Delays plague Microsoft patching, management tools

Failing to deliver on promises to further simplify patching and software management, Microsoft Corp. has delayed two key patching products and also said a software management offering will not be available until the first half of 2005.

At its Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto, in between talk about its partner strategy, Microsoft also shared details of its product roadmap. The Redmond, Wash., vendor said the release of its Windows Update Services (WUS) patch management tool has slipped again. The tool, originally called System Update Services (SUS) 2.0, was supposed to ship earlier this year, but Microsoft pushed the release to the second half of 2004 in March.

The delay of WUS is pushing back “Microsoft Update,” the successor to the Windows Update Web site that will offer patches for all Microsoft products instead of only Windows. Microsoft Update was also originally due in the first half of 2004.

WUS is a free Windows Server add-on that allows users to download and deploy patches for a host of Microsoft products. A technical preview was released early this year. The WUS predecessor, SUS 1.0, only handles patches for Windows clients and is currently used by 150,000 Windows-based servers to receive updates, according to Microsoft.

Along with the one-year delay for WUS and Microsoft Update, Microsoft also said System Center 2005 now won’t be out until the first half of 2005. System Center, originally scheduled to ship this year, bundles Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005 and Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003. The product will link MOM and SMS through a common interface and offer reporting services that will pull information from the two management tools.

System Center is part of Microsoft’s Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI), a plan for reducing IT complexity by improving software manageability. Microsoft at the partner event again cited studies that show IT professionals spend up to 70 per cent of their time managing systems. The vendor aims to bring that down by automating tasks.

Microsoft said WUS was delayed because the development team first had to finish a new update agent for the Windows client. The new agent will be part of Service Pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP, which Microsoft said it plans to ship in August, months after its original due date.

“We’re not that good at scheduling,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a keynote address on Tuesday. His comment was received with laughter.

But Microsoft’s product news at the event was not all about product delays. The company announced general availability of Internet Security and Acceleration (ISA) Server 2004 Standard Edition. The firewall, virtual private network and Web cache product costs US$1,499 per processor. An Enterprise Edition is due by year’s end.

Microsoft also shared more details about Network Access Protection (NAP) technology in a Windows Server 2003 dubbed R2 that is due in the second half of next year. NAP lets users perform a “health check” on PCs connecting to their network and block clients that don’t meet rules for example for patches and virus signatures.

Already 25 Microsoft partners have signed on to support NAP. These partners include antivirus, firewall, policy management, patch management and network vendors.

Ballmer rallied partners to go out and persuade more users to upgrade desktops and servers to the latest versions of Windows client and server, Office, and Exchange. Microsoft has special initiatives to help partners make their sales, including a US$50 million business investment fund.

Dealing with security, Microsoft also said it will offer a cleaner tool for the Download.Ject exploit that recently plagued Internet Explorer.



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