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Microsoft, Users Wrangle Over Changes to SUS

Depending on who's telling the story, Microsoft Corp. recently introduced changes to its Software Update Services with or without giving users adequate prior notice. What no one disputes is that some users who've been affected by these changes are hopping mad.

Take James, a contributor to Microsoft's SUS newsgroup who, in the parlance of the cult film classic Office Space, obviously didn’t get the memo.

“I've just noticed that my local SUS has downloaded the network install of [Windows 2000] SP4 and [Windows XP] SP1. I'm sure SUS1.0 SP1 said that it wouldn't/couldn't deploy service packs, only hotfixes; yet when I check [Microsoft’s SUS FAQ] it has been updated [on September 17th, 2003] to say that SUS now does deploy service packs,” he wrote in a USENET post last week. “Did I miss something here? Was there a notice of any kind that SUS behavior was going to change?”

James’ frustration certainly doesn’t sound unreasonable. After all, he says, “I'm subscribed to the ‘SUS content notification change’ mailing list, yet I didn't receive any messages letting me know this was going to happen.”

There’s a good reason for that, says Don Cottam, a software test engineer with Microsoft’s SUS team. “We … have a disadvantage about notifying users. We have never required registration to download or use SUS. I personally wish we had a list of all SUS users so we could send email directly, but we don't,” he wrote in a post to the SUS group.

Cottam reminded users that a change of this kind had been proposed on the newsgroup in the past, but acknowledged that “in reality most people only visit the newsgroup when they have problems or questions ... they likely wouldn't have seen those discussions (or any "official" notice) anyway.”

To be fair, SUS won’t deploy service pack updates to client machines unless an administrator has explicitly configured it to do so. But deployment isn’t the point of contention, say James and other USENET posters, who understandably balk at the idea of SUS downloading 129 MB service packs for, as far as they’re concerned, no reason whatsoever. “It's the unnecessary and lengthy download of the SPs that I want to avoid ?” James wrote in a follow-up post.

Unfortunately for users who are turned off by it, this behavior cannot be disabled. “The only way that we could possibly provide a method to turn it off would be to produce two separate versions of SUS: one that downloads service packs and one that doesn't,” says Cottam. “Doing so would be time-consuming and would distract the product team from working on the next full version of SUS.”

Why did Microsoft make the change in the first place? “The reason that this feature was turned on to begin with is because every customer that we have talked to, either in person, conferences, on the phone or through email, has expressed extreme wishes to see service packs delivered through SUS,” explains Cottam, who notes that a beta version of SUS could deliver service packs, but also required a pay-for-use Software Assurance license.

Almost all of the users with whom we’ve spoken speak very highly of SUS. “Prior to the recent outbreaks of worms we didn't use a hotfix management tools unless you count ‘sneakernet,’” says Matthew Bailey, a Windows administrator with an auto parts retailer. “[But] the combination of the urgent nature of the [Blaster] DCOM patch and an overworked staff led us to choose Microsoft’s SUS product. The price was right also. The decision to implement was based on the absolute need to install the patches on hundreds of machines very quickly.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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