Microsoft releases SMS 2003 R2 beta

Microsoft announced the beta release of Systems Management Server 2003 R2, its tool to help businesses manage Windows environments. The software offers new ease-of-use and security capabilities.

One feature is designed to help IT managers more easily update the software installed on their Windows desktop PCs -- both Microsoft applications and, eventually, those from other vendors. Another feature provides a tool to scan those same computers for about 100 of the most common configuration errors that can lead to security breaches.

The Systems Management Server (SMS) software, which also manages software licenses and other assets, will also have a return-on-investment meter, which can sum up the amount of money businesses are saving in support that has ended for unneeded software licenses that SMS detects, said Felicity McGourty, product management director for the Windows Enterprise Management Division at Microsoft.

Ronni Colville, an analyst at Gartner, said R2 is a "good enhancement" over R1. While she doubts that many independent software vendors will rush voluntarily to reformat their catalogs of updates for SMS users, she said the automatic update tools from Microsoft are much better today than they were several years ago.

Colville also said the prevalence of Windows desktops both helps and hurts SMS. It helps by giving the software a marketing edge over competing products from companies such as LANDesk Software, Hewlett-Packard and BMC Software. According to market research company IDC, SMS leads the market for Windows change and configuration software, with more than twice the share of the next closest vendor.

The dominance of Windows hurts, said Colville, because large enterprises with tens of thousands of Windows desktops often expect to get SMS, for which Microsoft has yet to announce its R2 pricing, bundled in for little or no cost.

The next major version of SMS, currently called Version 4, will arrive in about 18 months, said McGourty. It will offer an improved configuration-scan tool that can automatically detect configuration changes rather than require users to run the scanner, she said.

The beta is available now, with a final release of R2 expected in May. Upgrading to R2 requires the installation of Service Pack 2 of SMS 2003, which was first introduced in November 2003. Software Assurance customers can upgrade to R2 for free. Other customers can get a 30 percent discount if they purchase Software Assurance.

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