I hesitate to consider the total time I've spent installing individual applications, files, or system configurations across the Windows NT Magazine Lab's test systems. The number of hours must be staggering. I've often wanted to set a common configuration on a system and simply roll that configuration out to other systems.

Thanks to LANovation's PictureTaker Express 2.0, I don't have to wish anymore. PictureTaker Express tracks the changes you make to one computer and records them into a self-installing executable file. This file can contain an image of an entire setup or specific parts of a setup, including any or all software, part or all of the Registry, .ini file settings, autoexec.bat and config.sys, directories, or even entire drives. Then, when you apply the self-installing file to other workstations (even remote workstations), the changes roll out exactly as you recorded them.

PictureTaker Express' smart self-installing files set this product apart from its competition. The software doesn't require that the model and target systems have the same configuration structure. For example, your model system's NT root folder might be C:\winnt, but your target system's directory might be D:\winnts. Despite the systems' differences, PictureTaker Express will determine the appropriate location on the target system for each file, folder, and Registry entry.

An easy-to-use wizard guides you through the four steps of creating self-installing files: Take a snapshot of the system, make your changes to the system, take a post-change snapshot, and name the self-installing file. After the wizard finishes, you can distribute your executable file to client locations over any network. You can send the file via the Internet, as an email attachment, on a CD-ROM, or by using a network-management tool such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) or Intel LANDesk.

I opened PictureTaker Express from the Start menu, and the wizard walked me through the creation of a WinZip 7.0 self-installing file. I clicked Next, and the wizard began capturing my configuration and Registry settings, which took about 4 minutes. I clicked the Advanced Options button and selected Add an entry in the Add/Remove programs applet so I could undo the changes that the self-installing file makes, if necessary. In less than 5 minutes, I created my first self-installing file. Even if you close the wizard or reboot your system, PictureTaker Express will continue to record changes you make to the system.

If you forget to make a change (e.g., to a Registry key) or want to customize the file (e.g., change the installation path), you can open the self-installing file to make manual changes or tweaks, as Screen 1 shows. I was able to easily install or uninstall programs, add or delete files and folders, and add or modify Registry entries within minutes. I could edit self-installing files to include variables, set disk space requirements, and configure other parameters.

The first time you run a self-installing file on a client, you must either have administrator privileges or log on using the local system's authority. Also, you don't need to worry about file access and security risks, because PictureTaker Express doesn't give self-installing files permission to override NTFS permissions already set up on the target system.

If you need to capture changes you make to a system and replicate those changes to any number of PCs, then PictureTaker Express is the product for you. If you need more control over client systems, consider purchasing PictureTaker Enterprise Edition. Download an evaluation copy from LANovation's Web site. You'll be glad to climb aboard the PictureTaker Express. (Author's note: At press time, LANovation has changed its product's name to PC Updater.)

PictureTaker Express 2.0
Contact: LANovation * 612-379-3805
Web: http://www.lanovation.com
Price: $895 (no client licenses required)
System Requirements: 486 processor or better, Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, or Windows 9x, 8MB of RAM, 6MB of hard disk space, VGA video or better