There are many advantages to consistency in desktop
applications throughout your organization. Having all your systems run the same
application versions cuts down on confusion and incompatibility issues. When a
business is small, you may be able to manually upgrade applications on all
machines to keep them consistent, but as the company grows, this can become a
time-intensive proposition. Luckily, there are a number of ways to automate the
software management and upgrade process.

Group Policy Software Installation feature

In a Windows domain, the simplest and least costly option is
to use the Software Installation feature built into Windows 2000 and Server
2003 Group Policy. This allows you to control the deployment of new versions of
application software (as well as application of service packs and updates) that
comes in the form of an .MSI package. Once you’ve deployed an application using
Group Policy Software Installation (GPSI), you can easily remove it or upgrade
it remotely, without having to manually visit each desktop.

GPSI gives you a lot of control over your applications. You
can assign particular applications to members of user groups or to all the
users or computers in a particular organizational unit (OU). Then if a user is
removed from that group or OU, the application can be automatically removed.

There are two ways to deploy software through GPSI:

  • Assign
    applications to users or computers
  • Publish
    applications to users

Publishing an application to users gives those users the
option to install it, but does not force the user to do so. Assigning an
application “advertises” that application on the computer of each user to which
it’s assigned. It isn’t actually installed at that point, but it appears in the
Start menu and the first time a user tries to open it, or clicks a file that’s
associated with that application, the application is automatically installed.
When you assign an application to a computer, it is generally installed the
next time the computer boots.

Upgrading an application is done by assigning or publishing
the upgrade package. Click
for detailed instructions on how to upgrade applications using GPSI.

Microsoft Systems Management Server

As your organization grows larger, you may want to move up
to a more sophisticated software deployment and update tool. Microsoft’s
Systems Management Server (SMS) is one of the most popular options. SMS 2003
was Windows IT Pro Magazine’s pick for best software deployment tool.

SMS can do much more than deploy software; it can also
create software and hardware inventories and other asset management features
and has sophisticated reporting capabilities.

You have a lot of flexibility in how you deploy your
software by building “collections” of computers according to set criteria (for
example, portable computers on a specific subnet). The downside is that you
need a bit more technical knowledge to take full advantage of SMS’s features. You may need to know how to write SQL
queries and you may need to know how to rewrite software packages into an .MSI
file for deployment and how to use transform (.MST) files to edit and customize

One advantage of SMS in a Windows domain environment is its
integration with Active Directory, Remote Assistance and other Windows
management services.

SMS, along with Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and
Microsoft Data Protection Manager (DPM) is part of the Microsoft System Center
family of products. You can learn more about SMS 2003 by clicking here:

Third-party solutions

There are a number of third-party
enterprise-level software management solutions that you may want to consider,
especially if your network includes multiple platforms/operating systems.

For example, ManageSoft allows you to distribute and manage software
across the LAN or across the Internet, to servers, desktops and mobile devices
running on Windows, Linux, UNIX or Macintosh. It supports systems connected via
LAN, WAN, VPN, dialup, or satellite connections. It also includes remote
control and diagnostics features. You can find out more about the product here:

Another third-party option is the LANDesk Management Suite.
This is another cross-platform enterprise-level product that includes software
distribution along with operating system deployment, software license
monitoring, inventory management and remote systems management over the
Internet. It uses “targeted multicast” technology to reduce the amount of
bandwidth used to distribute large software packages, without the without the extra cost and effort needed for dedicated distribution servers. It also
supports policy-based configuration management, and integrates with both
Windows Active Directory and Novell NDS/eDirectory.
Click here for more information about LANDesk’s software
deployment features
. Other large management suites that include
software/application deployment and management include:

  • HP OpenViewRadia technologies
    (replaced OpenView Software Distributor).
    Includes OpenView Management Suite for Desktops,
    which can collect inventory information, prepare application packages and
    target specified desktops for deployment and maintenance of software.
  • IBM
    Tivoli Provisioning Manager
    , which automates on-demand provisioning
    and configuration of operating systems, applications and more on servers
    running the following operating systems: Windows 2000, Server 2003, Red
    Hat Linux, SuSE, SLES, Solaris, HP-UX and AIX.

Application Service Providers

Of course, there’s another way to ensure that application
software is consistent and always up to date without having to worry about
deploying updates and upgrades yourself. That’s to
contract with an Application Service Provider (ASP). The ASP owns the software
and maintains the servers that run it. Customers use the application by
connecting to the servers via a Web browser or thin client program, and your
company pays for the use of the application (on a per-use or monthly/annual fee

The ASP model can be especially cost effective for small
businesses, who can’t afford the cost of the infrastructure and IT personnel
with the requisite expertise. This is especially true when it comes to
expensive specialty software. One big advantage is that the ASP, not your
company, is responsible for updating and upgrading the applications. You can
find a directory of application service providers for business applications by clicking here.


Deploying software is a task that, like many others, becomes
more complex and more costly as your organization grows. It helps to know your
software deployment options and create a plan that will scale as your company
and network get bigger.