Microsoft's latest version of its Systems Management Server still is in the middle of an extended beta-test program. We put the SMS 2003 beta product through many of the same tests that we used for the other products in our review.Microsoft's\u00a0latest version of its Systems Management Server still is in the middle of an extended beta-test program. We put the SMS 2003 beta product through many of the same tests that we used for the other products in our review. Overall the results were not bad, but it still is a beta product.A main focus of the new version of SMS is to fully integrate it with Active Directory. You now can discover computers through multiple methods, including Windows User Group or Account, Active Directory System, User or Account, and through Network or Heartbeat discovery.SMS 2003 uses containers in the directory to group discovered systems in much the same way as\u00a0Novell's\u00a0ZENworks. The Site Settings tree includes all the particulars on how you want individual components configured, such as software and hardware inventory.SQL Server 2000 is the recommended database back end, and is tightly integrated with the SMS product. All the queries for reporting are SQL and can be customized just as you would a normal SQL query. The current list of predefined queries is rather small, but can be expanded and customized. A separate reporting function includes more than 140 predefined reports that also can be customized.Microsoft calls its new client agent the Advanced Client, which also supports mobile devices. Background Intelligent Transfer Services (BITS) provides the bandwidth and intermittent connection support for the Advanced Client and is the same technology currently used by the Windows Update service.The hardware and software inventory features are very thorough. In its present state the software inventory portion might be a little too thorough. Finding a particular application can be a chore from the huge list of gathered files. SMS 2003 supports software metering for monitoring software usage.Microsoft also has addressed issues of scalability with this release and makes it possible to use a number of different servers to gather and store information for a specific group within an Active Directory tree. Each site server has defined boundaries by IP addresses to mark the computers that it will service.Overall the product is headed in the right direction, but still has a way to go. Performance will be addressed as the product gets closer to actually shipping. Expected ship date is some time this summer.