An enterprise-level tool for managing Win2K and NT server and workstation services

Managing Windows 2000 and Windows NT system services can be a daunting task. A typical OS installation can include more than two dozen services. Add a server-based application, and the number of services increases. Configure server-management agents, and the number of services grows again. To ease the administrative burden these services present, Small Wonders Software designed Service Explorer 1.31, an enterprise-level tool for managing Win2K and NT server and workstation services. This product lets you remotely control services (e.g., start and stop them) and install new services. You can perform these functions on one system or on multiple systems simultaneously. To track the success or failure of service tasks, the software offers a helpful logging function, and you can have the software save a log to a file for later review. In addition, Service Explorer lets you use custom criteria to search across your network’s servers and workstations for an installed service.

Testing
For testing, I used Service Explorer to manage the services on my small office/home office (SOHO) LAN, which contains a Win2K Server system, an NT Server 4.0 system, and a Win2K Professional workstation. Testing the software on a workstation as well as servers was important because I’ve often encountered situations in which workstations require a service installation, configuration change, or restart.

I completed the Service Explorer installation in minimal time with no problems. I simply ran the setup program, then inserted the license disk when prompted. (Small Wonders Software licenses Service Explorer per server and workstation; the license specifies the number of systems that you can configure for a specific service task.) A counter window in the UI displays the remaining available licenses.

Service Explorer is a fairly simple product and comes with a helpful Adobe PDF format manual. However, Service Explorer lacks online Help, which would have assisted with simple questions and could easily be integrated into the product.

My first impression of Service Explorer was that it’s a simple but functional application that’s easy to configure and operate. Figure 1 shows the software’s main UI, which includes a toolbar that has buttons for the standard service-control actions, such as stop, start, and pause. When you click one of these buttons, the software applies the action to the server and service that are highlighted in the right pane. The left pane consists of three main tabs, Network, Servers, and Search. You can use the Network and Servers tabs to select and configure systems for service control.

The Network tab displays the common Win2K and NT Network Neighborhood tree list of domains and workgroups and the systems they contain. I simply browsed to a system that I wanted to manage services on and highlighted that system. This action brings up a complete service list for that system. From this list, you can select services and perform service-control actions or install a new service.

To set the service-account information for a system’s services, you select Properties from the list. The service-account settings you configure from the Properties dialog box are typical Win2K and NT service settings: You specify the service startup type (i.e., Automatic, Manual, Disabled) and the Log on as property (i.e., system or username and password).

During the execution of any service-control action, the software provides a pop-up status box that shows in realtime a list of the selected services and the action the software is performing. A tab in this status box lists any errors encountered while running the service. On the Network tab, I could select any system in the tree, highlight any number of services, then stop, start, or change the system’s service-account information without error. In addition, I could browse the system list, highlight a server or workstation, right-click the selection, and select Add to server list to add the system name into the server list on the Servers tab.

On the Servers tab, you can select multiple systems (as many as your license will allow), select the services that you want to manage on these systems, then save the configuration to a file by clicking the appropriate button in the Saved Service Sets section. You can then later reopen and execute the services in the file. You can configure and reuse as many saved service sets as necessary. This functionality makes the Servers tab useful for managing similar systems that you want to have similar services.

The ability to change service accounts by modifying the saved service sets worked without error. When changing service-account properties, you can select the Restart services after making changes check box, which you reach by right-clicking a service, then selecting Properties. This feature is useful with services that require a restart. When I selected this check box, made changes to a service startup parameter, then clicked OK, the service progress box appeared, indicating that the service was stopping and restarting.

The Search tab provides service search functionality. If you need to manage a specific service but are unsure of exactly how many systems have this service installed, the search function can provide this information. The search function lets you enter search criteria (e.g., service name, logon account name) or use operators (e.g., =, <>, contains). In addition, you can save and later recall search configurations. I entered the search condition displayname contains distributed and received a list of eight services that contained the word distributed.

Service Installation
I was greatly interested in Service Explorer’s Win2K and NT service installation functionality. My experience using scripts and command-line utilities to remotely install NT services has left me wanting an application that will accomplish a remote service installation to multiple systems. Ideally, this application would be both easy to use and provide logging functionality.

Service Explorer lived up to my idealistic expectations for integrated service installation functionality. The simple but useful installation dialog box, which Figure 2 shows, lets you enter options such as the path to the source service executable file, service name information, and service-account settings. I performed a test installation of floplock.exe, a Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 Resource Kit utility that disables the 3.5" drive for users who aren’t members of the local system’s Power Users group. After providing this information, I simply clicked Install to successfully push the service to my configured test systems. The only shortcoming I could find with the service installation function was the inability to save the installation settings for reuse later.

Although the installation function performed flawlessly to remotely install a fairly simple service application, you should carefully analyze the impact of installing complex services that might require service dependencies or additional registry settings before installing the service remotely.

Last Impression
My impression of Service Explorer is that the software is a powerful but easy-to-use application. However, although the lack of online Help didn’t detract from the overall functionality of the product, the availability of this feature would have further simplified working with the product. The application’s usability combined with its low cost should make Service Explorer a commonly used application on networks that host large numbers of Win2K and NT systems that have many services to manage.

Service Explorer 1.31
Contact: Small Wonders Software * 407-248-2558
Web: http://www.smallwonders.com
Price: $499 for 10-system license
Decision Summary:
Pros: Easy to configure and use; useful logging function
Cons: Lacks online Help