Microsoft has launched Systems Management Server 2003 R2 into beta testing, and plans to commercially release the upgraded deployment platform around May.
The R2 version has a new inventory tool for custom updates, which allows businesses to automate the deployment of software updates and new business applications.
R2 will also support non-Microsoft products for the first time - a major change of direction for the product.
The new inventory tool can also be used to create and publish software update catalogues that can be seamlessly imported directly into the SMS console - an operation that is currently cumbersome.
SMS 2003 R2 also includes an enterprise scan tool for vulnerability assessments, which can check desktops and servers for software configuration errors and other vulnerabilities.
Last month Microsoft announced the release of SMS 2003 Service Pack 2, which offers enhanced virtualisation and the ability to use SQL Server 2005 as the database engine for SMS.