Microsoft Tools Aids Shared Computers

Microsoft has released a toolkit for Windows XP designed for administrators with little or no IT experience that operate shared computers in public places.

The Microsoft Shared Computer Toolkit combines software tools with best practice documentation, enabling administrators to restrict system resources with the correct user policies, prevent programs from making unauthorized changes to the computers' hard disks and simplify the end user experience by eliminating unnecessary programs and interface elements.

One of the primary utilities bundled with the tool, called Windows Restrictions, streamlines the creation of local user profiles that establish what an end user can and cannot do with a shared computer.

For instance, an administrator may restrict access to system utilities such as the Control Panel, prevent the installation and use of applications even from external devices, choose a Web browser home page and set a time limit for individual sessions.

A new technology called Windows Disk Protection is meant as a way to supplement antivirus software by tracking changes that users or programs make to system hard drives. This may assist an administrator in identifying behavior consistent with malware. If these changes are unwelcome the drive may be restored the to its original state. Exclusions may be made for certain applications on an ad-hoc basis and for updates to Windows.

Microsoft emphasizes that the toolkit is not a replacement for more advanced management and security features that are found in its Active Directory services.

The end user benefits by Microsoft's implementation of new security features, collectively known as shared profile locking, that clear their tracks between sessions by eliminating browser history, Web passwords and shortcuts to recently viewed documents. Programs and settings that may confuse users can be stripped out by administrators in order to provide a better experience for them.

"The toolkit's effectiveness depends on what capabilities the computer's administrator chooses to enable. When fully deployed, the software toolkit essentially fools viruses, spyware and other unauthorized software by saving changes to a special partition on the hard disk rather than Windows XP's system files. When the computer restarts, all unauthorized changes disappear, returning the system to its previous state. It's a neat trick and example of how Microsoft should extend Windows XP capabilities," Senior Jupiter Analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

Wilcox continued, "More standard features allow the computer's administrator to greatly restrict usage rights, a capability otherwise sorely missing in Windows XP. Businesses can choose to restrict access using server-side software, but Microsoft provided no easy utility for other usage settings, such as home PCs or public environs, like libraries or schools, where there might be no server or server-side rights management software. The new toolkit allows for more granular rights restrictions than currently available. My expectation is that they foreshadow new rights capabilities coming in Windows Longhorn."

The Microsoft Shared Computer Toolkit is only available for customers with Genuine Windows and is meant to be installed on workgroup computers. The download is available at FileForum.

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