Ease application deployment

AutoInstall 1.17 from 20/20 Software is a software installation and deployment utility for Windows OSs. AutoInstall's three primary components are Replicator, Builder, and Manager, which let you create an installation package, customize the package, and distribute it across a network, respectively.

To install the core components, you need up to three systems: one to act as the AutoInstall Administrator, one to act as a distribution server, and one to act as a reference PC for building packages. You can combine these three roles on one PC. However, I followed the documentation's advice and dedicated my first PC as the management console and distribution server and used a second system for the reference PC.

Installation was smooth on two Dell OptiPlex PCs running Windows NT 4.0 with Service Pack 4 (SP4). I decided where on the first PC to create the Control Directory, which would store packages for distribution. I had the option to modify the default user logon script and deploy the AutoInstall clients as end users logged on to the network, but I chose to install the clients manually.

From the reference PC, I used Replicator to create an Adobe Acrobat installation package. Replicator, which uses a standard wizard interface, made a preinstallation snapshot of my reference system, then prompted me to launch the Acrobat setup.exe file. After the installation and reboot, the Replicator interface reappeared and prompted me to name the package. Then, Replicator performed a postinstallation snapshot. AutoInstall compared the preinstallation and postinstallation snapshots to create an ASCII script file detailing every aspect of the process. You can use the Builder component to edit the file.

Builder's main window, which Screen 1 shows, provides the details of the installation script, an extensive menu of commands to insert into the script, and descriptions of the commands and data entry fields. After modifying the script, I clicked Build and AutoInstall generated a compressed, single-file executable. Using the Control Directory, the installation package worked flawlessly from any network workstation.

Next, I wanted to test how well AutoInstall could push applications to clients. The push installation required me to install a client on each test PC. To install the clients manually, I ran an executable from the Control Directory. The executable copied to the \winnt directory and created a shortcut in the All Users Startup folder. The process was quick and easy and didn't require a reboot. The drawbacks are that the end user must be logged on for the push to work.

AutoInstall offers a service-based client that has administrative rights and allows push installations to inactive PCs. To install the service without visiting each workstation, I used the Service Manager utility. The utility worked well when pushing the service to about 10 workstations but hung when attempting to push to a group of 300 workstations.

After installing the AutoInstall clients, the Manager wouldn't push the installation. I clicked the View Report tab to search for errors. Then, I contacted AutoInstall's technical support department, which sent me a patch to correct some problems with the client. My post-patch attempt was successful. Most of the installations worked correctly, but some clients didn't respond or hung on reboot.

I found the online Help instructive for program features but not for troubleshooting problems. The product documentation, which comes as a Microsoft Word document, provides some additional information.

At $20 per seat, AutoInstall is less of a bargain than competing products. AutoInstall's features and ease of use give it potential, but the software needs more work.

AutoInstall 1.17
Contact: 20/20 Software * 503-520-0504
Web: http://www.twenty.com
Price: Starts at $20 per seat; $8 per seat for deployments with more than 5000 seats
System Requirements: AutoInstall Administrator:
Windows NT 3.51 or later, Windows 9x, or Windows 3.x, 800KB of hard disk space
Distribution server:
NT 3.51 or later, Win9x, or Windows 3.x, 1MB of hard disk space, plus extra space for installation package
Reference PC:
NT 3.51 or later or Win9x, 9MB of hard disk space