In a white paper released late Wednesday, the software giant identified four areas where it plans to make improvements over the next 12 months: in patch quality, in delivering information to its customers, in broadening the number of applications supported by its automated update technology and in simplifying the way that patches are applied.
"Customers tell us that patch management is a pain point," said Jeff Jones, senior director of trustworthy computing for the Redmond, Wash., company.
Last November, customers complained that Microsoft labeled too many of its security patches as "critical," leading the company to create the new,of "important" for security problems that can be handled at a later date.
On Tuesday, the company also announced that it will id="1012689">consolidate from eight to two the number of ways that patches are distributed to customers.
Jones said the simplification will be only one of several steps that Microsoft will take to improve its patch-management tools for customers.
The company plans to create a Windows Server 2003 guide for improving security, to update the security-bulletin search function on its TechNet Web site and to host conference calls to brief customers when a new advisory is released. Microsoft also intends to make it easier for customers to uninstall any patches that go wrong, Jones said.
Moreover, the company will, over the next 12 months, create an automated update service that extends to other Microsoft products, not just to Windows. Both the company's Software Update Service for small and midsize businesses and its Systems Management Server 2003 for large corporations will include the feature.
Jones reiterated the company's pledge to reduce the number of technologies used to patch systems. The proliferation in the number of technologies had occurred because Microsoft urged each product group to come up with a patch, he said.
"There are seven different business groups at Microsoft, and they were encouraged to" come up with new products, he said. Back then, "that was the right tradeoff, and now, consistency is the right tradeoff."