AIDA32 - Professional Users Guide



1. Introduction

The goal of this guide is to provide a detailed and clear description of some not easily understandable or accessible functions of AIDA32.  This document was made mainly (let's just say only) for administrators, computer professionals, and so it does not include explanation for most of the technical terms used in it.  If you have questions beyond the scope of this document, or if you feel that this document does not cover everything that it should, please ensure that you inform me by email (fiery@aida32.hu) or on ICQ (#19408507).


2. Terms

For personal use, AIDA32 is free of charge (i.e. freeware) for anyone.  But professional use is only legal when the company or organization notifies me (the author, Tamas Miklos) about it.  I know that it is not easy in all cases, because many companies have strict rules about what software may be used inside the company.  Also, in many cases company privacy rules may prohibit external people from knowing what software is used inside the company.  In such cases, I still would like to ask the representatives of the companies to notify me about the use of AIDA32, because only in this way may the usage then become legalized.  The registration takes place even when the name of the company/organization does not appear on the page "License" in AIDA32 due to the request of the company.  Online registration: http://www.aida32.hu/registration/


3. Motivation

Registration of professional users is much more important than that of personal users, because the real challenge in the development is the multiple computers environment, where the generation of system information for some special, expensive or high-end PCs, and making full accurate audit of a whole number of computers could become a really tough and challenging job.  We all want to use high-quality software with direct access to the author(s), but sadly they are normally enclosed by the "deep forest of marketing".  I want this program to be both of high quality (bug-free, user-friendly) and also to fulfill all the requirements of its users.  It is therefore very important that you should contact me and tell me of your complaints and of all your wishes and dreams about the program. Only in this way can you show me the path of future development.  Don't wait for the next version hoping that it would maybe feature the function you are expecting or would fix the fault you're fighting with.  Register yourself and/or your company, and tell me of your opinions and criticism of the program.


4. Objectives

In the course of AIDA32 development, the priority of serving the multiple computers environment (small and medium sized firms) are raising rapidly.  Features targeting the professional rather than the personal / hobby users have been appearing since Version 1.02.  Nowadays, a whole line of easy-to-use, high-quality functions are trying to fulfil the rising need for system information, network audit and network management in companies and organizations.  Due to their nature, these functions are of lesser interest to personal users, but could be indispensable in corporate network environments.

Professional functions of AIDA32 target the following objectives:

4.1 Automation

Goal: to collect information without user intervention.  Command-line options can be used for this to instruct AIDA32 to save the content of some (or all) pages to a specified local or network (UNC) path, and quit when done.  Since Version 1.22, command-line option for sending reports in e-mail is also available.  Since Version 2.10 it's possible to schedule generating reports using command-line options.

4.2 Hidden Mode

Automation in several cases requires AIDA32 to run hidden, because most network environments need the reports to be generated without user intervention or even without notifying the user that anything is happening in the background.  "Without notifying" does not in all cases mean monitoring or spying - however, AIDA32 is capable of them because of its capability of hiding the tray icon and the tray bubble.  Also because AIDA32 is free of charge - and hence is not a guaranteed product - it is up to users where and how they use it.

4.3 Network Audit

In big companies there's a tough question that can be heard frequently: "What computers and software are we using?".  AIDA32 is naturally capable of manual audit: visit every single PC, make a report on each machine (and send it to a specified e-mail address), and finally develop a backend supporting engine to process and evaluate all the reports.  Instead of that, AIDA32 can be used for all those tasks using 3 functions: automated report generation, network audit and audit statistics.  Automation is self-explanatory, that reports can be generated using command-line options without the intervention of users or administrators, for example by extending the users login script.  Subsequently the generated reports can be "dragged" to AIDA32 and the audit + statistics generated in just a minute.

The final results can be saved in the file formats for text, HTML, MHTML, XML and CSV; subsequently (principally for the CSV and XML formats) other another software can process them even further.

To help the audit process and sorting the data of audits, in AIDA32 v2.30 an ADO based database connection module was announced.  It enables AIDA32 to save reports straight to MS Access, MS SQL Server, MySQL or Oracle databases, and it can even gather data required for network audit and audit statistics straight from databases.  Note: using these functions, it's possible to connect to any other database servers conforming to ADO or ODBC standards.

4.4 Audit Statistics

Together with the audit, a common demand appears when the list of computer devices (e.g. 2 pcs Samsung display, 10 pcs HP scanner) is not sufficient: more questions are popping up, and answering them would require more and more manual work.  Note: pcs = pieces = items.

Some of those questions:

AIDA32 audit statistics provide clear and accurate answers for most of such questions.  It contains pcs (pieces) and also percentages (distribution).  The statistics results can be edited before saving to file: the coherent items can be joint (e.g. Asus CD-S340, Asus CD-S400 -> Asus CD-ROM), the meaningless items can be removed easily.

4.5 Remote Access

Since Version 1.15, remote access features are available to help the work of helpdesk and network management staff.  This client&server based module uses TCP/IP communication, and it's not limited to the local network (LAN), but using the Internet it can connect any points of the world to each other.

Clients connecting to AIDA32 instances running in server mode can see exactly the same information as appears in the window of AIDA32 servers, so this solution is basically an "extension of the human eye".

Note: contrary to common terminology, AIDA32 instances running on remote computers ("workstations") are called "AIDA32 servers", whereas the computer we use to connect to one or more remote computers is called "AIDA32 client".  So contrary to common usage, in the network application of AIDA32 there exists a number of servers and in most cases only a single client.

Beyond the above technique, it's also possible to:

Remote access features don't require two dedicated variants of AIDA32 (server and client version), because AIDA32 can be used for both purposes..

The basic possibility of remote access (connecting two computers using TCP/IP network) was extended by the NetEye feature announced in AIDA32 v1.21.  NetEye makes it possible for administrators to connect from a central computer to multiple AIDA32 servers at the same moment, and to monitor a couple of valuable parameters of the remote computers on a self-refreshing table format sheet.  By this method administrators can track the computers' UpTime value and idle state - so one can track how much time the operating system has been running, and how much time the actual user has not been using his/her computer.  Beyond that, the total/free physical memory and disk space, and the caption of active windows of remote computers can be monitored also.  Every other feature explained above for two connected machines is available for NetEye too, but with the possibility of effecting operations on multiple computers with a single click.  It's possible to send message to all computers of a network, or to shutdown/reboot the computers etc.


5. In Practice

I've included lots of good quality screen shots, and tried to explain the steps of practical use in a clear and understandable fashion.  If this section doesn't seem deep enough, please contact me by e-mail for further assistance and explanation.

Important: Before you proceed to use AIDA32 for professional purposes, browse through File menu / Preferences panel, and familiarise yourself with all the options that can be altered.  They will give you a picture about the detailed configuration and customization possibilities of AIDA32.

A few suggestions for those who plan to use remote access feature or to run AIDA32 in the background using command-line options to make reports:

5.1 Command-line Mode

Command-line options can be listed using the simple switch:

AIDA32 /?

A list like this will appear:

At first sight it may be confusing, but the options are systematically listed and have the following functions.

When the report file name contains special control strings, AIDA32 interprets them and swaps them with the relevant value.  $HOSTNAME is swapped to the actual computer name, $USERNAME is swapped to the actual user name, $DOMAIN is swapped to the actual logon domain name, $IPADDR is swapped to the IP address of the primary network adapter and $MACADDR is swapped to the MAC address of the primary network adapter.  The $DATE and $TIME control strings are for periodic report generation: they are swapped to the current date and time.  This will result in a new report being created in the specified directory every day, and later they can all be processed and hardware components changes can be easily tracked.  Of course, control strings can be contained not only in the file name, but they can be included in the name of the target folder (e.g. "AIDA32 /R \\server\share\aida32-reports\autoreport_$DATE\$HOSTNAME_$USERNAME.csv /CSV").

Using command-line options (especially when it's issued from login script) in many cases not all instances of AIDA32 should create a report: when a user logs into his/her computer 5 times a day, it's redundant to generate 5 report files.  In most cases it's sufficient to create reports daily or even weekly only.  AIDA32 v2.10 and later versions offer the schedule feature to handle this.

5.2 Audit

As the first stage in the audit, the "raw material" of CSV-format reports are to be generated.  This can be done either manually or automatically using command-line options.

Note: since Version 1.15, AIDA32 audit statistics can process AIDA16 reports created under DOS in either the English or Hungarian languages.  So the techniques explained below work identically for DOS reports as well.  But bear in mind that information for some components (e.g. list of printers, disk total and free space) are not included in AIDA16 DOS reports, and so they will not appear in the audit.

Note: since Version 3.30, AIDA32 audit statistics can process AIDA16 reports created under DOS, but only in the CSV format.  Use the /RC command-line option for AIDA16 to generate the reports suitable for AIDA32 network audit.  Old reports generated in simple text format cannot be used anymore for AIDA32 audit features.  Make sure you use AIDA16 v2.00 or later to generate the CSV reports under DOS.

It's best to copy all CSV reports to a single folder, because currently AIDA32 cannot scan multiple level folder structures when loading reports.  After launching AIDA32, the files of the audit should be dropped by an elegant move from the Windows Explorer to the window of AIDA32:

Since Version 1.22, next to the drag&drop technique the Audit menu includes an item to load reports, but this way should be used only when a low number (up to 100 pcs) of reports are to be added.

After loading and opening, successfully analyzed reports will enter to a new menu named "Audit".  All computers will be allocated a separate page, and so the list of all computers in alphabetical order can be reviewed immediately.  Of course the name of computers are not detected from the report file name, but from the information included in the report file:

Information for the computers can be accessed by clicking on the relevant page, and in this case in the "Audit" menu clicking on the "QUICKY" page will produce the "System Summary" page of the particular computer, extended by a couple of facts about the report generation:

On this page, the report creation date and time can be reviewed, and also the version of AIDA32 that generated it.  In this way the old, outdated reports can easily be filtered.  The configuration summary for all the computers is also here, and can be saved by the well-known technique (in the left-side menu, click the right mouse button on the page name [i.e. computer name] and the "Quick Menu" feature appears).

The audit itself can be accessed by clicking the first item of the Audit menu ("Audit List"):

The width of the displayed list is considerable, but the columns can be disabled (and so become hidden) on the page File menu / Preferences / Audit / Audit Components.  Important note: on the "Audit List" page, using the right-click menu clipboard functions the audit list can be easily dragged to Excel or any other spreadsheet application - or even to a simple text editor.  Since Version 2.12, a feature for filtering several audit components has been implemented.  Go to the page File menu / Preferences / Audit / Audit Filter, enter the text "microsoft adobe symantec norton corel" to the field "Filter Installed Programs list", and the audit will list only software that has one of the listed words included in their names (filter is case insensitive).

On the next page ("Audit Statistics") the number and distribution of components of audit can be reviewed:

The page is not short, but can be easily sorted by right-clicking on an unwanted category and choosing the item "Delete Section" in the appearing menu.  Long sections can be selected in one pass by holding down the Control key, and selecting the category captions one by another:

The result is generated in just a moment:

In several cases even this layout is not adequate: e.g. it can be sufficient to know only the family of the operating system, or the manufacturer of the motherboard etc.  In such cases the facility for joining lines can be used: select all the lines to join, and in the right-click menu choose the item "Join Lines":

During the join process, the count and distribution values in the new "united" line are recalculated automatically.

As an example, joining the lines Windows 2000 and Windows XP; the two Micro-Star motherboards and the PIII-733 and PII-266 results the following picture:

This is somewhat ugly, but fortunately each line can be edited on the spot:

During the editing process only the values in the "Field" column can be altered, but not the numbers and distributions.

After the long edit, join and sort the results are finally:

When editing completed, a quick audit report may be generated and printed in HTML, MHTML or plain text - or the results can be sent for further processing when saved in CSV or XML format.

When more detailed data are required from a line of the audit, a double-click on the particular audit line will provide the information:

On this page, in the right-click menu, clipboard functions are available to drag the information to Excel or any other spreadsheet applications.

5.3 Remote Access - Server

The first and most important step of using the remote access feature is to set up an AIDA32 server.  The simplest way is to use the two related command-line options:

Next to the command-line options, the "Accept Incoming Connections" item in the File menu can also be used to activate the server functions at runtime, on-the-fly.

The status of the AIDA32 server can be checked in the File menu:

Server is active Server is not active

When the server is active, the AIDA32 icon in the Notification Area is visible, and the operating system supports it (Windows 2000 and later); then on the AIDA32 server, above the AIDA32 icon a notificaion (or warning) bubble appears about the incoming connections and incoming messages.  Also, the colour of the icon itself is a status indicator: as long as the server is connected with a client, the table with the "i" letter becomes green (instead of the normal white).

Important note: AIDA32 servers do not need the latest version of Windows to run under.  AIDA32 server can run even under Windows 95 OSR2, without modifying or patching the operating system.  But always ensure that the computer has enough free memory to run the server, because AIDA32 at startup immediately allocates over 10 MB memory, and together with the client's connection it can easily grow to over 20 MB.

5.4 Remote Access - Client

When we have a running AIDA32 server anywhere in the world, it's time to connect to it.  In the File menu, choose "Connect to AIDA32 Server", and in the window appearing specify the name or IP address of the AIDA32 server.  Successful connections are acknowledged by a window like this:

In parallel with this the client receives the pages list and properties from the AIDA32 server.  A list of previously successful connections is produced by the AIDA32 running on the client, and so in next instances the address field in the connection window will offer a list of previous connections.

When on connection the "Server is busy.  Please try again later" error message appears, it means the server has already accepted an incoming client connection, or the server is connected to an other server as a client.  In this case, on the server in the Notification Area a warning bubble appears about the failed incoming connection, indicating the address of the client refused.

On the client, the navigation speed among pages due to heavy network traffic is based on the network connection quality.  Fortunately, in most cases even with a few KB/s free bandwidth (e.g. via a modem) an acceptable speed is achievable.  To minimize network traffic, error checking is only done at interface level, so in rare cases clients may receive faulty or broken pages.  In such cases, a simple page refresh using the button on the navigation bar should help.

Of course the network traffic changes dynamically with the properties of the actually selected page, and so the data coming depends on the automatically-changing and auto-refreshing pages.  Stability of network traffic can be checked by clicking on the "Operating System" page inside the category "Operating System", and checking the "Uptime" value of the server.

Various firewalls could become the enemies of the remote access feature: they should be configured to allow the 2-way use of port 2345 for AIDA32.  In future versions of AIDA32, there will be an option to set the communication port.

Important note: page navigation on the client can be monitored on the client, and so the operation of processes can be monitored remotely just by using AIDA32 remote access services.  For this, the messaging feature could help even more: multiple lines messages can be sent to and from the server (AIDA32 currently does not log messages traffic).  Message sending can be accessed in the menu "Server" or "Client", or - when visible - using the right-click menu of the icon in the Notification Area.

5.5 Remote Access - NetEye

In contrast with the conventional client mode, the NetEye function does not need the use of "Connect to AIDA32 Server" item of the File menu.  Instead, the "NetEye" item in the same File menu should be used to open up the NetEye window:

The NetEye window contains multiple pages: on the 1st page the list and properties of connected computers can be monitored.  The 2nd page lists the pending connections, the 3rd page lists the busy servers (already connected with another client).  On the 4th page, the failed connections (e.g. bad computer name or IP address, no running AIDA32 server on the remote computer etc.) can be reviewed.  On the last page the list of previously connected servers ("history") appears.  The contents of any pages can be copied to the clipboard using the right-click menu.

On the last page, by selecting some servers and then using the first item of the right-click menu, we can start "sniffing".  An alternative way: on any pages double-click on an empty space to connect to new computer(s).  In this window, it's possible to scan the local network, and so the running AIDA32 servers can be found easily:

The constantly refreshing (once per a second) window provides information about the computers status, and in a limited way the work (or entertainment) in progress on the remote computers can also be monitored:

The most interesting possibilities are yet again accessible from the right-click menu, and so with only one click all the selected computers can be shut down or rebooted:

Beyond that, it's possible to use "softer" methods too, like sending messages, which along with the other operations can be issued to one or more remote computers in one pass:

Administrators authorised to monitor other users can also use the screen shot and file browsing features straightforwardly:

The remote file browsing service will be extended in future AIDA32 versions with file operations (e.g. rename, delete, copy, move).

Future AIDA32 versions will introduce more remote access features beyond the current selection, but the development of them depends on knowing user needs, so when you can use the NetEye feature efficiently and you have more ideas, please let me know of any new requirements.


6. Techniques

During the use of AIDA32, there are quite a few problems that may occur which although they don't prevent the job process, solving them may save time or resources.  The techniques explained below are not complicated at all, but may describe how AIDA32 works internally, and so make it more transparent for users.

6.1 Required Files

Frequently asked questions are: "Which files are essential for AIDA32 to work?  Is it possible to leave some files out of the package, to save disk space or network bandwidth?  What's the role of the files?"

The presence of files AIDA32.BIN, AIDA32.EXE and AIDA32.DAT are required for AIDA32 to work properly.  In addition for the low-level routines the AIDA32.SYS, AIDA32.VXD and AIDA32.MEM files are also required.  In many cases the low-level routines are not welcome, e.g. when the absolute stability is the goal during network use.

The role and significance of each file is:

In extreme cases, it's possible to use only a single file by renaming AIDA32.BIN to AIDA32.EXE.  But in this case NetUpdate function should not be used!

6.2 Report Compression

Saving network bandwidth and/or storage space could be quite important, especially when the reports are sent via a modem, or collected together on a low-end server.  There are 2 options on the page File menu / Preferences / Report to enable report compression before saving to file or sending in e-mail.  Currently, reports can be compressed by FreeZip, WinAce and WinRAR.  On custom requirements, support for other compression software may also be implemented anytime.

Priority of the compression:

Order of priority is static, so when the compression can be completed at step #1 (all conditions are met), the steps #2 and #3 will not be taken, and so on.  When no compatible compressor software is found, AIDA32 will not display an error message, but saves or sends the reports uncompressed.

Note: WinZip compression software cannot be used in its normal installed state, because it does not provide command-line mode.

6.3 Report Profiles

When running in the network environment, the proper selection of the report profile is of prime importance.  For example, a 100 Mbps network including 50 computers could become heavily overloaded when each morning (or even on each user login) AIDA32 generates up to 1 or 2 MB network traffic for each computer during the report creation process.  Bear in mind that most report formats make AIDA32 write the report to file only at the end of the report creation process.  Hence when e.g. there are multiple users logging in in the morning at the same time, AIDA32 could load the network with data on a large number of computers at the same time - and this could make the network communication (although only for a short time) slow or even difficult.

In such cases, the following techniques should be used:

6.4 Updating Preferences

When updating AIDA32, as when a new version is announced and NetUpdate or manual refreshing of AIDA32 files takes place, the following questions may come up: "What happens to the file AIDA32.INI containing the user preferences?  Is it necessary to delete the old file and set all options again using the new AIDA32?"

There is no need to set all options again, because AIDA32 can use the preferences file (AIDA32.INI) of any old AIDA32 variants without any modifications to the file.  When the new AIDA32 version features new options, their default values will be used, until they are not altered by the user.  Note that after an AIDA32 update the actual refreshing of AIDA32.INI file only happens at the first time preferences modifications are saved in File menu / Preferences.


7. Troubleshooting

In some cases the user may encounter errors causing headache, or in the worst case preventing generating a report, and so preventing generating a full audit.  If you cannot solve the problem, but if possible even before that, please contact me.  In most cases the problem can be eliminated much more easily together.

Some typical faults and the solutions for them:


8. Thanks

I would like to thank all my beta testers for their indispensable work, all my registered users for their trust, and my dear friends for their constant support and never-ending stream of ideas.


Version 1.08 - February 19th, 2003 - Tamas Miklos & Bear of Little Brain - fiery@aida32.hu

Opdateret d. 13.3.2003