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I manage three Windows PCs at home using the principle of least privilege. This means that practically every other day when a new version of Java is released, I have to manually install the update using my administrative credentials on each machine. This is starting to become more work than I had expected.

I would love to set up an active directory domain at home, but Microsoft has discontinued Windows home server; its replacement, Windows server 2012 essentials is much more expensive (about $500).

Are there any free (preferably as in speech) that would allow me to centrally manage the software installed on each machine in a manner similar to that of active directory? I'd also like to find a way to centrally manage security settings, but I doubt there's an equivalent of group policy.

Samba 4 would be an ideal solution, but according to its own developers, it is not yet stable enough for production use.

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thats a tough one sean. Have you looked into getting an older version of windows server (do you really need 2012?), it might be considerably cheaper. I am a huge linux advocate usually but I have to admit I struggle with doing anything past simple file shares in samba in linux. Also if you are looking to do anything advanced like manage software on windows machines, you will forced to go with some sort of windows server solution to do that. I am sure there are other ways, but the only sort of enterprise software pushes I have done were via Group Policy. –  Richie086 Dec 3 '12 at 22:52

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There are other solutions. I'm happily using WPKG.org along with Samba file server. It's a simple but powerfull packaging management software.. ehm:).. jscript, it has an extensive wiki for installing software automatically.

All you need to do is create few xml files with profiles for your computers and then choose method of deploying (e.g. on boot, via taskmanager, gpolicy, on demand...).

It's really independent solution for simple management of buch of PCs, if you don't higher functions of GroupPolicy management. Almost everything on Windows can be done via registry and with few scripts.

As for managing user profiles, that can be done via Samba 3 acting as PDC.

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sounds interesting. I'll have to look into this. –  Richie086 Dec 3 '12 at 22:55
    
@week Are you using wpkg-gp? –  Sean W. Dec 3 '12 at 23:17
    
@Sean W. I tried that, but I don't use that anymore, because sometimes when I was deploying more packages at once, or there were some errors and wpkg was just timing out, it was delaying logon and that's not acceptable for me. If there were a way to interrupt, than maybe.. I use WPKGClient on boot. –  week Dec 3 '12 at 23:37
    
Wpkg-gp is good for deploying user policies via registry or some scripts, if you want to make sure that it'll be done before user logs in.. –  week Dec 3 '12 at 23:41

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