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Microsoft delays patch management tool

The delay is the second to be announced this week by the software giant, which is maintaining an ambitious workload for its developers.

Companies expecting a new patch management tool from Microsoft this summer will have to wait a little longer.

Microsoft said Tuesday that Windows Update Services, a new tool designed to let system administrators keep PCs and servers up to date with the latest patches and bug fixes, won't ship until sometime in the first half of next year. The tool, which entered testing in March, was supposed to debut this year.

The company said the delay will allow developers to incorporate changes suggested by people who tested the product. Also, Microsoft developers are busy with a new Automatic Updates agent that will be incorporated into Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), a long-awaited revamp of Windows XP. The necessary integration of Automatic Updates into SP2, and required testing, in part contributed to the delay, according to the company.

The delay is the latest for Microsoft, which on Monday said XP SP2, expected this month, won't ship until next month.

The delays were inevitable, given Microsoft's increased emphasis on tighter security within its products, said Steve O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk.

"I think the bigger distraction here is security, plain and simple," he said.

While it may seem from the outside that Microsoft's developers are overwhelmed by simultaneous projects, that's just the cost of doing business, O'Grady said. And, given that many companies are increasingly reluctant to continually upgrade their Microsoft products, the delays might not disrupt customer plans. "Microsoft, just like IBM or any other large software development organization, needs to have a lot of irons in the fire," he said.

Still, the delays call into question whether some individual development projects are overly ambitious. The complexity of projects like Longhorn, an all-new version of Windows not expected until 2006 or later, does contribute to the overall slowdown in product delivery. "Much of what Microsoft is trying to do is very, very difficult. So in that context, the delays are perhaps not too surprising," O'Grady said.

In addition to Longhorn and SP2, Microsoft is readying a service pack release for Windows Server 2003, a 64-bit edition of Windows Server, an update release of Windows Server 2003 code-named R2, and a version of Windows for high-performance computing.

Also Tuesday, Microsoft said it is developing a new security tool to be included in the R2 update of Windows Server. The tool, called Network Access Protection, allows companies to set policies and manage secure access to their internal networks, the company said.

Microsoft said the tool will debut along with R2 in the second half of next year. It will most likely only work with PCs running Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows 2000, according to the company.

The tool determines the "health state" of client PCs attempting to access corporate networks. It either grants access or restricts non-compliant PCs to a separate network, where they can be automatically updated, Microsoft said.