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By Greg Shultz
In its newest operating system Windows Vista, Microsoft is introducing a new version of the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) tool, which as you know provides you with a shell into which you can insert various tools called snap-ins. Version 3.0 of MMC tool provides more functionality for snap-ins than prior versions and sports a smoother looking user interface that makes it much easier to create as well as use consoles. The Action Pane on the right side of the console is a new area that displays a list of actions, or commands, that are associated with a selected snap-in.
The biggest change in the MMC 3.0 is the Add or Remove Snap-ins dialog box, which provides you with one comprehensive interface for creating custom consoles rather than the multiple dialog box interface used in previous versions. As you can see, you simply scroll through the Available snap-ins list and click the Add button to build your custom console in the Selected snap-ins panel.
As you scroll through the list of available snap-ins in MMC 3.0, you’ll notice that there are several new snap-ins, such as the NAP Client Configuration snap-in and the Reliability and Performance Monitor snap-in
One of the most anticipated security related snap-ins found in MMC 3.0 is the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security snap-in, which provides you with much more granular control over the Windows Firewall than what you’ll find in the Control Panel’s interface.
Some snap-ins, such as Computer Management, have extensions associated them. By clicking the Edit Extensions button in the new Add or Remove Snap-ins dialog box, you can customize the snap-in by choosing which extensions you want to include.
By default, all snap-ins are added to Console Root; however, if you’re building a custom console, you may want to place all snap-ins under a root of your choice. To do so, you click the Advanced button in the new Add or Remove Snap-ins dialog box and select the Allow Changing of the Parent Snap-in check box.
You’ll then find a Parent Snap-in drop down list in the new Add or Remove Snap-ins dialog box and can change the parent snap-in. In this case, I’ve set Computer Management to be the Parent Snap-in.
Here you can see that when I added the Component Services snap-in, it appeared directly under Computer Management as the Parent Snap-in, rather then under Console Root.
Selecting the Options command on the File menu reveals the Options dialog box where you can further customize your MMC 3.0 console. For example, you can give it more appropriate name as well as change the icon.
One of the new snap-ins in Windows Vista is called NAP (Network Access Protection) Client Configuration, which allows you to configure Windows Vista’s new policy enforcement platform. The new NAP policy, which will be available for Windows Longhorn Server, requires that a client computer’s health status be compliant before gaining access to a networked computer. When a computer attempts to gain access to a network, its health status will be audited, and if the system is not running with the latest patches, virus updates or other security-related software, it could be given restricted access or denied access to a network based on the customized policies setup by the network administrator.
Another one of the new snap-ins in Windows Vista is called Reliability and Performance and it provides a number of tools for tracking system performance. The home page of Reliability and Performance snap-in is called Resource View and it contains a set of graphs along with details that show the real-time usage and performance of CPU, Disk, Network, and Memory. To give the Resource View more screen space within the console, you can hide the Action Pane.
Within the Reliability and Performance snap-in, you’ll find that the new and improved Performance Monitor interface makes it very easy view performance data in real time and from logs using graphs as well as histograms and reports.
The new and improved Performance Monitor interface extends over to the Add Counters dialog box, which is laid out in such a way that is makes creating and organizing performance counters a much more intuitive process.
Within the Reliability and Performance snap-in, you’ll find the Reliability Monitor which displays the System Stability Chart, a reliability index which is compiled by Windows Vista’s Reliability Analysis Component (RAC) and provides you with an indication of your overall system stability over time.
As you can see, the dates on the x-axis indicate drastic changes to the system that are likely to have an impact on stability, such as operating system updates, application installations, or driver installations. The System Stability Report lists each event individually. Together, the chart and report, will allow you to track trends in your system’s reliability that are related these types of events.
In order to investigate the performance of the operating system and various programs, the Reliability and Performance snap-in uses a new paradigm called Data Collector Sets, which can include performance counters, event trace data, and configuration information. As such, Microsoft describes Data Collector Sets as the building blocks for performance monitoring and reporting because they can be used to organize multiple data collection points into a single component that can be used to review or log performance.
You can create Data Collector Sets from existing sets, from templates, or by manually selecting individual Data Collectors and setting each individual option in the Data Collector Set properties.
When you choose to create a new Data Collector Set, you’ll see the Create new Data Collector Set wizard, which will walk you through the steps necessary to create a custom Data Collector Set from a template or manually. In addition to walking you through the steps, the wizard contains links to specific information in the Help system as well as detailed descriptions in appropriate areas.
In Windows Vista, Task Scheduler is now a MMC snap-in rather than a stand-alone utility. As far as the overall goal, Windows Vista’s Task Scheduler snap-in is identical to its predecessors. However, the new Action Pane allows for more sophisticated scheduling based on a wide range of trigger events as well as the more standard date and time.
Rather than using a wizard interface to create a new scheduled task, Windows Vista’s MMC-based Task Scheduler, provides you with an easy to use multi-tabbed dialog box.
The Windows Firewall with Advanced Security snap-in provides you with much more granular control over the Windows Firewall than does the interface accessible via the Control Panel. For example, the Overview section reveals that from within this snap-in, you can configure both inbound and outbound protection of Windows Vista’s Firewall.
Opening the Outbound rules sections reveals that there are indeed a lot of rule options for configuring the outbound protection of Windows Vista’s Firewall.
The Help system in MMC 3.0 is extremely detailed as well as context adaptive. In other words, as you add snap-ins to a custom console, each snap-ins’ specific Help file is added to the basic MMC Help file. As such, you don’t end up with more than you need and finding what you need is very easy.
Further augmenting MMC 3.0’s native Help system is that the Help menu contains a link that takes you directly the Microsoft TechNet’s Online Resources page where you can find an abundance of additional and current information on MMC 3.0 and each of the individual snap-ins.