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
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 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.
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.