When you’re troubleshooting various problems on Windows XP systems, you probably use a number of the operating system’s native troubleshooting tools. For example, you may examine the Event Viewer logs in order to gather information about hardware, software, and system problems. You might also use Device Manager to investigate hardware problems. Chances are that to perform these troubleshooting operations, you’re physically going from system to system and using these tools locally. You can cut down your travel time considerably by taking care of these chores remotely. To do so, take a few moments to learn how to use the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) to create a custom console that will allow you to use these same tools to remotely troubleshoot computers across the network. To show you how, I’ll provide you with a brief introduction to MMC and explain how it works. I’ll then show you how to use MMC to create and save a custom console that will allow you to remotely run Device Manager and Event.

An MMC overview
Before we get started, you need to have a basic understanding of what MMC is all about. It’s important to realize that, by itself, MMC is only a shell into which you can insert various tools called snap-ins. Windows XP comes with a couple of dozen snap-ins that you can use to build your custom MMC console. In addition to Windows XP’s native snap-ins, other snap-ins from third-party developers can be incorporated into a custom console.

You can use any of the snap-ins from within the common user interface provided by the MMC host. In this case, the console consists of a window divided into two panes—the left pane is called the console tree and basically displays a list of all the snap-ins contained in the console. When you select a snap-in from the tree, you can see and use the controls provided by that particular snap-in in the details pane on the right. This layout is very similar to that of Windows Explorer, which makes using the console as a home base, so to speak, very intuitive.

MMC consoles are everywhere in Windows XP

If you’ve used any of the tools provided in the Administrative Tools folder in the Control Panel, such as Services or Performance, then you’ve already used an MMC console and are familiar with the MMC layout. In addition to the Control Panel’s Administrative Tools, Windows XP’s Group Policy editor is also an MMC console.

Getting started
Now that you have a general idea of how MMC works, let’s take a look at how you go about creating one that you can use to troubleshoot remote Windows XP systems on your network. To fill out our example, let’s suppose that you have five systems that you need to troubleshoot on a regular basis.

To begin, you’ll access the Run dialog box by selecting the Run command from the Start menu or pressing the [Windows]R hotkey. Then, in the Open text box, you’ll type Mmc. When you do, you’ll see an empty console, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
When you first launch MMC, you’ll see an empty console to which you can add various snap-ins.

At this point, go ahead and save the console by pulling down the File menu and selecting the Save command. When you do, you’ll see a standard Save As dialog box rooted in the Administrative Tools folder. Just give the console an appropriate name, such as My Troubleshooting Tool, and click the Save button.

You’re now ready to begin adding snap-ins to create your custom console. Pull down the File menu and select the Add/Remove Snap-in command. This will bring up the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box, as shown in Figure B. This dialog box will be your staging area where you’ll compile a list of snap-ins before actually adding them to your custom console.

Figure B
You’ll use the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box to select the snap-ins that you want to add to your custom console.

Click the Add button and you’ll see the Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box shown in Figure C. As you can see, the ActiveX Control snap-in is selected by default and that information about this particular snap-in is displayed in the Description panel. You can use the down arrow to scroll, one-by-one, through the list and learn more about each of the available snap-ins. 

Figure C
The Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box displays the list of all Windows XP native snap-ins.

Using the Folder snap-in to organize your console
As you scroll through the list of available snap-ins, you’ll come across the Folder snap-in, which you can use to organize your console. To begin, select the Folder snap-in and click the Add button five times. Next, click the Close button to exit the Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box. When you return to the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box, click OK and you’ll see your console with the five folders appearing in both the console tree and the details pane.

To continue, right-click on each folder, select the Rename command, and name the folder after each one of the computers you’ll be troubleshooting. When you’re finished, your console will look similar to the one shown in Figure D, which pictures an arrangement similar to that in Windows Explorer.

Figure D
Using the Folder snap-in will help you organize your console.

Adding the troubleshooting snap-ins
Now that you’ve created your folders, you’ll add the snap-ins and connect them to each of the remote computers. To begin, pull down the File menu and select the Add/Remove Snap-in command to display the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box. Now, double-click one of the folders to open it. When you do, you’ll see that any snap-ins you add will be placed in that folder.

To continue, click the Add button to bring up the Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box. Then, select Device Manager from the Available Standalone Snap-ins list and click the Add button. You’ll now see a dialog box that prompts you to select the computer that you want to manage. Since this is a remote computer, you’ll select the Another Computer option and type the name of the computer in the text box, as shown in Figure E. Finally, click the Finish button. When you do so, the snap-in will connect itself to the remote computer. Keep in mind that, for this to work, you must have an Administrative account on that computer.

Figure E
When you add a snap-in that is capable of accessing remote computers, you’ll be prompted to specify the computer.

At this point, select the Event Viewer snap-in and click the Add button. You’ll again be prompted to select the computer that you want this snap-in to manage. When you complete the operation, the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box will look like the one shown in Figure F.

Figure F
You’ll see these two snap-ins connected to the remote computer.

To continue, click the Snap-ins Added To drop-down arrow at the top of the dialog box and select the next computer folder from the list. You’ll then add the Device Manager and Event Viewer snap-ins for that computer. Repeat these steps for each computer in your list. When you finish, your custom console will look like the one shown in Figure G. Be sure to save your custom console by pressing [Ctrl]S.

Figure G
Once you finish, you’ll see remote connections between the snap-ins and each of the computers you want to troubleshoot.

Using your custom console
Once you’ve created your custom console, you can easily troubleshoot problems on Windows XP systems without having to run all over the building. The first time you select Device Manager for a remote computer, you’ll see the read-only warning message shown in Figure H. It’s important to keep in mind that when remotely troubleshooting with Device Manager, this tool operates in read-only mode. Thus, it will only allow you to examine the hardware. If you need to uninstall devices or change properties or drivers, you must run Device Manager on the computer on which you want to make changes.

Create a shortcut to your custom console

To make it easy to access your custom console, you should create a shortcut to it. To do so, simply open the folder into which you saved the console, right-click its file, and select the Send To | Desktop (Create Shortcut) command. Alternatively, you can select the Pin To Start menu command.

Figure H
Device Manager operates in read-only mode when used across a network.

Once you click OK, you’ll see the remote Device Manager connection and can explore the tree, as shown in Figure I, and double-click any device to view its properties dialog box. If you want to change the way Device Manager presents the device information, you can right-click on its icon in the console tree and select any of the options that appear on the View submenu. You can also use the View menu on the console menu bar.

Figure I
You can explore the Device Manager tree and double-click any device to investigate its properties dialog box.

When you expand the Event Viewer subtree, you can view any one of its log files simply by selecting it, as shown in Figure J. To manipulate the log file, you can use the options found on the Action and View menus. You can also access these options by right-clicking on the log file icon in the console tree.

Figure J
To view the contents of any of the remote log files, simply select its icon in the console tree.

Using the Favorites feature

If you have a lot of folders and snap-ins in your custom console, you may find it advantageous to use the MMC Favorites feature to make returning to a specific snap-in easier. This feature works the same way Favorites work in Internet Explorer.

More information
The MMC is absolutely packed with additional features and uses, and I’ve only scratched the surface in this article. If you really want to learn more about this powerful feature, the best place to learn more about MMC is in its Help system. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the MMC Help system is context sensitive. As such, if you access the Help system in your custom console, it will only contain information about the MMC console and the snap-ins that you’ve added to it. If you want to learn more about the other snap-ins, you can create a new console, add the snap-in that you’re interested in, and then access the Help system. You can also search Windows XP’s Help and Support Center for information on individual snap-ins. Another alternative is to investigate the following articles from Microsoft for more information about MMC.