After several delays, Microsoft is finally set to deliver the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) patching tool and the Microsoft Update (MU) software patching service.

Both MU and WSUS were originally due in the first half of 2004, but were delayed several times. Microsoft has blamed the delays partly on work it had to do on Windows XP Service Pack 2, which, however, was released last August. Most recently the company has said it would deliver MU and WSUS in the first half of 2005, with June as the expected date.

MU is the successor to the current Windows Update service. It is a single service for users to get patches for a number of Microsoft products, not just Windows. The service will be aimed mostly at consumers and small businesses, as Windows Update is today.

"Windows Update in a short two months will become Microsoft Update," Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president at Microsoft's Enterprise Management Division said in a presentation at the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas. "The product is rock solid." WSUS, which depends on MU, will ship at the same time, Tatarinov added.

WSUS succeeds the existing Software Update Services (SUS) tool, Microsoft's no-charge patch management tool for business users. Microsoft claimed that the new version would offer improvements in patch delivery, status reporting, network usage and improved implementation and administration flexibility.

Like MU, WSUS also offers patches for Windows operating systems as well as Office XP, Office 2003, SQL Server, MSDE (Microsoft Desktop Engine), Exchange 2000 Server and Exchange Server 2003 products.

The WSUS client will run on versions of Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3 and beyond and on all Windows XP releases. The WSUS server requires Windows 2000 Service Pack 4 and later or Windows Server 2003, Microsoft said.

WSUS is currently available in release candidate version, the final before release, said Jason Leznek, a product manager at Microsoft. The product has undergone two name changes. It was originally called SUS 2.0 and then renamed Windows Update Services. It got the Windows Server Update Services name earlier this year.

About a month after the release of WSUS, Microsoft plans to release an update for its Systems Management Server (SMS) 2003 product with the new MU and WSUS scanning engine. SMS is Microsoft's enterprise change and configuration management product, which is also used for patching.

Right now, users sometimes get different results when scanning for patch requirements with Windows Update, SMS and Microsoft's Baseline Security Analyzer, Leznek said. The new engine should eliminate the problem, he said.