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Using Microsoft Management Console (part 1)

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3/17/2011 4:50:11 PM
Microsoft Management Console (MMC) is an application that hosts tools for administering computers, networks, and other system components. By itself, MMC performs no administrative services. Rather, it acts as the host for one or more modules called snap-ins, which do the useful work. MMC simply provides user-interface consistency so that you or the users you support see more or less the same style of application each time you need to carry out some kind of computer management task. A combination of one or more snap-ins can be saved in a file called a Microsoft Common Console Document or, more commonly, an MMC console.

Creating snap-ins requires expertise in programming. You don't have to be a programmer, however, to make your own custom MMC consoles. All you need to do is run MMC, start with a blank console, and add one or more of the snap-ins available on your system. Alternatively, you can customize some of the MMC consoles supplied by Microsoft or other vendors simply by adding or removing snap-ins.

Why might you want to customize your MMC consoles? Because neither Microsoft nor any other vendor can anticipate your every need. Perhaps you would like to take some of the functionality from two or more existing MMC consoles and combine them into a single console. (You might, for example, want to combine the Services console with the Event Viewer console, the latter filtered to show only events generated by services. You might also want to include a link to a website that offers details about services and service-related errors.) Or perhaps you would like to simplify some of the existing consoles by removing snap-ins that you seldom use.

1. Running MMC Consoles

MMC consoles have, by default, the extension .msc, and .msc files are associated by default with MMC. Thus, you can run any MMC console by double-clicking its file name in a Windows Explorer window or by entering the file name at a command prompt. Windows 7 includes several predefined consoles; the most commonly used ones, described in Table 1, can be easily found by typing their name in the Start menu search box.

Table 1. Useful Predefined Consoles
Console Name (File Name)Description
Computer Management (Compmgmt.msc)Includes the functionality of the Task Scheduler, Event Viewer, Shared Folders, Local Users And Groups, Reliability And Performance Monitor, Device Manager, Disk Management, Services, and WMI Control snap-ins, providing control over a wide range of computer tasks.
Device Manager (Devmgmt.msc)Uses the Device Manager snap-in to enable administration of all attached hardware devices and their drivers.
Event Viewer (Eventvwr.msc)Uses the Event Viewer snap-in to display all types of logged information. 
Performance Monitor (Perfmon.msc)Uses the Performance Monitor snap-in to provide a set of monitoring tools far superior to Performance Monitor in earlier Windows versions. .
Services (Services.msc)Uses the Services snap-in to manage services in Windows.
Task Scheduler (Taskschd.msc)Uses the Task Scheduler snap-in for managing tasks that run automatically.
Windows Firewall With Advanced Security (Wf.msc)Uses the Windows Firewall With Advanced Security snap-in to configure rules and make other firewall settings.

2. MMC Consoles and User Account Control

Consoles can be used to manage all sorts of computer hardware and Windows features: with a console you can modify hard-drive partitions, start and stop services, and install device drivers, for example. In other words, MMC consoles perform the types of tasks that User Account Control (UAC) is designed to restrict. In the hands of someone malicious (or simply careless), consoles have the power to wreak havoc on your computer.

Therefore, when using an MMC console you're likely to encounter a User Account Control request for permission to continue. If UAC is enabled on your computer, the type of request you get and the restrictions that are imposed depend on your account type and the console you're using. Some consoles, such as Device Manager (Devmgmt.msc), display a message box informing you that the console will run with limitations. (In effect, it works in a read-only mode that allows you to view device information but not make changes.) Others block all use by nonadministrative users. To ensure that you don't run into an "access denied" roadblock when performing administrative tasks while logged on with a standard account, always right-click and choose Run As Administrator.

3. Running a Console in Author Mode

MMC consoles can be run in Author mode or in three varieties of User mode. Author mode gives you full access to MMC's menus and options. In User modes, elements of MMC's functionality are removed. To run a console in Author mode, right-click its file in a Windows Explorer window and choose Author from the shortcut menu. Alternatively, you can run a console in Author mode using the following command-line syntax:

name.msc /a

where name is the file name of the console file.


If the console mode was set to Author mode when the console was last saved, the console opens in Author mode without the use of the Author command or the /A command-line option.

4. Using MMC Consoles

Notwithstanding the fact that MMC is intended to provide user-interface consistency across administrative applications, actual MMC consoles can take on quite a variety of appearances.

MMC is designed to be extremely flexible. Snap-ins can add elements to the MMC user interface, and console designers can hide or display UI elements as needs dictate. Nevertheless, most of the consoles that come with your operating system look somewhat like the one shown in Figure 1, so we can make a few generalizations about their use.

  • Console tree, details pane, and action pane The console can be divided vertically into panes. The leftmost pane, whose display is optional, contains the console tree, which shows the organization of the console and allows for easy navigation between snap-ins. Outline controls in the console tree function as in Windows Explorer. The center pane, called the details pane, shows information related to the item currently selected in the console tree. The action pane, which (optionally) appears on the right side of the window, lists links to actions that are appropriate for the items selected in the other two panes. Up arrows and down arrows let you expand or contract a section of the action pane; clicking a right arrow displays a submenu.

    The vertical split bar between the panes can be dragged to the left or right, like its counterpart in Windows Explorer. To display or hide the console tree or the action pane, use the toolbar buttons (one controls each pane) or the Customize command on the View menu.

    Figure 1. Most of the MMC consoles that come with Windows 7 include a console tree, a details pane, and an action pane.

  • Action and View menus The Action menu, if present, provides commands specific to the current selection, providing an alternative to the action pane. In other words, this is the menu you use to carry out administrative tasks. The View menu, if present, allows you to choose among alternative ways of presenting information. In many MMC consoles, for example, the View menu offers Large Icons, Small Icons, List, and Details commands, similar to the view options in Windows Explorer. The View menu might also include a Customize command. This command presents the Customize View dialog box shown in Figure 2, which allows you, among other things, to hide or display the console tree.

    Figure 2. You can use the Customize View dialog box to control various elements of the MMC console, which are identified in Figure 1.

  • Shortcut menus Whether or not an Action menu or action pane is present, you'll sometimes find that the easiest way to carry out an administrative task is to right-click the relevant item in the console tree or the details pane and choose an action from the item's shortcut menu. That's because the shortcut menu always includes all the actions available for the selected item. (If you don't immediately find the command you need, look for an All Tasks command; the action you want is probably on the All Tasks submenu.) The shortcut menu also always includes a Help command.

  • Working with content in the details pane If the details pane provides a tabular presentation, you can manipulate content using the same techniques you use in Windows Explorer. You can sort by clicking column headings, control column width by dragging the borders between column headings (double-click a border to make a column just wide enough for the widest entry), and rearrange columns by dragging headings.

    To hide or display particular columns, look for an Add/Remove Columns command on the View menu. Here you can specify which columns you want to see in the details pane, as well as the order in which you want to see them.

  • Exporting details pane data to text or .csv files Many MMC consoles include commands on the Action menu for saving data in binary formats. In most consoles that produce tabular displays, however, you can also use the Export List command to generate a tab-delimited or comma-delimited text file, suitable for viewing in a word processing, spreadsheet, or database program. If this command is available, you'll find it on the Action menu or any shortcut menu.

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