Microsoft has delayed an important update to its patch management tool yet again because of the extra work it needed to doing on the SP2 update for Windows XP. Microsoft Update - successor to Windows Update - will now be delayed until the first half of next year.

Windows Update Services (WUS), formerly Software Update Services (SUS) 2.0, will also be delayed until the first half of 2005 - a full year later than originally promised. Confirmation of further delay came at its second annual worldwide partner event in Toronto, where Microsoft is pitching security to partners as a "competitive advantage".

Before completing WUS, which is currently in beta, Microsoft had to finish work on Windows Update version 5 - an in-between update to the Windows Update service that is essential for the distribution of SP2, said Mike Nash of Microsoft's Security Business & Technology Unit.

Microsoft has also confirmed that there will be delays of a few weeks for SP2 in languages other than English and German. It only confirmed this week that SP2 would finally be available in August.

"The Windows Update Services team is now transitioning from their work on Windows Update version 5 on to Windows Update Services," Nash said. WUS and Microsoft Update are closely related, so both products are delayed, according to Nash.

One analyst doubted that work on Windows Update version 5 is really what delayed WUS however. Microsoft probably underestimated the complexity of building a more complex patch management product, said Peter Pawlak, a lead analyst at Directions on Microsoft. "By reading the tea leaves, I am speculating that there were a lot of problems with the beta and that they had to go back and work on WUS," Pawlak said. Windows Update version 5 is not such a big deal that it would explain a delay of WUS, he said.

Still, a delay is better than rushing out a half-baked product, Pawlak added. "While it is unfortunate because Microsoft is trying to [position security] as a competitive strength rather than a weakness, if they ran this out and it was really buggy and faulty, they would do more damage to themselves than being late."

The application of software patches is a major headache for companies and consumers alike. Microsoft has pitched both Microsoft Update and WUS as remedies. Microsoft Update is a single service for users to get patches for all Microsoft products, not just Windows. The service will be aimed mostly at consumers and small businesses, as Windows Update is today.

WUS is a significant update to SUS, Microsoft's no-charge patch management tool for business users. The update includes improvements in patch delivery, status reporting, network usage and improved implementation and administration flexibility, Microsoft has said. New functionality also includes the ability to patch not only Windows operating systems but also SQL Server, Office System and Exchange Server products.