Oracle is to give its customers an early warning of what they can expect from upcoming security patch releases.

Yesterday, Oracle published its first-ever Critical Patch Update Pre-Release Announcement, detailing what it plans to fix in its next set of patches, due Tuesday.

The advance notification will make it easier for Oracle's customers to plan their week ahead, said Darius Wiles, senior manager of Oracle Security Alerts.

Oracle has been criticised for overwhelming customers with a confusing barrage of security updates, and over the past few months it has taken steps to make it easier for users to understand which of its patches are most urgent.

Last October, Oracle began simplifying its vulnerability reporting and rating its bugs according to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), also used in Cisco Systems security advisories. CVSS is intended to standardize the way security flaws are rated.

Oracle gives this month's updates a total CVSS rating of 7.0. Though the most severe CVSS rating possible is 10, a rating of 7.0 is the highest that Oracle would normally rate its patches, because Oracle flaws do not generally affect the underlying operating system, Wiles said.

"I would certainly recommend customers apply the patches if they are using systems that are affected," he said.

Like Microsoft, Oracle releases security patches on a regular schedule, but Oracle's updates contain more patches and are far less frequent. They are released once every quarter; Microsoft's come out once a month.

Oracle's Jan. 16 updates for this quarter will include 52 patches for Oracle Database, Application Server, Enterprise Manager, Identity Management, E-Business Suite, Developer Suite and the PeopleSoft Enterprise People Tools.

The majority of these patches will be for Oracle's database software, which will receive 27 fixes in all. Ten of these bugs "may be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password," Oracle said in its pre-release announcement.