Microsoft delays patching tools

XP security work leads to year-long delay, company says

Microsoft has delayed a significant update to its patch management tool and its single patching service until the first half of next year because of security work it had to do first related to Windows XP, a company executive says.

As a result of the additional delays, Microsoft Update, the planned successor to the current Windows Update service, and Windows Update Services (WUS), formerly known as Software Update Services 2.0, are now expected to become available a full year later than originally promised. Both products had already been pushed back from an original release target in the first half of 2004 to the second half of the year.

Microsoft announced Microsoft Update and WUS at its Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans last October. Confirmation of further delay of the product came at the second annual worldwide partner event in Toronto, where Microsoft is pitching security to partners as a "competitive advantage".

Before finishing up WUS, which is currently in beta, Microsoft had to finish work on Windows Update version 5, an in-between update to the Windows Update service that is instrumental for the distribution of the forthcoming security-focused Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, says Mike Nash, corporate vice president of Microsoft's security business and technology unit.

"The Windows Update Services team is now transitioning from their work on Windows Update version 5 on to Windows Update Services," Nash said in an interview at the Toronto conference. WUS and Microsoft Update are closely related, so both products are delayed, according to Nash.

However, one analyst doubts that work on Windows Update version 5 is really what delayed WUS. Microsoft probably underestimated the complexity of building a more complex patch management product, says Peter Pawlak, a lead analyst at Directions On Microsoft.

"By reading the tea leaves, I am speculating that there were a lot of problems with the beta and that they had to go back and work on WUS," Pawlak says. Windows Update version 5 is not such a big deal that it would explain a delay of WUS, he says.

Still, a delay is better than rushing out a half-baked product, Pawlak says. "While it is unfortunate because Microsoft is trying to [position its security features] as a competitive strength rather than a weakness, if they ran this out and it was really buggy and faulty they would do more damage to themselves than being late."

The application of software patches is a major headache of IT organizations and consumers alike. Microsoft has pitched both Microsoft Update and WUS as remedies.

Microsoft Update is a single service for users to get patches for all Microsoft products, not just Windows. The service will be aimed mostly at consumers and small businesses, as Windows Update is today.

WUS is a significant update to SUS, Microsoft's no-charge patch management tool for business users. The update includes improvements in patch delivery, status reporting, network usage and improved implementation and administration flexibility, according to Microsoft. New functionality also includes the ability to patch not only Windows operating systems but also SQL Server, Office System and Exchange Server products, the company says.

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