Microsoft's patch management tools

The enterprise versions of patch management products are not designed for very small offices, and there are no personal editions of such tools. Individual users can find Microsoft Corp. patching tools at the company's security Web site (www.microsoft.com/security). There, you can execute a Windows update to get the latest operating system support packs or initiate the lesser-known Office update to patch Microsoft Office applications.

Unfortunately, computers of users who relied exclusively on that site in 2003 still became infected with viruses because the tools did not apply the latest hot fixes. The best way to apply Microsoft hot fixes on individual PCs is by installing and running the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer, which also assists in applying secure policies.

For businesses, Microsoft offers Software Update Services, a free tool for organizations to create a local server for staging and approving security patches. The tool can be configured to send e-mail bulletins whenever new patches are available.

Version 2.0, available in the spring, will address some of the tool's existing deficiencies. It will have reporting capabilities to confirm when patching is successful, new features to initiate reboots when needed and, crucially, a centrally controlled uninstall capability to remove buggy patches that are worse than the problems they were created to fix.

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