Microsoft late Tuesday began a public beta test of its new Microsoft Update, a substitute for Windows Update that will keep users current with security patches and other updates for not only the OS, but also Office and other products from the Redmond, Wash.-based developer.
The new service, which is being tested by more than 25,000 users, most of them from the group which previewed ver. 5 of Windows Update last year prior to the release of Windows XP SP2, has been delayed several times, and now should debut mid-year.
Microsoft Update was first announced by chairman Bill Gates at the RSA Conference last month. Users of Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Windows Server 2003 will be able to use it to scan for, download, and install updates and fixes for Windows, Office, Exchange, and SQL Server.
According to Microsoft, each group of users -- consumers, small businesses, and enterprises -- will use its own interface to the all-in-one update center. Consumers and individual users, for instance, will access Microsoft Update either by using Automatic Update or manually going to the new service's site, where they can pick and choose which updates to apply, as well as review already-installed updates.
Small- and mid-sized enterprises will use Windows Server Update Services (WSUS), a plug-in to Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003, while enterprises will turn to Systems Management Server 2003, an already-available patching, deployment, and hardware auditing program.
Along with the beta testing of Microsoft Update, the company on Tuesday also rolled out the first release candidate of WSUS, which can be downloaded free of charge from here.
WSUS, which comes out of the SUS (Software Update Services) and WUS (Windows Update Services) lines, provides basic patch management tools to small- and mid-sized companies, and should also release this summer.
"It's looking pretty good," said Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, of Microsoft Update. "I'm disappointed at how long it's taken them to start unifying updates, but it shows the right approach."
Microsoft said it will add other products from its software stables to the new update service, but for Cherry, that can't come too soon. "There are still a lot of Microsoft products that are not included in Microsoft Update," he said. "At some point I'd like to see it so that no matter what you have purchased from Microsoft, whether a game or software for a keyboard or mouse, that there was one place where you could find out if you had everything you needed.
"Microsoft Update may become that, but it's not that yet."