Microsoft plans to give customers a peek at the next version of its Windows Server Update Services software at the Microsoft Management Summit conference in San Diego this week.Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) 3.0, which is expected to be released in the first half of 2007, will include a more dynamic user interface based on the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) framework and will have several features designed to make the software easier to use, says Joseph Dadzie, a Microsoft group program manager.WSUS is a free alternative to Microsoft's Systems Management Server (SMS) product that gives customers a way to control the deployment of Microsoft patches and security updates. It will be shown in public for the first time at the systems-management conference April 27.The new MMC-based interface will give customers an improved view of how their patch deployments are rolling out and will allow them to roll reports from a variety of different servers into one root server, Dadzie says.Version 3.0 will introduce the notion of "nested target groups," which will allow customers to set patch policies for one group of computers - servers, for example - and then fine-tune those policies for a subset of that group, such as Exchange servers.Microsoft also plans to streamline the way WSUS detects whether the systems it manages require software updates.WSUS 3.0 has been available in a "small focused beta" since January. A more widespread beta 2 release of the product is scheduled for the second half of this year, Dadzie says. Also set for the last half of the year is a service-pack update to WSUS 2.0, which will include support for Microsoft's upcoming Windows Vista operating system.The WSUS software is useful to a limited group of Microsoft users who want more control of their software updates than they get from the automatic update service that ships with Windows and who are unwilling to pay for Microsoft's SMS, says Peter Pawlak, a senior analyst with the research firm Directions on Microsoft."For any company that has a few IT people and more than 50 or 100 computers, it isn't that overwhelming to install and manage SMS," Pawlak says. "And if you're real small, you're probably just going to install automatic updates."