Review: Faronics' Deep Freeze Standard

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When Bad Things Happen, Simply Reboot!

Faronics’ Deep Freeze is an application that, as the name implies, “freezes” your system so that any changes that are made are never permanent. If the system becomes unstable for any reason, say a virus or perhaps a driver misconfiguration, simply reboot! Within seconds, Deep Freeze will restore the system to the state it was in when last frozen. Just like magic, everything that had been done since then becomes undone and you are back up and running in no time.

Once installed, Deep Freeze has two states, “thawed” and “frozen.” As you might have guessed, when thawed you configure your system precisely the way you want it to be restored. When frozen, the system will then be restored to that state on the next reboot. You can freeze and thaw as needed to update the system with any changes you’d like to keep.

Less is More

Because it’s such a simple application, Deep Freeze is highly useful for computers that act as kiosks, workstations, or simple terminals, but is probably not ideal for your home PC. For example, if you use Outlook (or any other POP3 mail client) and your e-mail messages are downloaded and stored on your computer, those messages could all be lost upon reboot. Web based e-mail would be immune to this, however.

For those of you that need a similar program for your home PC, Microsoft offers another solution called Steady State. While a bit confusing to setup, Steady State will allow for certain user settings, drives, or files to be retained while the remainder of the system is recovered just as configured. Deep Freeze will only recover the system as a whole unless you make key changes to applications and the Windows registry beforehand (such as storing system folder locations or application data on a separate drive or partition - a daunting task for many home users). This is a fundamental difference between Deep Freeze and Steady State, but it’s important to remember that they are each tailored to their own audiences. What makes Deep Freeze really shine for small business is that it’s simple to use and available for more than just Windows. Mac and Linux users can enjoy the benefits Deep Freeze has to offer, as well.

Enter the Wrecking Ball

For my test run with Deep Freeze, I cloned my Windows XP drive and pulled the original for safe keeping (one can never be too careful, right?). Then, with Deep Freeze installed and all my settings and applications just the way I like them, I placed my system in a frozen state and unleashed the wrecking ball.

First, I cracked open Internet Explorer (a browser I rarely use these days). It was pretty amazing to see how quickly things started going awry when I adjusted my settings to the lowest possible safety level and began looking for some, well… (ahem), rather seedy websites. It wasn’t long before my browser started slowing to a crawl and I had brand new toolbars out the wazoo! Before I knew it, I ended up having to perform an “end task” operation on iexplore.exe (the Internet Explorer executable file) after it simply stopped responding. Perfect.

Next, I made an absolute mess of the Windows registry. Changing system file paths and driver files in the registry will certainly cause trouble upon reboot and possibly even prevent the system from starting up at all. Excellent!

Finally, I decided that disabling every Windows service that I can should throw such a curveball at the system that it should fail to even boot up. Having said that, I must admit that I’ve never done this before! Somehow in all my years of experience, I have never attempted to demolish a Windows installation in this manner. Let’s face it, formatting a hard drive is one thing, but this is entirely another! What fun!

A Simple Reboot

In order to properly test for this review, I felt as though I needed one last kick-in-the-pants for my system. I decided that a traditional reboot would not do, but a simulated power outage would be the way to go. So I reached around the back of my computer and flipped the little switch on the power supply. Poof! Blank screen.

With my system now thoroughly trashed, I pressed the power button to turn it back on. I nearly expected smoke to start billowing from the tower or cryptic error messages to begin spewing all over the screen from all the damage I had done. But within a few seconds, the familiar Windows XP logo appeared. My system continued booting as it normally would and it wasn’t long before my desktop appeared. Wow! Could it be?

Sure enough, all the damage I had caused had been cured by a simple reboot. It was as if the clock had been turned back to a time when Internet Explorer had nothing but its default toolbars, the Windows registry was completely intact, and all my Windows services were happily chugging along. Amazing!

To Freeze or Not to Freeze?

If you decide to try DeepFreeze for yourself, I can tell you that it’s well worth the money spent - $45.00 for Deep Freeze Standard, the version used for this article. Alternate versions are available for Education, Enterprise, and Server platforms, and an unrestricted free trial is available via the Faronics website. One word of advice, though: Be sure to keep the Deep Freeze installer as it will be the easiest way of removing the program should you decide it isn’t for you.

After spending some time getting to know Deep Freeze, I must say that I am truly impressed. The bottom line: Deep Freeze is a winner!

Read Bright Hub’s reviews of other products from Faronics: Power Save and Anti-Executable.

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