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Microsoft plans to deliver a set of new software tools designed to remove some of the pain enterprises experience when deploying and managing desktops and applications.

The company is bundling four of the technologies it has acquired over the past few months into an offering known as the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack for Software Assurance. The bundle was announced at the SoftSummit conference in Santa Clara, Calif., on Oct. 17.

But these technologies will be available only as a single, add-on subscription pack, starting in January, to those customers with a Windows desktop Software Assurance contract.

The cost for those users will be $10 a year per desktop, said Gavriella Schuster, the senior director of Microsoft’s Windows client product marketing group, in Redmond, Wash.

The new pack includes the SoftGrid for Windows Desktop product, now known as Microsoft SoftGrid, acquired from Softricity, which is used in application virtualization and streaming, and the (Microsoft) Asset Inventory Services technology acquired from AssetMetrix, which lets users run an inventory scanner across their network environment to catalog all software on the desktops. The tool then translates that information into reports and analyses.

Also included is the IT administration pack acquired from Winternals, which will be renamed the Microsoft Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset and which accelerates desktop repair, and the GPOVault technology from the DesktopStandard acquisition, which will be renamed Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management. This software enables granular management of group policy through versioning, change management and delegation.

Perpetual, nonmaintenance versions of the four products will continue to be available from their original vendors through June 2007 at the current price but after that will be available only to Windows desktop Software Assurance subscribers, Schuster said.

“We have been hearing from customers for the last five years about a consistent set of pain points, particularly around application compatibility as well as on asset management and application lifecycle management,” Schuster said.

One enterprise that experienced the pain firsthand is Expedia, which is using Microsoft Asset Inventory Services to reduce its IT management and support headaches, while also gaining insight into the software on the company’s 5,700 desktops and other PCs, said Terry Blake, Expedia’s director of IT procurement, in Bellevue, Wash.

“Our first inventory recouped the cost of the service, which we licensed before its inclusion in the Desktop Optimization Pack, eight times over. We thought we were running many more versions of vendor software than we actually were. For the first time, we had solid proof. Before, we just had to guess,” Blake said.

Microsoft is likely to build this new functionality into the core Windows client kernel in the future, Schuster said.

Software Assurance customers also will be able to make these technologies available to some or all of their desktops, Schuster said, adding that more technology could be added to the optimization pack in the future.

The Microsoft SoftGrid product will be available in January through the volume license program, while the other three tools will be released by the end of June and will be included in the media kit for the desktop optimization pack shipped to those customers every month, Schuster said.

Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio was upbeat about the new pack, saying that companies need the ability to instantly access and control all the applications on employee desktops, mobile PCs and other machines.

“The Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack directly addresses these issues and will enable businesses to significantly reduce the actual time and actual number of administrators needed to successfully resolve help desk problems,” said DiDio in Boston.

Microsoft Desktop

Optimization Pack

The software maker is bundling four new software tools acquired from recent acquisitions:

* Microsoft SoftGrid, from Softricity

* Microsoft Asset Inventory Services, from AssetMetrix

* Microsoft Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset, from Winternals

* Microsoft Advanced Group Policy Management, from DesktopStandard

Source: Microsoft