Microsoft desktop manager improves update features

IT managers get some help keeping third-party applications updated and diagnosing possible configuration problems with the release of SMS 2003 R2. And, for minding the overall health of applications, there's the upcoming beta of System Center Operations Manager 2007.

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IT administrators may get some much needed help installing third-party application updates and monitoring a network's well being with the latest version of Microsoft's desktop management software.

Systems Management Server 2003 R2 lets IT managers apply updates to third-party applications automatically on a company's computers in the same way that Microsoft updates are accessed and distributed. Third-party vendors can publish and catalog updates or patches in a specific format that allows the tool to find the patches and distribute them, Microsoft said.

At least one user said he is looking forward to some of the advantages that SMS 2003 R2 may offer his IT department. Josh MacNeil, the technology services assistant director for the Whitman-Hanson School District in Whitman, Mass., said the latest version of SMS is attractive to his school district because the hardware requirements to run it haven't really changed. That means users can load it and use it right away without having to update any machines.

"This is definitely a help to any sort of company or institution that manages multiple applications," McNeil said.

There is also a scanning tool that can assess the configurations of desktops and laptops and then determine if they have received the proper updates -- a task that is helpful to IT departments as they try to ensure all desktops are operating properly and securely.

Manish Kalra, a Microsoft product manager, said the approach to developing SMS 2003 R2, as well as other products, has been to help companies reduce costs in operating IT departments and to safeguard applications.

Separately, the company released a beta for its System Center Operations Manager 2007, which is the next generation of Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2005. The software monitors a network's overall health, as opposed to just focusing on the health of the computer server. The software adds embedded troubleshooting and problem-solving tasks, according to Eric Berg, Microsoft's director of product management in the Windows Enterprise Management division.

Although the improvements in these two products appear to be significant, Microsoft, essentially, is playing catch-up, said Richard Ptak, an analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates in Amherst, N.H. A number of third-party players, such as Tivoli, have already established their products as integrators, Ptak said. "These advances were definitely needed," Ptak said. Windows shops are finally getting what mainframe users had years ago and what third-party vendors have been supplying to computer users for quite some time, he added.

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