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Microsoft Patch-Management Product Delayed By Windows XP Work

Windows Update Services falls behind schedule as resources get shifted to Windows XP Service Pack 2.
A key product in Microsoft's strategy to make patch management easier for business customers will be late because the development team working on it was also busy improving the patch-management capabilities in Windows XP.

Microsoft said this week that Windows Update Services, patch-management software aimed at small and medium-sized businesses, has begun beta testing and will go through another round of testing early in the third quarter. The software, a follow on to the currently available Software Update Services 1.0, had been due for general availability in May. It's now slated for availability in the second half of the year.

Windows Update Services, which runs on Windows servers, missed its delivery target because the programmers working on it postponed what they were doing in order to add new patch-management capabilities to Windows XP's Service Pack 2. Microsoft said Wednesday that Windows XP SP2 has reached "release candidate 1" status, a sign that it's almost ready for general use.

"We decided we needed all hands on deck to get that work done," explains Steve Anderson, director of Windows server marketing. "We put more resources on [Windows XP Service Pack 2] temporarily to get that work done." In doing so, Anderson adds, it "moved the time back" on Windows Update Services.

Windows XP SP2 and Windows Update Services are both key to Microsoft's effort to improve computer security by making software patches easier to implement. Windows Update Services introduces for the first time the ability to patch Windows, Office, SQL Server, and Exchange from the same platform. Windows XP SP2's patch-management capability, called Windows Update, makes it easier for users to set up automatic updates for home PCs.

It's no coincidence that both products use the term "Windows Update." The technology within them is closely related, Anderson says. The difference is that Windows Update Services comes with features useful to system administrators, such as specifying which systems get patched and reporting actions taken.

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions On Microsoft, agrees with Microsoft's decision to focus on Windows XP SP2 at the expense of Windows Update Services. "SP2 is an attempt to do with Windows XP what they did with Windows Server 2003--harden it against worms and viruses and make it much more patchable, not just for a sophisticated organization, but for Grandma," Helm says. "That absolutely should be Microsoft's first priority."

Microsoft recommends the more sophisticated patch-management capabilities within Systems Management Server 2003 for large companies with more complex Windows environments. Over time, Microsoft plans to make Windows Update Services a standard part of the Windows operating system and use that combination in lieu of Systems Management Server's patch distribution engine.

Nearer term, Anderson says, Microsoft plans to begin sharing information generated by its internal patch tests with business customers that do their own patch testing as a time saver.

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