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Windows Vista to 'freeze dry' PCs before patching

The upcoming OS will include new patching technology that reduces restarts and stores user data before reboots.

The next version of Microsoft's Windows operating system will include new patching technology that reduces the number of required restarts and stores user data before reboots.

Code-named "Freeze Dry," the technology uses a new restart manager in Windows Vista, a Microsoft representative said in a statement Friday. In most cases, consumers won't have to restart Windows Vista when installing or updating an application, according to Microsoft.

It will even be possible to patch some applications while they are in use, the software maker said. "Windows Vista automatically replaces the file the next time the application is restarted," the Microsoft representative said. Vista, previously code-named Longhorn, is due out by the end of next year.

To safeguard user data when an application restart is required after patching, Windows Vista can save the person's data, close the application, apply the patch and restart the application, Microsoft said. "As a result, most updates need not interrupt users' work," the company said.

The improved patching technology can be helpful for many consumers, but looks to be especially useful in corporate environments where IT managers automatically install patches and updates on machines. People who leave documents open and unsaved on those machines today run the risk of losing data if their system is automatically updated.

"These things have been talked about for a long time," said John Pescatore, a vice president at research firm Gartner. "Every release of Windows is always making boot-up times shorter and patching easier, but Microsoft has not been able to deliver all of the time."

Assuming Microsoft is successful with Vista, the company is coming close to reaching patching utopia, according to Pescatore. "The Holy Grail is total hands-off patching," he said. That would be where IT staff could patch any PC on the corporate network at the push of a button without requiring the systems to reboot or any user interference.

"This ability to patch without requiring a reboot is enormous," Pescatore said. "This has been a feature users have been clamoring for."

Microsoft has improved the process of patching Windows and its other products over the past few years. In June, the software maker delivered an overhaul of its corporate patching tool and Microsoft Update, the promised successor to its Windows Update service.

Unlike Windows Update, Microsoft Update provides patches for a number of the company's products, not just the Windows operating system. That means customers no longer have to visit several Microsoft Web sites to make sure they have the latest fixes for each product.