Combinations of software should do it:
Remote Group Policy Update Gpupdate | Specops Gpupdate
for a start.
Is there any free network/classroom management software or tools that will enable me to do things like shutdown PCs and retrieve hardware inventories? If not, what would be the best value software to get? Essentially I just want to see a list of all the computers on the network and perform admin tasks with them.
Any help would be appreciated!
How many computers do you have (OS etc.)?
Although paid for, the price is more than reasonable especially for one control station, AB-Tutor would easily do all you want - very powerfull tool.
SpecOps is great for shutting down, gpupdate /force etc. The full thing is only £70 per user (i.e. your domain administrator) which lets you schedule shutdowns/wakeups and perform more commands - most useful of which is to ping an entire OU.
For hardware inventories, to run as and when you need, @pete gave me this file many moons ago - documentor2.wsf.txt. Just delete the .txt extension and run the resulting wsf file, generates a spreadsheet with computer specs etc. and is a quick 'n' easy way of finding out what you've got.
The author (Ranma on ArsT) has a Sourceforge project now: Documentor | Free System Administration software downloads at SourceForge.net
Thanks for the suggestions guys! I've got Spiceworks and Specops installed and they are working nicely. Now all I need is some sort of a console to be able to view all the computers on the network and who's logged on to them - something similar to LanSchool Tech Console. Any suggestions? Got 140 PCs running Windows 7.
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