When I go to such conferences as Windows Connections or the Directory Experts Conference, I sit in the back, as many others do, for easy escape if the workshop should prove deadly boring. In the back of the room, I hear the most interesting comments in response to the speakers' statements. Usually these comments occur after a speaker says something best-practice-ish such as, "Of course, you NEVER do X with your Y," or "You should ALWAYS do B before A." Then the muttered comments begin: "Yeah sure, try doing that with our systems," or "Not on our budget I won't," or simply a chuckle and "Yeah, right."  I know there's often a gap in other occupations between ideal or best practices and what happens in the real world, down in the trenches, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised to find the same thing might occur in IT.

      But I always get a dose of both ideal best practices AND real-world pragmatism from Kathy Ivens. Ivens is a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro who has written more than 50 books and hundreds of magazine articles about various computer subjects. You might be one of the more than 55,000 IT pros who reads her Reader Challenge column in the Vista Update email newsletter and the thousands of others who access it at the Windows IT Pro Web site, and Ivens also writes a column for Vista Update called "What Users Need to Know."

      While we were discussing the most recent "What Users Need to Know" column about the Work menu in Microsoft Word (http://www.windowsitpro.com/Windows/Article/ArticleID/96316/96316.html), Ivens told me, "How can you write about an app if you don't play around, experiment, see what various commands and dialog options do? Without that kind of insight, you're writing a book based on the help files, what kind of authoring is that? That's how I found this function."

      Of course, testing applications and procedures in the testing lab can really mess up your systems, especially if you're writing a series of books about the registry "and get lazy writing down the changes," Ivens says. To get computers back to their original state after the testing and writing process is over, Ivens uses Symantec's Ghost solution.

      "It's never a good idea to install Beta 2 over Beta 1, but uninstalling through Add/Remove Programs never really does a complete uninstall," Ivens told me. "It leaves behind registry items and files in the system folders. So, before I install Beta 1, I ghost the machine. When Beta 2 arrives I replace the ghost image for a fresh start." Ivens adds that even if you don't ghost before beta, and restore between betas, you should always ghost before the first beta and then restore before moving to RTM.

            Ivens has been using Ghost for many years, long before it was acquired by Symantec, and finds it works well with the beta testing process. You might say it helps Ivens bridge that gap between the ideal and the real.