Windows NT 5.0 Feature Focus: Customizing System Management

In Windows NT 5.0, management of the system has been centralized into a single console, which Microsoft has dubbed the Microsoft Management Console (MMC). Essentially an Explorer-like application that supports extensions called plug-ins (Picture), the MMC is, unlike previous application- or service-specific management tools, user extensible, meaning that any administrator can create custom management consoles that are tailored to their specific needs.

This article takes a look at the MMC in broad terms and then describes the steps needed to create a custom management console. The examples in this article are based on Windows NT Workstation 5.0 Beta 2; please note that a Server setup will offer even more management possibilities.

MMC overview
The MMC itself is nothing more than an empty shell (Picture) that is capable of hosting snap-ins. Think of it as the window that surrounds the management tools you need. Typically, you will start the MMC by right-clicking My Computer and choosing "Manage," which will bring up the "Computer Management" console as preconfigured by Windows NT 5.0. There are also a group of other preconfigured consoles in the "Administrative Tools" group in the Programs menu. These tools equate to management tools and Control Panel applets you're used to in Windows NT 4.0.

The purpose of the MMC's snap-in architecture, of course, is to provide a way to manage one or more areas of Windows NT from a central location. Not only is an MMC console extensible, but each console can host a multitude of snap-ins if needed. Also, future Microsoft BackOffice server applications and third-party applications will use the MMC as their central management point as well. Users of SQL Server and Exchange Server, for example, are familiar with those tools' own "manager" programs (Enterprise Manager and Exchange Administrator), which in many ways are very similar to each other. Well, beginning with the next versions of each of these products (SQL Server 7.0 and Exchange 6.0), management will occur within the familiar MMC console. This means that administrators will only need to learn one tool for any kind of management and, if you think about it, it is this kind of knowledge leverage that makes a standardized Windows interface work so well.

A final note about the MMC: While many users will only use the MMC to manage their own, local, system, the MMC is also designed to facilitate remote administration across a network. This is similar to the way many existing management tools work, of course, but it's nice to know that you will now have a single management point from a single desktop to manage your entire network. And, should you need to roam, you'll be able to sit down at any workstation and, with the appropriate login privileges, perform any management tasks you require.

Creating a custom console
OK, let's take a look at creating a custom console. While the default consoles provided with Windows NT 5.0 are quite nice, it is probably overkill to always be confronted with the plethora of tools presented in the preconfigured "Computer Management" console. Most people will develop a usage pattern, where certain tools are used on a daily basis, others are used on a weekly or monthly basis, and still others are rarely, if ever, used. After a few weeks with the MMC, you should be able to determine which tools you need to use the most often and it's at this point that you might want to create a custom management console. In the following steps, we will create a custom console for some of the more often-used system tasks.

Step 1
From the Start Menu, choose "Run...", type mmcand hit Enter. An empty console (Console1) appears.

Step 2
From the Console menu, choose "Add/Remove Snap-in..." The Add/Remove Snap-in dialog box (Picture) appears.

Step 3
In the Standalone pain, click the "Add..." button. The Add Standalone Snap-in dialog box (Picture) appears. This window contains a list of the management possibilities for your system. This list will depend on what Editon of NT you installed (Workstation, Server, Enterprise), what additional components you might have installed (Internet Information Services, etc.) and how your system is configured.

Step 4
Select "Event Viewer" from the list and click the Add button. This causes the Select Computer (Picture) dialog box to appear. This is where you would determine whether the management tool corresponds to your local machine or another machine on the network. Click Finish to select the Local computer as the management target.

Step 5
Using the previous step as a guide, add the Disk Defragmenter (which doesn't give you the option to defrag other computers, by the way), Local User Manager, Security Configuration Editor, and System Service Management. Close the Add Standalone Snap-in and the Add/Remove Snap-in dialog boxes when you are done. Your custom console should now resemble this picture. Clicking any of the management snap-ins the left pane will display the tool in the right pane.

Step 6
Finally, you'll want to save your console. To do this, simply choose "Save" or "Save As" from the console window. The system will automatically create a Programs menu group called "My Administrative Tools" for you (Picture). You can choose to save it there or in any location you desire. Obviously, you can also name it however you choose (if you have file extension view turned on, be sure to retain the *.msc extension). If you do choose to use the "My Administrative Tools" folder, you will notice that this folder has been added to your Programs menu in the Start menu.

Prior to Windows NT 5.0, there was little reason to create custom consoles because the only tools that used the MMC were in the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack and most administrators were happy with collecting all of those tools in a single place. With Windows NT 5.0, however, a host of tools are now available and the creation of custom management consoles is desirable. I suspect that most administrators (and even standalone desktop users) will choose to create their own consoles, making their interaction with the system simpler and easier. Enjoy!

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