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The Desktop Authority Alternative

Many of our customers have converted from Desktop Authority to FastTrack. The most common reason is the cost of Desktop Authority. FastTrack costs roughly the same as a single year of Desktop Authority renewal.

FastTrack Automation Studio offers most of the same features through an even simpler point and click configuration - but without the need to install, maintain and update a "client" on machines. It's zero touch - nothing needs to be installed on clients and you do not need any extra infrastructure. FastTrack is even simpler than Desktop Authority.

No drawbacks. If you would like to talk with us, give us a call at 262-299-4606.

Download FastTrack Automation Studio

Desktop Authority Alternative

A conversion guide

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Create a logon script with your own logo in 30 minutes without writing a single line of code! Visit fasttracklogon.com


Benefits

Here are the main reasons, you would want FastTrack Automation Studio instead of Desktop Authority (DA):
  • FastTrack Automation Studio costs three times less than DA. Check the store here - you need Enterprise edition.
  • FastTrack Automation Studio is even easier to configure with point and click configuration than DA (see next section).
  • FastTrack Automation Studio does not require you to install and maintain a "client" - you simply use Group Policy to push logon scripts and packages.
  • FastTrack Automation Studio does not require any extra infrastructure at all.
  • Microsoft best practice is to use Group Policy Objects (GPO) as much as possible. FastTrack Automation Studio builds components to deploy using GPO.

Logon Scripts and Software Deployment = DA Alternative

This page has three sections. At the bottom, you will find a FAQ to sum up questions from the first two sections. The first section below describes setting up logon scripts for desktop preparation. The second section is Software Deployment to manage software on clients. These two features combined is the DA alternative. But not only is it an alternative - you have lots of features not available in DA at all. Download the fully functional software using the button at the top and see for yourself!

Setting up a logon script for desktop preparation

The first step is to walk through the simple Logon Script Wizard to set up the logon script. Click the "Logon Script" icon on the App Factory shell and select "Set Up Logon Script".
App Factory Logon Script Generator
Once you start the wizard, you need to build a starter logon script. You do not need to do the whole configuration at once. You can always re-open the logon script and, for example, add more shares and printers later. You simply finish the wizard and then later click the Logon Script button again in the App Factory and select "Edit Logon Script".

Video of the process

The next section shows you the pages in the logon script wizard. If you prefer to watch a video instead, click the image below. The video will walk you through the essential pages of the logon script wizard and show you a logon to a computer and desktop printer and signature icons.

Walking through the wizard

Once you start the wizard, it looks like the screenshot below. On the first page, you define common settings, such as splash screen text and your company name and logo:

App Factory Logon Script General Settings

You should generally include your company logo, as this is shown on all user interfaces that the end user sees. On the general page, you can also test-drive your logon script using the "Execute" and "Debug" buttons without actually logging on to a computer. If you need to troubleshoot on clients, you can temporarily enable step debugging and making errors show on clients.

On the general page, you can also include Cloud Inventory of your machines that comes with your license. You can also set a user interface scaling. If you users generally have high resolution screens, you may want to make the user interfaces bigger. User interfaces means splash screen, printer menus and so forth.

Sites

Note in the left menu that you have a menu called "Sub Sites". Let's say you have 4 sites in your company and you know these by IP scopes. Then you can go two ways, either you simply merge everything into one script and use the IP scope condition - or you can use "Sub Sites" to create a logon script for each site based on IP scopes, meaning that on a specific site, the main script is executed plus this sites' "sub logon script". A sub site allows you to open the very same Logon Script Builder as you see here, but all settings will then only apply to the site you open. You can also mix; for example shares could go on the main logon script and then printers could go on each sub site. As a rule of thumb, if you have complex printer mappings that you want to handle with FastTrack, sub sites is probably the way to go, especially if you use printer menus (see further down).

Drive Mappings

On the drive mappings page, you create a list of shares to connect. You simply create a full list of all possible shares for all users and then you set up a filter on each share, if required. You can filter on Active Directory groups and Organizations Unit of the executing computer or logged on user. You can also filter on IP scope. If your drive mappings are complex, you use the sub sites features to segment your list. For simplicity, here's a simple list:

App Factory Logon Script Shares

SharePoint and OneDrive

In the above share mappings, there are two buttons named "Add SharePoint" and "Add OneDrive". The first button lets you add a SharePoint folder as a drive mapping. The way it works is that the user will be asked to log on to Office 365 as part of the logon process to establish credentials. If you use the OneDrive button, the user's OneDrive folder will be mapped to a drive letter. Note that this is OneDrive for Business and not OneDrive personal. If you have a fat OneDrive client installed on all computers, you should prefer this for performance reasons. The advantage of mapping to a drive letter is that you have central control over it and also, if you have clients that do not have the OneDrive fat client, this solves the problem. Note that under the Microsoft Office menu in the left, you can configure, if Office favors cloud storage (the fat client) or not. When mapping OneDrive to a drive letter, Office does not see it as cloud storage.

Printers

Printers you can connect in two ways. Either you can create a menu that the user will select a list of printers from, or you can use the same logic as with shares, where you filter printers on groups, OU or IP scope. The printer menu version is the most flexible way, because laptop users may roam around without logging on and off. And also, in many cases, a network is not broken down to such IP scope level that it's practically possible to identify suitable printers for everyone. With the menu version, you ask at first logon and you can create a desktop icon to show the choice of printers again. The selection will automatically be remembered and if you change printers on a location, changes will automatically be reflected, next time users log on.

App Factory Logon Script Printers

App Factory Logon Script Printers

IP Printers

In the screenshot above, you can see that there are two buttons. One for print servers (UNC) and one for IP printers. Both printer menus and AD rules support IP printers as well as print server printers. It is just as easy to add an IP printer as it is with print server printers. Once you click the button to add an IP printer, you will see this screen:

Connecting IP printers

Basically you just tell the host name or IP address of the printer and then you need to say, which print driver to use, just as you would have to on the server-side for print servers. If the printer driver is not a standard Windows driver, you need to put the driver files on a network share and point to it. To avoid typing the driver name wrong or point to a wrong path, it is highly recommended to use the "Browse" button shown above, because this will pop-up a pick list of driver names in the driver inf file and fill in all information automatically, as shown below. IP printers has a separate documentation page - please refer to this page for more information, if you need to use IP Printers.

Connecting IP printers

Outlook Signatures

If you wish to set up an Outlook signature, you can point to a Microsoft Word signature file and set options on the "Outlook Signature" page. Signatures has its own page here. You have the same options as you have, when you use the Outlook Signature wizard. However, installing an Outlook Signature through a logon script has one huge advantage - you do not need to redeploy to update signatures. You can simply replace the signature template file on netlogon or point to a network location, where someone from marketing can update the signature. Signatures that include marketing campaigns or similar will need frequent updates. Regardless, signatures are never static. You will do yourself a favor to deploy through a logon script, because eventually there will be changes and you do not need to worry about redeploying an MSI file or similar.

As is the case with the Outlook Wizard, you can install signatures once, create a desktop icon for ad-hoc update and also choose to ask the user to correct Active Directory information, before installing the signature. This will not change your Active Directory, just the user's signature. You can install as many signatures as you like. A typical example would be that various groups in the company must have different signatures. In such case, simply add a group or OU check and use multiple signatures.

App Factory Logon Script Outlook Signature

If you do not have auto-discover on or you for other reasons need to control maiboxes, you can use all the same conditions to create Exchange profiles:

App Factory Logon Script Mailboxes

Office Settings

Under Microsoft Office in the menu, you can let the logon script set the Office user name to be the same as your Active Directory name and initials. This is typically a good idea to avoid users being creative, ending up with documents being stamp with names that are not recognizable. You can also overrule the default save paths for desktops and/or laptops. If you use Folder Redirection, this option is not necessary. You can also decide, if Microsoft Office applications default to saving to OneDrive or local disk.

App Factory Logon Script Microsoft Office

Logging

You can enable logging for user logons and errors at logon. This is a good idea to enable, as this gives you a great overview of what's going on, especially on errors. The reason logging is not enabled by default is that you need to provide a location on your network, where all users can write, as the logon script runs as the end user, who is typically not domain administrator. Once you have set up logging, you can use the two log sub-menus in the App Factory under "Logon Script". It is highly recommended to enable the error log, as this will allow you to proactively find potential problems.

App Factory Logon Script Logging

Connectivity

The connectivity menu allows you to run a background process to take some needed actions for the user to always have the correct drivers, printers and other settings, when connecting to VPN or resuming a Citrix / Remote Desktop sessions from a different computer. For Citrix/RDP sessions, the SmartConnect is used and for laptops, the SmartDock utility is used. Let us start with laptops. If you click the option to rerun the logon script on VPN connection, the SmartDock utility will be running in the background to detect the connection. This detection is not bound to any specific VPN software, it simply detects IP changes and executes the logon script, when it is possible. Similar, if you enable SmartConnect for Citrix/RDS session, if the user closes the session without logoff, the SmartConnect utility will run in the server-side user session and detect a reconnection. This way, when the user resumes a session, the logon script runs again and as the user may now be in another subnet physically, the user may need other printers. If the printer menu is used, the user will simply see the printer menu popup again to adjust the printers to the new client location. As a side-node, please observe the logging screenshot above. If you enable advanced logging, the SmartDock and SmartConnect utils will run regardless, if you enable them on this page or not, as these will be doing the actual logging other than the login.

App Factory Logon Script Connectivity

Password and low disk space alerts

Under "User Alerts", you can set up rules for expiry warnings and optionally show a codes of conduct screen. You can also set up a warning asking the user to clean up space or contact the IT department.

App Factory Logon Script user alerts

Testing for common software presence

Under "Version Alerts", you can defined logging and/or alerts to users, based on installation status of Citrix Receiver, SCCM Client, Microsoft Office and the operating system itself:

App Factory Logon Script versions checks

Laptop document and PST backup

Under the "Laptop Backup" page, you can set up a backup of documents and PST files for mobile users. Note that you can use any FastTrack function in the path, such as computer name and user's name. You can choose to take a backup at logon based on a frequency you decide, and/or you can place a desktop icon for the user to start the backup. You can read more about backups on this page. Essentially backups are based on the SyncDir command of the engine that is significantly faster than any other directory synchronizer, such as Microsoft's robocopy.

App Factory Logon Script Backup

Browsers

The browsers page defines the start page of browsers and the standard browser, along with proxy settings.

App Factory Logon Script Browser checks

Launch Conditions

Pages for "Favorites", "Desktop Shortcuts", "Favorites", "Registry Values" and "Folder Redirection" are simple and therefore not shown here, but allow you to create favorites, desktop shortcuts, registry values and define folder redirections. Finally, you can set up scenarios, where you do NOT want the logon script to execute. This could be relevant for virtual machines or remote sessions.

App Factory Logon Script Launch Conditions

The rest of the pages in the wizard are there to help you copy logon script files to your netlogon share and set up group policies. Once you finished the wizard, log into any workstation in the domain as the user, for whom you modified the login script property to test. Once the logon script is tested, you can assign the logon script to all users; refer to the last section of this page for details.

Editing the logon script

Once you complete the wizard, you can re-open the logon script again in the App Factory by clicking "Logon Script" and select "Edit Logon Script". This will popup a screen that is the same as the wizard's first page. Below more shares have been added. There is however, one difference. You will notice a "Custom Script" page. This is because the logon script builder simply builds a FastTrack script and can parse the script back into the GUI. You freely edit the script any way you want and add more script lines to the logon script. You can also open an existing logon script that was not built using the Logon Script Builder. Anything that the builder cannot "fit" into the GUI, it will place under the "Custom Script" page and include last in execution.

App Factory Logon Script Shares




Software Deployment - keep it simple!


No new infrastructure

If you have tried to install Desktop Authority or the likes, you know that the first thing which needs to happen, is that you need to install 25-30 components for it to actually work. You need a web server, a sql server database and a heap of other system components. At this time, you are already thinking there are so many things that can go wrong in the production environment.

We have taken a totally different approach, because we believe simplicity is better. There IS no "management server". Instead, all the work happens on the client and all you are seeing in the logs, are in fact clients working for you. The clever part about our approach is that when you use the software deployment wizard that you see further down, you are not configuring settings in a database. You are in fact building a script for clients based on our core scripting language FastTrack Scripting Host. What is really going on is, when you point and click your way to a configuration setup and save, all you have really done is to write a FastTrack script for clients to execute that you could have written yourself in Scripting Mode. Once you edit the configuration, the wizard simply reads this script back into the GUI. If you have added something manually to this script or modified it in a way that the GUI cannot understand, these portions will simply appear under "custom script" in the left menu and nothing is broken.

The sky's the limit on flexibility

So you are basically "just" writing a script without being directly aware of it. This opens up a whole new world of flexibility. Our core scripting language is the largest in the world and it has a real simple syntax that you can quickly learn. So if you hit the dreaded configuration wall and end up in a place, where the configuration GUI does not suffice, you can just tap down to the "Custom Script" left menu and write a custom snippet. Or you can "take over" script lines built by the GUI and modify to your needs in Scripting Mode. If you have trouble doing that, you can write to our support, which is covered by your license, and we can help you.

No update of clients

We mentioned Desktop Authority in a previous section. If you have ever used it, you will know that one of the pain points of using it, is updates. When there is a new version, you need to update all clients and often this results in manual service of some of them. This doesn't happen here, because you NEVER need to update the clients. Push it out once using a few Group Policy clicks (explained further down) and you never need to touch clients again. So how can we be sure of that? Simple - the clients don't really do anything. The client MSI installs a scheduled task that synchronizes the FastTrack Scripting host engine fsh.exe and a script file from the netlogon folder and executes the script using this engine exe. If you upgrade FastTrack Automation Studio on your admin computer, the engine FSH.exe will automatically update on the network folder, and therefore in turn on all clients.

Pricing

Our solution is considerably cheaper than common alternatives. And included in licensing, you get the Logon Script Builder that works in the same way to connect shares, printers and install Outlook signatures. You also get a free private cloud inventory and ability to build you own custom MSI files.

Setting up Software Deployment

The first thing you need to do, is to set up a client and distribution point. You do this by clicking "Software Deploy" in the App Factory and select "Set Up Client".

Software Deployment Configuration

As said in the first section, this is an extremely thin client. All it does, is to install a Scheduled Task that will kick off a script from your netlogon share (or another share of your preference) using the engine fsh.exe and the script from this location. At this time, you need to be sure, where you would want to store the central script to control the operation, as this is fixed in the MSI file. We recommend to leave it at the default netlogon share, unless you have reasons not to.

Software Deployment Location

When you get to the next page, you need to enter the credentials of a domain admin account that is going to perform the operations on the clients. This user does not necessarily have to be a domain admin, but the user has to be local administrator and have full control over the central share location. We recommend that you create a domain admin account for the purpose and use a long and complex password, because you have to disable password expiration to avoid having to redeploy the client.

Software Deployment Credentials

Client deployment

Once you completed the wizard, you end up with an MSI file. You need to deploy this once to clients. At initial testing, simply install the MSI file on a few test machines manually. Observe that if you are using a trial, you will need to recompile the MSI anyway when licensed, because the trial client will otherwise expire. So for trial usage, you should probably stick to manual installation on a few test machines.

Once you have everything in place and you need to install the client on all machines. The easiest way to do that is to use Group Policy. Locate the "Software Installation" policy, as shown below, and browse to the MSI file that you just generated. If you did not change the default location, it will be located at \\<domain>\netlogon\FTClient\FTClient.msi, where <domain> is to be replaced by your actual domain. Group Policy software deployment is not transparent. The only way you will know that clients are actually installed, is to open the App Factory and look at the install log under the "Software Deploy" icon in FastTrack Automation Studio. Once a client Scheduled Task is installed through the MSI file, it will register in the central log.

Software Deployment Install

Configuration

Once you have clients in place, go to the App Factory and click "Software Deploy" again and select "Edit Configuration". If you are familiar with the Logon Script Wizard, you will recognize the layout. To the left, you see a list of overall feature categories. The first and initial category is the "General" page. Here you decide how often clients check for new configurations and execute the script that you are building with the wizard. Note that the wizard can also do other things than deploying software that a machine-wide, such as setting HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE registry keys and common desktop shortcuts.

Deployment settings decides how many computers may run an installation simultaneously and an option to log installations. Unless you have a large number of computers and you deploy large packages, it is not necessary to use the simultaneous option. If you wonder how this can work without a central state server, this works by clients sharing an XML state file on the netlogon share (or the location you select), so each client knows how many other clients are installing at the time, when a "slot" is needed. The central file, along with log files, are located in the root folder of the central location, you chose. For initial construction, the default 15 minutes is great, but once you are set, there is no need for checking for new software more than say once a day.

General Software Deployment

Software Deployment

On the "Software Deploy" page you set up software that you would like to install on clients. You simply point to an MSI file on your network using UNC and the GUI will automatically fill in the information. In the case below, we pointed to the Adobe Reader MSI file. Once you click "OK" you will be asked for conditions to install, such as membership of a group or OU. Note that membership and OU here means machine security group and/or OU, as software is machine-wide, not per user. If you select the EXE option, it works the same way, but you have to supply parameters for getting the EXE-based installer to install unattended. If you select the FSH option, you need to point to a FastTrack Scripting Host script that you have built in Scripting Mode to install the software. For example, if you use the exe-to-msi feature in the App Factory to repackage TeamViewer, you might as well fire that FastTrack script directly instead; see TeamViewer page for example.

Software Deployment Install Page

If you use the MSI option, it is NOT a one-time install order. What it does is that when a client executes the script, it will check every time, if the MSI is installed or not, and only install it, if not. The reason why this is important to understand is that it doesn't matter, if some clients already have the software installed, because then nothing happens. It also has two other advantages; one is if the software is uninstalled, it will automatically be re-installed. The other advantage is that you can just update the MSI file on the file server and the version will no longer match = all clients will automatically update to this version, without even operning the wizard again and make a change.

Software Removal

The "Software Removal" feature works in a similar way. It's extremely simple. Just enter the name of anything as it appears in the Windows Control Panel programs list and it will be uninstalled. You can specify the left-most part, but the full name, as it appears in the Windows Control Panel programs list, must be preferred to ensure that nothing gets uninstalled by accident. On the other hand, some programs like Adobe Reader postfixes the version number in the application name, in which case, this can easily be factored in by using "Adobe Reader" as program name, in which case anything that starts with "Adobe Reader" will be unstalled.

Software Removal

Every time the script is executed, it will check the Windows install list for undesired software. In the case below, we do not want users to use Spotify, so we simply add it to the removal list. If the user installs the software, next time the script is executed, it is removed. Today most users are not local administrators, so the removal part is more useful to you for obsolete software. Let's say for example that the Cisco AnyConnect client is no longer used in the company. Then we can just add it to the removal list, and it will be uninstalled on all clients. You can also uninstall software based on version. Let's say all administrators now use TeamViewer 11, then "TeamViewer" can be added as program to remove and "11" can be used as "Minimum Version". In that case, computers with a lesser version than 11, will get TeamViewer uninstalled. The rest of the menus to the left are resonably self-explanatory. Note that some non-MSI based installers do not uninstalled without user interaction. Today this would be true for around 10% of the software out there. In such case, you need to find additional parameter for silent uninstall. A good example is TeamViewer. If it was MSI based, it would uninstall unattended, but it will pop-up an uninstall dialog box. If you Google the subject, you will find that you can pass /S to the uninstaller to bypass it, meaning that you must enter /S in the "Additional Params" for TeamViewer to make it work.

Sites

Note in the left menu that you have a menu called "Sub Sites". Let's say you have 4 sites in your company and you know these by IP scopes. Then you can go two ways, either you simply merge everything into one configuration and use the IP scope condition - or you can use "Sub Sites" to create a site configuration for each site based on IP scopes, meaning that on a specific site, the main script is executed plus this sites' "sub site script". A sub site allows you to open the very same Desktop Deployment Builder as you see here, but all settings will then only apply to the site you open.

USB lockdown

The software deployment is the main feature of this wizard. But there are other features that can be controlled using the client. You can decide to lock down USB devices based on the type of device. And you can use all the same conditions to filter the locking.

USB lockdown

Application lockdown

You can also lockdown applications. If you do not want to uninstall an undesired application, you can choose to lock it down instead. For example Spotify or Dropbox. You could uninstall it. Or you can lock it down, in case it is actually needed at a later point. This might be pretty easy to decide for Spotify, but you can lock down anything. You can lock down Internet Explorer or another browser for being used or block starting the OneDrive fat application, to control this via the logon script using drive mapping of OneDrive. In such cases an uninstall is not desirable or in some cases even possible.

App Blocking

You can also add registry keys to HEY_LOCAL_MACHINE and place desktop shortcuts on the desktop. A desktop shortcut set per-machine cannot be deleted by the user, versus doing it from the logon script on a per-user basis, so this is typically a better option, unless there is a user condition to place it there.

Testing tip

For initial internal testing, you can avoid waiting the minium 15 minutes for to test configuration changes. The way you can avoid this, is to select 15 minutes and then log on to any test machine after client install, and locate "FastTrack Management Client" under Scheduled Tasks and run it manually. Setting the interval to 15 minutes disables the timespan check, as the Scheduled Task checks every 15 minutes.

When you are in a production situation and you want to remove or install new software, you can test for one specific machine, so you avoid setting up a test environment. When you add software to remove or install, you are always asked for a condition. You can simply use the "Computer must be one specific computer" condition to make sure that while you test, you only hit that one computer that you test on. Or you could create a computer security group for testing computers and check for that. Once everything is verified, use the edit button and remove the condition.

Software Deployment Condition

Post installation tasks

If there is anything you need to do after successful deployment or removal of software, such as updating an inventory you might have, there are two files named PostInstall.fsh and PostUninstall.fsh in the bin folder on the central location. These kick off every time an installation or uninstallation is successful. This is a normal FastTrack script that you modify in Scripting Mode to your needs. The name of the application and the version can be extracted with the functions CurrentInstallName and CurrentInstallVersion.


Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Is FastTrack Automation Studio a complete 1:1 replacement of Desktop Authority?

Yes and no. FastTrack Automation Studio was not intended as a replacement of Desktop Authority (DA). It is the largest scripting language in the world and can be used to supplement Group Policies into being a feature match to DA at a much lower price. Microsoft recommends using Group Policies for desktop preparation, but lacks features of DA. These missing features can to a large extend be achieved using FastTrack. The other way around, FastTrack and Group Policies also have many features that DA does not have, such as geographical tracking, laptop backups, travelling users support and exe building. Also, once FastTrack is licensed, you are free to use all the 1400+ commands that FastTrack has that go way beyond just desktop preparation.

Q: What are the infrastructure requirements for using FastTrack?

None. No local server or deployment of a "client" are needed. All the infrastructure you need is already set up with your Active Directory. You simply use Group Policies to push a logon script and also to push MSI packages, in case you do not have SCCM or similar. If you need an inventory, a free Cloud Service comes with your license. You can opt to install a local inventory server.

Q: How long time does it take to set up?

As there are no infrastructure requirements, you simply install FastTrack on an admin machine and start running wizards. That's it. You can have a new logon script running within half an hour.

Q: Why would I prefer Group Policies over Desktop Authority?

Group Policy does not cover all features or Desktop Authority, but the ones that it does, are much more feature-rich. Secondly, Group Policies is the way Microsoft wants you to enforce policies on your network and the features covered grows with every generation of Windows, giving you less and less value from DA over time.

Q: How do I match Validation Logic?

You have simple conditions in your logon script to stop execution or have a different execution based on OS version, virtual machines, remote sessions, geographical location and so forth. If you look futher up, you will see this as part of the Logon Script wizard.
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Rating: 5 out of 5

"Use this as a replacement for VBScript and PowerShell"

"It's easy to include attractive GUI elements in FastTrack scripts, beyond the basic dialog boxes and text input that VBScript offers ... Another powerful feature is the ability to distribute scripts as Windows Installer (.msi) or standard .exe files. Although interesting in its own right, this ability results in a much more intriguing capability: to repackage -- or wrap -- software installers as .msi files without using snapshots. If you've ever created an .msi installer file from before-and-after system snapshots, for use with a software distribution system such as Group Policy or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), then you know how hit-and-miss the results can be."

Read full review


Rating: 8 out of 10

"Faster than the rest"

"We found the FastTrack syntax to be more transparent and easier to learn than Microsoft's PowerShell – the editor in particular provided good support in this regard. Scripting mode offers a large number of options from the command set through to simple output of graphical elements, which cannot be achieved at all with PowerShell or other solutions or only with a significantly greater level of effort."

"Anyone wanting to tackle the many hurdles in everyday admin and especially anyone for whom logon scripts and client automation is a priority will benefit from the variety of functions offered by FastTrack."

Review in English      Review in German

Need to deploy Outlook signatures the simplest possible way? Check www.outlooksignatures.com