Does this task-automation utility live up to its claims?

\[Editor's Note: At press time, Barefoot Productions had released AutoShutdown 3.2. Visit the company's Web site for more information.\]

I'm always interested in tools that help me automate tasks and control my network environment. Barefoot Productions' AutoShutdown 3.10B is a Windows utility that claims to do both. Administrators can also configure the utility to delete temporary and cached files and launch applications upon shutdown or logoff.

I installed AutoShutdown on a Compaq Deskpro 5100 running NT Workstation 4.0 with Service Pack 5 (SP5). I chose the default option for each installation question, and the installation finished quickly without requiring a reboot. With a few initialization and setup options, I could control whether AutoShutdown's Registry settings wrote to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE or HKEY_CURRENT_USER key, whether AutoShutdown ran as a service or launched as an application, and whether I loaded settings from a preexisting configuration file. I chose to write the Registry settings to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER key and run AutoShutdown as a service. No preexisting configuration file existed, so I created a file manually using the choices that Screen 1 shows.

Several property-sheet tabs set triggers that initiate actions (e.g., a logoff or shutdown on the local PC) or control exceptions (e.g., an open dial-up session or an active application). Other tabs control actions that occur during the program's shutdown or logoff process, including automatic data saving; shutdown and logoff warnings for users; and options to delete temporary, cached, or Recycle Bin files. The TCP/IP tab configures a PC to act as an AutoShutdown client or server and enable remote shutdown capability. The remaining tabs let you configure general properties.

To test AutoShutdown, I set the program to save all data from open applications and configured the program to give default responses to application messages. Then, I set the program to trigger a 10-minute inactivity logoff and a daily shutdown at a specific time. Finally, I exported the settings to a .cfg file and used the file to configure AutoShutdown on four other NT 4.0 PCs.

Because AutoShutdown didn't store the password and program exception settings in the configuration file, I had to configure these settings manually on each PC. Then I encountered a real bug. The first time I tested the inactivity trigger, the time limit passed and AutoShutdown didn't initiate a logoff. I discovered that the AutoShutdown service hadn't started, so I started it manually and tested it again. The inactivity trigger still didn't work, although a scheduled shutdown did occur. I expected AutoShutdown to power off my Advanced Power Management (APM)-compliant PCs, but when I read the product documentation more closely, I found that the utility won't power off PCs that you can't power off from the Start menu.

I still didn't understand why the inactivity trigger wouldn't work. I double-checked my settings, ran the test again, and tested the remote shutdown capabilities. I referenced AutoShutdown Help and visited the Barefoot Productions Web site. Both areas provided fair documentation and some troubleshooting steps, but I found nothing to resolve my problems. Finally, I ran AutoShutdown as an application instead of a service, and the features worked. AutoShutdown's developer told me the bugs would be resolved in release 3.5, which should be available by April 1, 2000.

On NT-based PCs, systems administrators can use system policies and a few batch files to implement many of the same operations that AutoShutdown performs. However, the ability to use one easy-to-configure interface to control shutdowns might justify the program's cost. If Barefoot Productions irons out the bugs in AutoShutdown, the product can be useful in environments with Win9x clients that don't interact with Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 4.0 Resource Kit utilities. Fortunately, you can try before you buy—a 14-day demonstration version of AutoShutdown is available at the Barefoot Productions Web site.

AutoShutdown 3.10B
Contact: Barefoot Productions * 303-665-8234
Web: http://www.barefootinc.com
Price: $24.95 per user; business and educational site licenses available
Decision Summary: Pros: AutoShutdown consolidates multiple shutdown and logoff features into one interface and lets administrators control Windows 9x PCs.
Cons: The program has bugs that prevent it from functioning as advertised. Even if the next release has no bugs, AutoShutdown's features are valuable to only a small audience.