For the February 2005 issue of Computers in Libraries (CIL), I had compiled a Helping You Buy section on PC management software products from 14 different companies. Whereas that section had a fairly broad scope, this one will be more tightly focused on security-control software products.
Security-control software has come a long way in the 10 or so years that I have been wrestling with it. New, advanced features can help a systems manager maintain the software and associated considerations in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The basic purpose of security control software is to help maintain the integrity of a public PC configuration. A library is one of just a few types of entities that allows not only familiar clientele, but even unknown persons, to use its computers. And patrons do use the computers--in most cases from opening until closing. Security-control software helps to keep the computer in safe and predictable working order.
This section includes a product comparison chart that will help you to quickly and easily compare products from competing vendors. All of the information on the product comparison chart came directly from the vendors via a Web-based survey. In some cases, responses have been modified for brevity, clarity, or consistency.
The Software Features
Although many of the features listed in the product comparison chart are self-explanatory, some may not be. For example, I asked vendors, How can changes be made to configured workstations using your product? because if a library has only a handful of computers, then going to each workstation to make changes may not be a big deal. But it is a big deal if you manage hundreds of computers. In that case, you want tools that can let you perform the modifications over the network. If you work for a library with a number of branches or for a consortium, you probably want tools that can help you make changes from a centralized site.
Another question to vendors was, Can the workstation's configuration be completely reset after patron use? This is a major design consideration for vendors in the security-control software market. Some choose to go the restrictive route. That is, they try to prevent the computer from getting changed or messed up to begin with. Other vendors choose to go the nonrestrictive route. That is, they let patrons do much of what they want to do and then refresh or totally clean up patron changes at reboot. Some vendors use a combination of both strategies.
One important question was, Does your product accommodate the following (ongoing) types of system maintenance? The possible answers were operating system updates, antivirus software updates, anti-spyware software updates, along with can the updates be scheduled? These considerations had many of us stumped for a while. We knew that we needed to perform these updates to keep our workstations secure and functional. Yet, we had to jump through all sorts of hoops to make it happen. Now some vendors have added functionality into their products so that these critical tasks can be accommodated. What a relief!
One of the last questions was, Can the following potential patron activities be blocked: use of portable data storage such as a USB drive? Even my wife, who has poked fun at my tech savvy for many years, wears one of these nerd necklaces during her semester. USB drives are selling like hotcakes, and you may want to control their use in some instances.
A Couple of Special Notes
There were two questions that every vendor gave the same answer for. So, to save room in the chart, we've deleted the questions from there and will give you the facts here in the text: 1) None of these products requires a dedicated server. 2) Every product works with wireless devices such as laptops and tablet PCs.
Please note that one product in this article, Centurion Guard, has a hardware component in addition to a software component. …