Microsoft buys software firm to boost desktop management

Microsoft Corp. has bolstered its group-policy desktop management offering with the acquisition of New Hampshire software vendor DesktopStandard Corp.

Under the terms of the cash deal, Microsoft is acquiring the company’s GPOVault, PolicyMaker Standard Edition, Registry Extension, Software Update and Share Manager products. Microsoft plans to integrate them into its Group Policy Management Console (GPMC), which sets standard policies — such as which users have access to certain information or applications — for desktop and laptop computers across an enterprise, said Praerit Garg, a senior director in the Microsoft Windows Enterprise Management division.

The acquisition is especially important in providing GPMC better change-management functionality, Garg said. Managing changes in group-policy objects created by different administrators in an organization is one of the “pain points” customers said they were having with managing Windows computers across their companies. GPOVault especially should help alleviate this problem, he added.

Microsoft also is acquiring a talented group of employees — about 35 in all — Garg said will help the company develop its next-generation of group-policy management tools.

However, Microsoft did not acquire all of DesktopStandard’s portfolio. Twenty of DesktopStandard’s employees, under the direction of former DesktopStandard Chief Executive Officer John Moyer, have formed another company — BeyondTrust Corp. — which will sell Policy Maker Application Security as its flagship product.

Microsoft decided not to purchase Policy Maker Application Security from DesktopStandard because it was not consistent with the company’s group-policy management plan going forward, Garg said.

The product, which BeyondTrust’s Moyer said was the fastest-growing product at DesktopStandard, allows users to have elevated privileges to certain applications without granting users temporary administrator rights to every application.

The next version of Windows, Windows Vista, will tackle the same issue with a new feature called User Account Control that will allow network administrators to grant individual users temporary administrator passwords.

The key difference between that feature and Policy Maker Application Security is that administrators can set up elevated rights for users when they are using an application, giving the privileges to the application, not the user, said Scott McCarley, director of marketing for BeyondTrust. This is because with Policy Maker Application Security, the user will not need a temporary administrator password to get into the applications he or she needs, he said.

“We believe our customers can’t give out administrative passwords to all of their users [to access applications],” he said.

Though the purchase of DesktopStandard is closely timed with the planned delivery of Windows Vista to business customers — which Microsoft expects will happen next month — Garg said Microsoft did not purchase the company specifically for Vista’s release. However, Eric Voskuil, former chief technology officer for DesktopStandard and now a software architect at Microsoft, said that many of DesktopStandard’s customers time their purchases of group policy-management software with product migrations. The release of Vista and the subsequent adoption of the OS by businesses should give the products a sales boost, he said.

“As people transition to Vista, it will be a natural tendency to want to standardize the [group policy] configuration,” Voskuil said.

Both BeyondTrust and the employees from DesktopStandard who will now work within Microsoft’s Windows Enterprise Management Division will remain in offices in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Voskuil said. Prior to the acquisition, DesktopStandard had two offices in Portsmouth; Microsoft will take over one, and BeyondTrust will occupy the other.