Version 3.5 of Spiceworks IT Desktop adds some neat new functionality and doubles the number of network devices it can manage to 500, increasing the number of companies that may consider deploying the package. If adverts don't bother you, it make sense to at least try it out.
Free - unless you wish to dispense with the adverts with a $220 per year subscription; comprehensive feature set.
Windows only; advertising screen space seems to have increased slightly.
Version 3.5 of the free Spiceworks IT Desktop network management package, launched last week, adds several new features and now targets larger firms, although not yet large corporate enterprises.
Spiceworks saw the light of day in October 2006, and the first release was good for around 250 devices. Since then the software's network discovery has improved to the point where up to 500 devices can be scanned efficiently and, although it can work over the 500 limit, Spiceworks admitted that it will "not be as fast".
Spiceworks IT Desktop can perform network inventory and run a basic helpdesk, as well as provide functions enabling IT administrators to monitor, troubleshoot and report on their networks.
The browser-based package also puts users a step away from an IT administrator community, which could cut the time spent troubleshooting an irritating issue by supplying the answer much more quickly than support calls to other better known network management package vendors.
As with the previous version, Spiceworks can only run on Windows operating systems, with support for XP, Vista, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008. Although it will discover Linux, Mac and Unix systems, it will not run on them.
We downloaded the 17MB file and installed the package on a system running Windows XP with an Intel dual-core 3.2GHz processor and 2Gb of memory. We did try Spiceworks on a Server 2003 Enterprise Edition install, but that meant having to decrease browser security properties.
The first thing to do on start-up is to register your email address to log in to the package, which gives you the initial 'dashboard' screen showing all the IT management functions available, and the default setup as a variety of widgets showing things like Spiceworks news, current Microsoft security patches and others.
The next thing is to run an initial scan to pick up all the devices connected to the network. It picked up our router, switch, workstations, servers, wireless access point, printer and NAS backup device.
We could then customise Spiceworks to alert us when specific conditions arose, such as supplies running low on a printer, or a desktop's anti-virus signatures not being up to date, although only a subset of anti-virus packages are supported, namely those that support Windows Security Center. Alert notification involves setting up an email server, but as yet there are no facilities for SMS.