Some of the highlights are a Microsoft Management Console-based user interface and custom views based on products, classifications, sync date and the groups that the updates are approved for. There is also new filtering based on approvals and the status of a client.
The WSUS 3.0 Release Candidate will be supported by Microsoft through May 31, and the WSUS 3.0 Microsoft Operations Manager pack should be available next week, the company said.
In WSUS 3.0, the idea of approved for detection -- i.e., when an application is checked to see if an update is required, but the final authorization to patch or update is left to the administrator -- goes away. Users can build views to see which updates are unapproved and needed by clients.
Shortcomings in WSUS
The one big downside to WSUS is that it patches only Microsoft platforms, and not even all of them. Third-party patch managers can usually support Unix and Linux in addition to third-party applications. WSUS does not help uninstalls either because that is done through Systems Management Server, or SMS.
Some of the new features have already received kudos. "I think the reporting is improved -- there are graphs and features like that," said Jim Brown, senior technical specialist at General Mills Inc. in Minneapolis, Minn., who has been using WSUS 3.0 RC 1 but has not downloaded the latest version yet.
Brown said he is less enthusiastic that the management console is now the user interface instead of the Web-based interface as in previous versions. He said the console is cumbersome and time-consuming because if he is in several domains at the same time, he has to exit them first before he can use the console interface.
Small companies, big companies can use WSUS 3.0
Although some of the new features in WSUS 3.0 are available in commercial products, the free tool is popular with IT shops, particularly in small companies that cannot afford a full-blown software distribution tool such as Microsoft's SMS.
"It doesn't need the infrastructure like [SMS], though from my experience, you don't have as much control as SMS," said Chris Mosby, an SMS administrator for a large regional bank and a Microsoft MVP. "It's good for companies with a small infrastructure. A lot of people certainly seem to be excited [about it]," he said.
But big companies, such as General Mills with its 20,000 users and numerous plants around the world, find it useful as well.
WSUS 3.0 requires Windows Server 2003, Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4.
Margie Semilof contributed to this news story.