If you’ve ever tried to inventory your computers without the aid of network management software, you’ve probably found that it’s time consuming. Not only does it take a long time, but it’s also easy to miss patches, applications, and the like. Unfortunately, software that automates the PC inventory process tends to be expensive. However, a company named Belarc offers the Belarc Advisor, free PC inventory software that’s extremely easy to use. I’ll show you where to get this software and how to use it.

The licensing issues
Before you get too excited, there are a few things that you should know about the way Belarc licenses the Belarc Advisor. The Belarc Advisor is 100 percent free. The catch is that unless you’re just an individual who happens to own multiple PCs, you can only use the product on a single machine. The end-user license agreement prohibits the software from being used on multiple machines in a corporate, educational, military, or government installation. Belarc does make provisions for charities, but to obtain such a license, you must contact Belarc at info@belarc.com. If you need to get similar inventory information on multiple PCs, check out Belarc’s BelManage.

Begin the installation process by downloading the Belarc Advisor. The download file is a mere 602 KB in size, so the download time should be minimal. The file is designed to run on just about any PC. The software will run on Windows 95, 98, Me, NT 4.0, 2000, and XP. The only other requirement is a supported Web browser; the Belarc Advisor supports both Internet Explorer 3 and above and Netscape 3 and above.

Once the download completes, run the ADVISOR.EXE file that you downloaded to begin the Setup process. The Belarc Advisor uses a very simple Setup Wizard. On the wizard’s Welcome screen, just click the Install button to install the software. The wizard doesn’t make any provisions for custom install directories, minimal installations, or complete installations. There’s only one way to install the software. When the installation completes, you’ll see the End-User License Agreement. Just click the I Agree button to conclude the installation process. The Belarc Advisor will build a profile of your PC and display an inventory based on the newly created profile in your Web browser.

The PC inventory
Now that I’ve shown you how to acquire and install the Belarc Advisor, it’s time to take a look at the actual PC inventory it produces. The inventory is long enough that it won’t all fit in a single screen capture. Therefore, I’ve included the top portion of a typical inventory in Figure A, and other portions in other figures.

Figure A
The top portion of a PC inventory provides basic information about the machine’s operating system and hardware.

As you can see in the figure, the top portion of the inventory page displays information about the machine’s hardware and its operating system. The inventory report begins by showing you the computer name and the domain that the computer belongs to. As you can see in the figure, I’m using a computer named Taz that exists in a domain named TEST. The summary section also displays the date that the current profile was created, the Belarc Advisor version being used, and the name of the user who’s presently logged in.

If you look below the profile summary section, you’ll see the name of the operating system that’s installed, along with any information on service packs. Next to the operating system, you’ll see the System Model. This is simply the manufacturer of the PC’s system board.

The next area of interest is the Processor section. The Processor section tells you the system’s clock speed, processor type (Pentium III, Pentium IV, etc.), and the sizes of the level one and level two caches. Next to the processor information, there’s a section called Main Circuit Board. The Main Circuit Board section contains information about the computer’s system board. Although this section contains serial numbers and the like, the most useful statistic here is the bus clock speed.

Just beneath the Processor section is the Drives section. This section provides detailed information about each drive in the system. This includes hard drives, CD-ROM drives, floppy drives, and just about anything else you might have. However, the system I ran the inventory on contains a very old Iomega Zip drive, the parallel port version. It didn’t show up on the list of drives.

The final section shown in its entirety in Figure A is the Memory Modules section. The Memory Modules section not only displays how much memory the system has, but also what type of memory module is installed in each memory slot.

Hot fix information
As you scroll through the inventory report, the next section looks something like what’s shown in Figure B. As you can see in the figure, the inventory contains information about hard drive partitions, local user accounts, and network drive mappings. Although this information is certainly helpful, the most useful part of this screen is the Installed Microsoft Hot Fixes section.

Figure B
The middle portion of the inventory contains much more detailed information.

The Installed Microsoft Hot Fixes section lists all of the installed hot fixes. The Belarc Advisor attempts to verify each hot fix to make sure it’s complete. If a hot fix has been verified, it’s marked with a check mark; hot fixes that fail a verification test are marked with a red X. Unmarked hot fixes are unverifiable.

What’s interesting is that this section contains links that you can click to gain more information about installed hot fixes. Clicking on one of these links takes you to the Microsoft Knowledge Base Article associated with the fix. There’s also a link at the bottom of the section that shows you all of the available hot fixes for your operating system.

Communications and license sections
The other sections found in Figure B simply provide more detailed information about your hardware. For example, some of the sections provide detailed information about your printers, display adapter, and multimedia adapter. Although not shown in its entirety in Figure B, the Communications section contains the MAC address and IP address for your network cards. You can see the bottom half of the Communications section shown in Figure C.

Figure C
The Software Licenses and Software Versions sections provide information essential to a good software audit.

If you’re interested in conducting a software audit or a software inventory, you’ll be especially interested in the last two sections shown in Figure C. The Software Licenses section displays all of the licenses that are noted within the system’s registry. The Software Versions section lists all of the software on the machine that Windows knows about. Keep in mind that if you have any software that doesn’t rely on registry entries, then it probably won’t appear on the list.

If you look closely at Figure C, you’ll notice asterisks next to each listed piece of software. If you click on the asterisks, the Belarc Advisor will take you to the folder that the particular application is installed into.

Updating your inventory
The PC inventory that I’ve shown you was generated directly by running the Setup program. However, you don’t have to run the Setup program each time you want to see an updated inventory. Instead, the Setup program creates a Belarc command on Windows’ Start | All Programs menu. Selecting this command will generate an updated inventory for the machine.

Although it’s not included on the App Programs menu, the Belarc Advisor does come with an uninstall program. You can uninstall the Belarc Advisor by going into the \Program Files\Belarc\Advisor folder and running the UNINSTALL.EXE file.