Back to Net management's new autonomyFor any ranking of sexy technologies, software distribution tools would fall dangerously close to the bottom."Software distribution is beyond a trend, it's a constant. It's the plumbing," says Ronni Colville, an analyst with Gartner. "But automating software distribution is truly a brutal problem to solve."Plumbing or not, the complexity of desktop management continues to grow. The number of user desktops multiplies exponentially each year, and software updates and patches proliferate monthly, at times even weekly. The software performs one-to-many software distribution, which lets network administrators simultaneously deliver or update software upgrades to thousands of end-user devices.Companies such as LANdesk (which spun out of Intel in 2002), Novadigm, Marimba and Microsoft have long worked to automate software distribution, operating system migrations, and inventory and patch management on servers, desktops, laptops and handheld devices. The tools also store jobs until laptops or handheld devices come online and then they automatically distribute the software to the devices. Software such as Novadigm's Radia suite\u00a0 can automatically re-instate the last approved versions of software, applications and configuration on a desktop when a problem corrupts the system.Patch distribution garnered most of the attention for desktop management in 2002, partly because neglecting patches represents a security threat to companies. Companies such as BigFix, Configuresoft, Moonlight Systems and Opsware coupled automated patch management with server configuration management capabilities.While the new companies automated the distribution of patches, Colville says vendors need to develop a tool that also maintains a database to ensure that patches won't conflict with software on targeted machines. "Before sending a patch out, network managers need to know how it will impact the desktop, and I don't see anyone automating that yet," she says.Colville says in 2003 expect small vendors specializing in patch management to be eclipsed by the companies offering to do it all in the area of software distribution."Patch management is the sexy technology now, but it's really a subset of software distribution. People will want to get a tool in place that will do everything," Colville says.