed well. I created a package for the full installation of Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.5. The package was 25.4MB at about 40 percent compression and took 3.5 minutes to install on a 450MHz Pentium II PC running Win98. PictureTaker failed once, when I created a Nullsoft Winamp package on a Win2K workstation and tried to install it on a Win95 OEM Service Release 2 (OSR2) machine. LANovation support staff recommended that I recreate the package on an earlier release of the OS. After I recreated the package on a Win98 machine, installation generated no errors.

PictureTaker could improve in some areas. LANovation doesn't include a centralized push mechanism, a deficiency that might be a problem for small shops that don't have network-management software. And the product doesn't provide much feedback concerning success or failure of deployed jobs; centralized reporting capabilities would help.

PictureTaker is flexible and easy to use and can make your life easier. Used in conjunction with network management and imaging software, PictureTaker helps you keep PCs healthy and can significantly reduce overall PC management costs.

PictureTaker
Enterprise Edition 3.1
Contact: LANovation * 612-379-3805
Web: http://www.lanovation.com
Price: $2000 for a 100-user license
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy to use; intuitive interface; fast; use of variables simplifies deployment
Cons: Lacks centralized deployment mechanism; little centralized logging or feedback