Managing the software installed on computers throughout an organization is a challenge for IT at the best of times. Issues such as responding to user needs, limiting some user access to specific applications, purchasing, license compliance, varying types of hardware to support, and update patch management draw on efforts of all members of an IT team (from desktop support staff to systems administrators to managers). Add the need to support both Macs and Windows into the mix—and the efforts can become even more complicated.
On both platforms, there is an array of tools for developing and deploying monolithic disk images of entire machines such as Symantec Ghost and Apple Software Restore. But rolling out the machines themselves is only half the battle (and some might say the easier half). You also need to develop a mechanism for installing additional new applications (and sometimes removing old ones as well) as user and departmental needs evolve. Even if there is no change in the needs of your users that require installation of additional software, you will probably need to develop a solution for installing software updates to the operating systems of clients as well as installed third-party software. You also need to have an accurate software inventory so that you can ensure both needed updates get installed to all appropriate machines and to ensure you are in compliance with the number of licenses that you have for each piece of software.
All this can be a tall order to handle amid all the other daily chores that are part of working in any IT department. There are plenty of Mac-specific and Windows-specific tools on the market to help ease and organize the challenge, but what really shines are those rare cohesive solutions that can be a remote software installation and management tool for both sides of a cross-platform environment. Here are five of the best options.
FileWave is in many ways the most veteran solution on this list, having been an option for software management on Macs and PCs dating back to well before the days of Mac OS X and Windows XP. FileWave functions as a client/server solution that allows administrators to create file sets for applications (as well as supporting files) that can be associated with groups of workstations. At regular intervals, the FileWave client will query the server to check for updates to the file sets associated with it. If it detects changes to an existing file set or changes to the file sets associated with it, it will download the appropriate new files (or remove the appropriate existing files).
The FileWave client integrates very seamlessly with client operating systems. It includes a reporting function that can easily generate details about the number and distribution of software. The server component, which requires Mac OS X Server, also supports installation of multiple servers (known as FileWave Boosters) to provide faster client access as well as load balancing and fault tolerance.