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Virtual Learning

Often, after I make a recommendation in this column, I get email from readers asking me how to implement it. The problem is that many of the suggestions are fairly complex and difficult to walk someone through, especially if I have to introduce new concepts that the reader is unfamiliar with or has never tried.

Group Policy Objects (GPOs) are one such concept. For administrators that have been managing Windows networks, using GPOs is second nature. But for new administrators, especially in the small and midsized business (SMB) space, aggressively using GPOs can be a bit scary. Often, they need a little hand-holding to help them through their initial GPO deployments.

Help is on the way. Using GPOs is the subject of one of eight virtual labs that Microsoft has online right now. A virtual lab is a Remote Desktop connection via the RDP ActiveX control to a server at Microsoft. Each virtual lab has a downloadable manual that walks you through the exercise; you have 90 minutes to complete each lab exercise.

These virtual labs let users experiment with various tasks and technologies on a live computer, without the need to set up test computers in their own environment. They offer a great solution for small businesses that can't afford to keep test networks up and running for their IT departments. I've received positive feedback from readers for three of the eight available labs: Configuration Management with GPOs, Deploying Windows XP SP2, and Using the User State Migration Tool. The labs are definitely worth a look if you need a little help with unfamiliar processes. You can check them out at

The link also has several on-demand Webcasts that cover a wide variety of topics on desktop deployment. The on-demand Webcasts are delivered as two downloads: a .wmv file containing the broadcast and a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation. The Web site lists 38 on-demand Webcasts about desktop deployment, and the eight virtual labs all have accompanying Webcasts.

Webcasts and virtual labs are also available for topics such as security and for applications such as Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS) and Microsoft Exchange Server. These online resources are excellent for jump starting your use of the technologies and processes that they cover.

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