Product Reviews

Keeping up With Your Patches

Service Pack Manager provides solid patch tracking and management

In this era of increased concern regarding security, products that not only manage hotfixes, but also show which patches should be applied are worth their price in bullion. Service Pack Manager (SPM) 6.0 is just such a product, making it easy to track which patches and hotfixes you have applied, as well as pushing out selected patches to servers. Since we last looked at SPM, Gravity Storm has added support for Windows 2000, IIS, IE, SQL Server, Exchange, and Outlook.

SPM’s interface has tabbed selections across the top, and a browser-like command bar below. Most-useful choices include OS Status and Product Status. OS Status tells you what patches are available for a particular computer, and Product Status shows what you have installed or selected of the available patches. Other tabs control configuration, scheduling and queries to compare a computer to a user-defined set of hotfixes.

This product is usually shipped via a download and contains no manual—a minor shortcoming. Installation with the provided key was flawless and uncomplicated. The built-in browser lacks some of the functionality that I expected, enough to make navigation a chore. The menu icons across the top bar don’t reflect standard Windows conventions. Although they’re not difficult to figure out, it does make it impossible to select any Web address except by choosing a hotfix or selecting the SP Newsletter, which takes you to the Gravity Storm site. Some screens do show a back and forward button, but these buttons merely take you to the Web location previously selected.

I was able to push hotfixes from my Win2K server to my NT servers and even across domains I saw all my computers correctly identified with their current patch level, although discovery was quite slow. When I tried to push some Win2K patches to my NT servers or patches for IE 5.5 to a 5.01 installation, SPM stopped me and pointed out that these hotfixes weren’t appropriate. When I applied an appropriate patch, a timer popped up (after a warning message that not all hotfixes should be installed) showing me how long the install would take.

Service Pack Manager 2000
Service Pack Manager shows operating system versions, patches, and details patch information in one unified interface. (Click image to view larger version.)

There were some rough edges. If I tried to begin another task with SPM, it seemed that SPM froze, but in fact, another window with an error message popped up behind my full screen SPM. Pressing Alt-Esc and canceling this pop-up easily solved that problem. In some SPM screens, previously installed service patches and hotfixes weren’t displayed. On the other hand, I found SPM’s quick key access to the Microsoft TechNet article for a specific hotfix in question useful. Overall, the program has considerably more functionality than Microsoft’s free HFNetChk (Hot Fix Net Check) utility. If you’re concerned with security or manage medium or larger installations, SPM brings peace of mind and considerable time savings.

About the Author

Douglas Mechaber, MCSE, MCNE, CCDA, is a network consultant and dive instructor and is always on the lookout for utilities that make his life easier, or panulirus interruptus, the California spiny lobster.

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