If you've ever been tasked with gathering information about a computer for an inventory, before a hardware upgrade, or just to find out if all the most recent hotfixes have been installed, you're going to love Belarc Advisor.
Belarc Advisor is a free program that builds a detailed profile of all your installed software and hardware, Microsoft hotfixes, and antivirus status. It also provides you with detailed Center for Internet Security (CIS) benchmarks. The results are then displayed in a nicely formatted HTML report. From your Web browser, you can easily sift through the report information and access Web sites for additional information. However, all of your computer profile information is stored on your system and is not sent to any Web server.
Keep in mind that the license associated with Belarc Advisor allows for free personal use only. Use on multiple PCs in a corporate, educational, military, or government installation is prohibited. Belarc provides additional applications and licensing options for large scale use.
You can download Belarc Advisor from TechRepublic's Software Library.
To find it, just type Belarc in the text box and click Search. When you click the Download link, you'll see the File Download dialog box and should just click Save.
Once you download Belarc Advisor, locate the Advisor.exe file in Windows Explorer and double-click it to launch the installation. When you do so, you might see the Open File Security Warning message. Just click the Run command to get started. The Belarc Advisor installation is a smooth and painless operation and takes only a couple of minutes to complete. A progress bar (Figure A) keeps you apprised of the installation status.
|A progress bar|
You must agree to the Belarc Advisor license, which only allows for free personal use on a single computer. Once the installation is complete, the Belarc Advisor will create the initial profile of your computer.
After a few moments, you'll see the Computer Profile Summary page (Figure B). However, I've discovered that this initial report, while impressive looking, does not provide a complete picture. Just close this page after a quick perusal and then use the icon on your desktop to launch the Belarc Advisor again.
|The first Computer Profile Summary|
Upon running the Belarc Advisor again, you'll see that the analysis stage is updating your computer's profile. In addition to updating your computer's profile, Belarc Advisor checks your computer's security settings.
You'll now see that the Computer Profile Summary page (Figure C) contains the System Security Status section. However, you'll notice that the security definitions are out of date.
|The second Computer Profile Summary|
To resolve this, just click the link and you'll be taken to the security definitions update page on the Belarc site. You can then follow the prompts to download and install the new security definitions.
Once the new security definitions are installed, the Belarc Advisor will restart and provide you with a current and accurate report. The report is extremely detailed and very long. Scrolling through in the browser is easy though, and the menu on the left provides you with links to key sections of the report. (Figure D)
|The full report|
Looking at the first part of the page, you'll find detailed information about your operating system, the motherboard, processor, RAM, and all the drives in the computer. In the second part, you'll find a list of local user accounts, along with more hardware details and a brief summary of your virus protection. Note the information in the Controllers, Bus Adapters, and Other Devices sections.
If you are missing any crucial hotfixes, they will appear in the Missing Microsoft Security Hotifixes section. In the Installed Hotfixes section, you can see that the hotfixes are broken out by category and each entry contains the Knowledge Base ID number and the date on which it was installed.
At the bottom of the Hotfixes section, you'll find a legend that tells you what the lock, check mark, and X icons represent (Figure D). If you click the details link next to any entry, you'll be taken to Knowledge Base article that describes that particular hotfix.
I've discovered that it is better to right-click on the details link and select Open In New Window or Open In New tab. Doing so prevents Internet Explorer from blocking active content upon using the Back button to return to Belarc Advisor.
In the Software Licenses section, you'll find license and key numbers. In the Software Versions section, you'll find version numbers for all the software you have installed on your computer.
If you hover your mouse pointer over the asterisk (*) next to any entry in the Software Versions section (Figure E), you'll see a pop-up that contains properties information, such as executable filenames, size, and date last accessed. If you click the asterisk, the folder containing the application will open in the browser window.
|Hover the mouse|
If you return to the System Security Status section, you'll notice that the CIS (Center for Internet Security) Benchmark Score contains a number score and a link to more details.
On the CIS Benchmark Score Details report page (Figure F), you'll not only find your score, but you'll also find a detailed listing of all kinds of system security settings you'll need to change in order to lock down your system, make it safer, and improve your score. Clicking any of the links will take you the Belarc site, where you can find more information about the settings. As you can see, this test system scored only 2.5 out of 10 in the CIS benchmark system.
|CIS Benchmark Score Details|
Overall, Belarc Advisor is very easy to use, very informative, and is a very a nice tool to have in your PC arsenal.
Belarc Advisor runs on Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000/XP/2003 Server/Vista and works with most recent versions of the major Web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.