Security Bytes

Aug 31 2007   5:12AM GMT

Windows users react as Vista SP1 comes, AutoPatcher goes

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

Bill BrennerThis is a bittersweet kind of week for Windows administrators.

On one hand, many are happy to see that Microsoft is readying the first service pack for Vista, a move that will push many more companies to deploy the latest OS. On the other hand, many are upset because Microsoft has forced the demise of AutoPatcher, a revered alternative to Windows Update.

The big hope is that Vista SP1 will address a lot of the compatibility kinks that have dogged IT shops trying to deploy Vista. Many an expert in recent months has advised people to hold off on Vista until the release of the first service pack.

Security Blog LogMicrosoft confirmed Wednesday that the service pack will be out sometime in the first quarter of 2008, along with a third and final service pack for Windows XP. Before that, a beta version will be released for those who want to take a test run.

Early reaction in the blogosphere is positive.

Blogger Ryan Block expressed relief in the Engadget blog that Microsoft is ready to reveal “what the hell is going on” with Vista’s first service pack. At first glance, he wrote, it appears Vista SP1 will be “chock full o’ bug fixes, performance optimizations, and improved reliability.”

Susanne Dansey, a member of the UK and global SBS community wrote in her UK SMB Girl blog that Vista SP1 will continue to improve upon the IT administration experience.

“Windows Vista SP1 improves the reliability of Windows Vista in many areas,” she wrote. “According to Microsoft, many of the crashes and blue screens experienced by users stem from problems with 3rd party applications and drivers, and so they are working with partners to solve these together. Other problems occur entirely in Windows code so they are aggressively working to solve as many of them as possible.”

While people are upbeat about Vista SP1, they are also furious that Microsoft has forced the closure of AutoPatcher.

Antonis Kaladis, project manager and lead developer for AutoPatcher, informed users of Microsoft’s demands in the AutoPatcher blog in an entry titled “Sad Day.”

“Today we received an email from Microsoft, requesting the immediate take-down of the download page, which of course means that AutoPatcher is probably history,” he wrote. “As much as we disagree, we can do very little, and although the download page is merely a collection of mirrors, we took the download page down. We would like to thank you for your support. For the past four years it has been a blast. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s the end of AutoPatcher as we know it.”

Susan Bradley, a Microsoft MVP and IT administrator at Tamiyasu, Smith, Horn and Braun Accountancy Corp. in Fresno, Calif., appealed to Microsoft to back off in her SBS Diva blog.

“Microsoft, we need an offline patching solution,” she wrote. “If you aren’t going to do one, and if XP SP3 is now out next year, how about you knock off the legal threats on AutoPatcher until XP SP3 comes out, will ya? AutoPatcher is just doing your job for you.”

Brad Linder lamented in the Download Squad blog that AutoPatcher provided a safe and easy way for users to download Windows updates without connecting to Microsoft’s servers. “This came in handy if you wanted to update multiple computers,” he said, adding, “You could download AutoPatcher, put it on a disc and install it on PCs before connecting them to the Internet, thus avoiding any vulnerabilities that may exist in pre-patched systems.”

Unfortunately, he said, Microsoft has decreed that Windows updates should only be downloaded from Microsoft’s servers.

Jake Ortman, an IT director at Discover Sunriver Vacation Rentals in Oregon, wrote in his UtterlyBoring blog that the move looks like a ploy by Microsoft to convince people to start using their “clunky services more or to try to move people in the corporate world to their Update Services systems.”

He wrote, “Thanks, Microsoft, but if I’m going to get an automated patch solution, I’ll use Net-Chk Protect (from Shavlik).”

Unfortunately for AutoPatch users, it may prove impossible to find another tool like it. I don’t know of any myself, but if anyone out there is aware of any, please share.

I do know that Windows admins can get help with their patch management from a variety of vendors. One example, as Ortman mentioned, is Shavlik. Another is Patchlink.

As for the conventional wisdom that it’s best to wait for the first service pack before dealing with Vista, I’ve heard the same advice from many of those I’ve interviewed for my ongoing Vista Deployment series. But through my series work I’ve also met IT professionals who have found ways to roll out Vista despite the challenges they’ve encountered.

Check out the series, and please offer up some feedback on your Vista deployment work and about other patch tools admins should know about.

About Security Blog Log: Senior News Writer Bill Brenner peruses security blogs each day to see what’s got the information security community buzzing. In this column he lists the weekly highlights. If you’d like to comment on the column or bring new security blogs to his attention, contact him at bbrenner@techtarget.com.

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