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Services from any app

Feb 24, 20034 mins
Enterprise Applications

* Gearhead columnist Mark Gibbs finds AtYourService to be a really cool concept

We were intrigued when we came across a tool called AtYourService from Prism Microsystems because the product – in theory – lets you turn any batch or executable file into a system service.

We were intrigued when we came across a tool called AtYourService from Prism Microsystems because the product – in theory – lets you turn any batch or executable file into a system service.

A Windows service is code that conforms to Microsoft’s Windows Service Control Manager (SCM) specification.

SCM is accessed through the service control panel applet and is responsible for managing and displaying installed services. It also is in charge of starting services either on system startup or on demand; maintaining status information for running services; sending control requests to running services; and locking and unlocking the service database.

An application can start and control a service by using the service functions in the Win32 API. Two of the most common implementations of these control applications are system tray applets (for example, the Windows Network system tray applet and most antivirus products) and control panel applets (such as the display, keyboard and mouse applets). These control programs act as front ends to services and placing them in the system tray or the control panel simply makes for a tidier user interface (mostly).

Services are important not only because they can execute without affecting the user interface but also because they can execute when no user is logged on.

You can set up any program as a service, including compiled applications, Visual Basic programs, Java applications and scripts. AtYourService creates a wrapper for the batch file or program so it acts as if it were a service. This wrapper is registered with the SCM and mediates the control requests to start and stop the service.

We were impressed with AtYourService when we tried it under Windows 2000 and XP with a tool we use in the Gearhead bunker called Ping Plotter (reviewed in June 1999).

Ping Plotter is a sophisticated graphical traceroute tool and the only problem with it is that if we don’t log onto our server, Ping Plotter won’t run – it is not a service. This is a shame as one of the neat features of the tool is that it can automatically export an image of its graphs in Portable Network Graphics format. We use these graphs in our Web-based network management system but if the server gets reset or we log out for security reasons, the Web pages that use the graphics don’t get updated.

So we used AtYourService to create a service using a batch file to launch Ping Plotter. It took some fiddling to get it to work correctly and at one point we managed to create a Ping Plotter service that took out the menu that appears when you hit the start button! The product’s biggest weakness is you apparently can create an unstable service that can damage the operation of the system.

The AtYourService program can be run locally or from any Windows PC that is authorized to access the services on the target machine. It displays the list of services and their status, and can start or stop them similarly to the Services applet under Windows NT or Win 2000.

In the AtYourService main window you also can edit the properties of a service and create and delete them if you have administrator privileges. Service creation is a wizard-like process that guides you thorough setting up the service.

With the enterprise version of AtYourService you can export services so they can be installed on another machine.

Be careful in you assumptions about the behavior of the services you create: Regular applications tend to expect user interaction for error conditions and with AtYourService there’s a temptation to create services that don’t interact with the desktop (that is, don’t present their graphical user interface). While that sounds good, it can create a service that is horribly hard to debug if it fails.

AtYourService is a really cool concept and produces effective services as long as you test them thoroughly. Priced at $60 for a stand-alone license and $200 for the enterprise license with cluster, site and OEM licenses also available, AtYourService is highly recommended.

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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