Microsoft is making available a scripting tool for system administration tasks, plus upgrades that prepare its products for the release of Windows Vista and Longhorn server.

The announcements come today, on the opening day of the Barcelona version of the company's TechEd IT Forum, one of Microsoft's largest IT training conferences.

Topping the company's new technologies is the final version of Windows PowerShell, a command-line shell and task-based scripting technology for administrative tasks in Windows. PowerShell scripts can be used, for example, to synchronise the date and time across workstations, according to Microsoft. The technology, formerly code-named Monad, has been available in a release-candidate form.

PowerShell can be used with a range of forthcoming software from Microsoft, including Exchange Server 2007 and System Center Operations Manager 2007 (formerly known as Microsoft Operations Manager). It's also compatible with System Center Data Protection Manager V2 and System Center Virtual Machine Manager.

Several vendors have incorporated PowerShell into their products, including FullArmor Corp., /n Software Inc., Quest Software Inc. and PowerGadgets LLC, Microsoft said. The technology is designed to help with Windows management for both Vista and Longhorn server.

In other announcements, Microsoft said a release candidate of Service Pack 2 for Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2 and Windows XP Professional x64 Edition will be available this week through the Customer Preview Program. The service pack includes critical security updates and other reliability-related fixes. The final version should be out in the first quarter of 2007, Microsoft said.

The company has upgraded Systems Management Server 2003 R2, a tool for managing Window desktops, for Vista deployments. A third service pack that's due to be released in early 2007 will include the ability to identify systems compatible with Windows Vista and Office 2007.

For developers, the company said Visual Studio Team Edition for Database Professionals, designed to let application and database developers work better together, will be released to manufacturing on 30 November, meaning it will ship very soon after.