In the latest incarnation of a bug becoming a "feature", Bill Gates has revealed what Microsoft-speak for a security hole is - a "business asset".

The software giant is looking to turn security from a "concern" into a "business asset" and "opportunity" through software enhancements and management applications, Gates said yesterday.

Talking at the company's annual financial analyst meeting, Gates talked about how security and network complexity are top of all business customers' minds today. Users want to know how to update their systems and how to move away from passwords to systems with smart cards and biometrics, he said.

Microsoft is, unsurprisingly, working on solving each of these problems. One, by creating more secure software and two, by offering software management applications, including the Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and Systems Management Server (SMS). As a result, the perception of security as a perennial problem for Microsoft should change, he claimed.

"The security area turns from something that is a concern to us to a significant business asset as well as an opportunity," he surmised.

But Microsoft earlier this month said two key patching products, Windows Update Services (WUS) and a single "Microsoft Update" website for patching, as well as software management offering called System Center 2005, are delayed until the first half of 2005.

Those same delays might impede another Microsoft priority Gates highlighted in his opening speech at the financial analyst meeting. The vendor wants business customers to upgrade their software more often, what Gates called increasing the "pace of software innovation" in business environments.

Microsoft makes most of its money selling software to business users. But once a sale is made, business users are slower than consumers to upgrade their systems. "One challenge in the software business model is that once you license a piece of software, it never wears out," he said.

"A lot of what we need to do with software is increase the agility of the corporate server and the corporate desktop," Gates said. The plan to do that includes SMS and other management offerings that help system administrators update PCs and servers, sometimes without needing to physically work on the system. "There is an upgrade opportunity for those people, but you have to make the cost benefit very straightforward. We can do that by giving them tools", Gates said.

Many businesses continue to rely on old versions of Windows. Gartner last year found that only 14 percent of companies had upgraded to the three-year-old Windows XP. The poll, answered by 186 people, represented more than 1.3 million desktops and 460,000 laptops.

Gates in his speech touched on several other areas that Microsoft is working on, several that the company recently delivered products in or is slated to do so soon. These include speech, search and Tablet PC ink recognition. Longer term work includes improvements in the way Windows stores files and handles digital media. These should be delivered in the next major release of Windows, code-named Longhorn, which is expected in 2006.