Windows Update Services Public Beta Now Available
Although I first wrote about Microsoft's ever-evolving patch-management infrastructure plans in Windows IT Pro UPDATE back in June 2003 ( See "Security, Patch Management, and the Future" at ), Microsoft is only now beginning to ship many of the products it briefed me about a year and a half ago. First up, of course, is Windows Update 5.0, which is based on the company's new underlying patch-management infrastructure. Sometime next year, Windows Update will be augmented by Microsoft Update, which will let Microsoft customers update all supported Microsoft products.

Currently, Microsoft is busy updating its end-user patch-management products, such as Microsoft Software Update Services (SUS) and Microsoft Systems Management Server (SMS). And last week, the company finally shipped the public beta release of its eagerly awaited Windows Update Services (WUS) server product, which will replace SUS when it ships next year.

Free to users of Windows Server 2003 and Windows 2000 Server, WUS is a dramatically improved product. First, because it works off the patch-management infrastructure that Microsoft created, it will patch more than just currently supported Windows products. Initially, WUS will also patch Microsoft Office 2003 and Office XP, Exchange Server 2003, SQL Server 2000, and Microsoft Data Environment, as well as all IA-64 (Itanium) and x64 (AMD64 and Intel Extended Memory 64 Technology--EM64T) Microsoft products. WUS also lets administrators target machines more intelligently, using either the Active Directory (AD)-based organizational structure you've already created or, for smaller businesses, a simple collection of logical machine groups you can create from within the WUS UI.

WUS also sports a nice reporting engine--a key customer request, I was told--letting you easily determine how well your organization is meeting its security- and patch-management-installation requirements. Also good news is that WUS doesn't require an expensive new server: Microsoft tells me that an older 1GHz Pentium III machine with 1GB of RAM can support more than 15,000 clients. That makes the server a logical choice for repurposing old machines.

WUS is available now for free download, and although I'm surprised by how long Microsoft has taken to get this product out the door, it looks like a winner. For more information and the free download, check out the following Microsoft Web site:

Microsoft Replaces Windows 2000 SP5 with Update Rollup
Last week, I published a blurb in WinInfo Daily UPDATE about Microsoft canceling Win2K Service Pack 5 (SP5) and replacing it with a so-called Update Rollup. Microsoft has since confirmed my report and published information about the Win2K Update Rollup on its Web site. You can read more about this topic in "Hot Off the Press," later in this issue.

The cancellation of SP5, of course, raises a few concerns. First among them is the fate of Win2K. Although Microsoft will continue to release hotfixes for this product, news that SP4 will be the final Win2K service pack should signal strongly to customers that Win2K has hit the end of the road from a support standpoint. Yes, Microsoft points out that it will continue to "support" Win2K until it reaches its end-of-life milestone in 2010. But come on. A big difference exists between "support" and what I'll call "Support." Clearly, Win2K users will be left in the lurch from here on out.

Also, what is the difference between a service pack and an update rollup? Microsoft says that both are a collection of previously released patches and updates, but that update rollups are smaller and less complex. According to an FAQ the company released late last week, service packs are "good for delivering a large number of important updates and new features that customers are requesting Microsoft to ship prior to the next major operating system release," whereas update rollups "are good for delivering a select group of updates, as an interim release vehicle, when there will be longer than usual gaps between service packs." More ominously, it adds, "later in a product's life-cycle, update rollups also are a good mechanism for making it easier for customers to keep their systems up to date without requiring them to deploy all available updates." I might note, cynically, that it appears that an update rollup offers much of the convenience of a service pack without any of the messy need to keep updating the OS afterwards.

In short, if it wasn't yet obvious that Microsoft is deemphasizing Win2K in a big way, this is your wake-up call. The company is officially no longer interested in Win2K.

A Few Final Thoughts on the IE Debate
The last two issues of Windows IT Pro UPDATE focused on Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE), and the feedback I received from readers was amazing. Thanks again for that. Last week's conclusion (do these things ever really conclude?) brought up a concern I thought I should quickly address this week. I mentioned that Firefox didn't really have a self-updating feature, and many readers corrected me for that statement. Firefox does, indeed, include a feature called Software Update that lets Firefox users automatically or manually download new browser updates.

My comments, however, were referring to managed, enterprise-class updating and patch-management features such as those offered by Windows Update, WUS, SUS, or SMS, and Firefox doesn't yet support anything like that. Furthermore, it's unclear how many businesses would want hundreds of thousands of users automatically or manually updating their Web browsers without any central control. IE, for all its warts, is integrated with Windows and, thus, with Microsoft's patch-management technologies.