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Microsoft tool update moves ahead

The software giant moves ahead with plans to update its management software tools, regardless of the murky timetable for Windows NT.

Microsoft will move ahead with plans to update its management software tools, regardless of the murky timetable for release of its Windows NT operating system upgrade.

The company will release a second test version, or beta, of its Systems Management Server (SMS) software this week to customers, building on an initial beta release made available in February. Final shipment of SMS 2.0, previously code-named Opal, is now scheduled for the fourth quarter of this year.

SMS, which ships separately as well as part of Microsoft's BackOffice suite of server-side applications, gives users a homegrown option for managing desktops and server computers running Windows-based operating systems. The company is increasingly focused on keeping releases of its various upgrades and associated applications in sync, but Microsoft executives said Windows NT 5.0 support will be offered in a post-SMS 2.0 update.

Previously, Microsoft said support for NT 5.0 technologies, such as Active Directory and IntelliMirror, would be a component of the SMS 2.0 release, but ongoing delays in delivery of NT 5.0 milestones--such as updated betas--may have changed plans for SMS.

New functions found in SMS 2.0 include the ability to meter software application usage, detect trouble spots in year 2000 compliance, and view the health and performance on a particular system and set thresholds based on that data. The two latter technologies are new to beta No. 2.

The monitoring function is being offered as a "proof of concept" technology, according to Victor Raisys, lead product manager for Windows management and infrastructure products, and may or may not ship in the final 2.0 product.

The update also includes support for the Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) specification, which gives administrators a richer set of data about systems on a network, according to Raisys.

Analysts have said in the past that there was room for improvement in how Microsoft delivers its message to customers concerning its management software strategy. The company has various initiatives in place, each one focused on different parts of the market or different functions. For example, the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) is a tool that ships with NT that allows third parties to provide snap-in management tools. One such snap-in is SMS.

Other initiatives include Zero Administration for Windows, or ZAW, aimed at lowering the cost of maintaining desktops. A new version of NT addressing the market for "thin clients" also offers a managed alternative for users, since the software feeds applications from a central server to various Windows-based desktops.