Section 15.3. Activating Windows Update

15.3. Activating Windows Update

Microsoft releases critical patches (software fixes) on the second Tuesday of each month to address the latest in an endless flow of Windows XP security threats, among other problems. Occasionally, Microsoft releases " ultra critical" patches too important to wait for the monthly delivery schedule.

But rather than trying to keep up with Microsoft's security problems, set your PC to grab and install patches automatically, as described in this section.

15.3.1. Setting Windows Updates to Automatic

To fix problems with Windows XP as quickly as possible, Microsoft turned its update site ( into a constantly running spigot. Once you've activated a feature called Automatic Update, Windows Update downloads new patches as soon as they're released, and then installs them on your PC, even if you're working online at the time.

To make sure your PC takes advantage of Automatic Update, click the Start button, right-click My Computer, and from the shortcut menu, choose Properties. To see or change your settings, click the Automatic Updates tab, shown in Figure 15-6. Then choose from the following options:

  • Automatic . The best option for most people. This tells your PC to fetch any newly released updates in the background as soon as you connect to the Internet. It also lets you choose a particular time of day to install newly acquired patches. For best results, choose the default setting: "Every day at 3 a.m." If your PC is turned off at the appointed hour , Windows XP asks to install the downloaded update the next time you turn on your PC.

  • Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them . A good choice for laptoppers. This automatically downloads available updates in the background whenever you connect to the Internet. Once the update arrives on your PC, your taskbar sprouts a "notification balloon," asking permission to install it. Should you need to turn off your laptop and dash for the taxi, change the permission balloon's "Now" option to "Tomorrow." Otherwise, install the update.

    Figure 15-6. Set Windows Update to Automatic so your PC downloads new patches as they're released. The downloads take place in the background, so they don't interfere with your other Internet browsing and email activities. Should you disconnect before downloading the entire update, Windows resumes downloading where it left off the next time you connect to the Internet. You can install downloaded updates any time, even when you're not online.
  • Notify me but don't automatically download or install updates . Chosen only by those who enjoy nagging screens, this option makes Windows Update ask permission before downloading an update, and then ask yet again before installing it.

  • Turn off Automatic Updates . Microsoft tossed this in mostly for large corporations with dozens or even thousands of PCs. The delay gives the company's techies enough time to test patches for potential conflicts with in-house software before installing the patch on every PC, thereby freeing workers from the chore.

Tip: Even if you've set Windows Update to Automatic, drop by the Windows Update site ( occasionally and click the Custom button. The Automatic Updates install only "Critical" updatesfixes that keep vandals from messing with your PC and its contents. The Custom button lets you view nonessential updates: enhancements to Media Player, for instance, as well as bug fixesnot security fixesfor programs like Outlook Express. Be sure to use Internet Explorer when you visit; Windows Update doesn't work with any other Web browser.

15.3.2. Windows XP's Two Service Packs

Since Windows XP's release in 2001, Microsoft has released a flood of patches to plug security problems. To simplify the patch- grabbing process, Microsoft released two mammoth patch bundles: Service Pack 1 and Service Pack 2. (Some people resort to the term "Service Pack 0" to describe Windows XP without any Service Pack installed.)

Service Pack 1, a large 133 MB file released on September 9, 2002, contained all of Windows Update's patches from Windows XP's first year of release, as well as support for the speedy new USB 2.0 ports (see Section 1.8.1) and faster S-ATA (Section 9.6.1) connections for new technology hard drives .

Don't worry if you missed Service Pack 1, though. Service Pack 2, a whopping 266 MB file released on August 6, 2004, contains everything in Service Pack 1, plus enough patches to bring it up to date through July 2004. Service Pack 2 adds much-needed security enhancements by turning on Windows XP's built-in firewall, improving wireless Internet support, adding a pop-up blocker to Internet Explorer (see Section 13.3), and adding Bluetooth support (see Section 14.10.5).

Note: Service Pack 2 installs only on legitimately purchased copies of Windows XP, which includes any PC purchased from a manufacturer like Dell or Gateway. If you had a friend build you a new PC with Windows XP for "really cheap," you might be in for an unpleasant surprise when you try to install Service Pack 2 on your PC.

If you haven't yet installed Service Pack 2, shown in Figure 15-7, you can download it from Microsoft's Security Essentials site ( The Service Pack interferes with some older versions of software like Norton Anti-Virus. If Service Pack 2 causes problems with one of your programs, visit that program manufacturer's Web site; most have released free downloadable patches to fix the problem. You'll find more information about Service Pack 2 on Microsoft's Service Pack 2 information site (

Figure 15-7. To see the Service Pack version installed on your PC, click Start and then right-click My Computer; from the shortcut menu, choose Properties. When the window opens to the General tab, the Service Pack version appears as the bottom line of the System section. Setting Windows Update to automatic tells Windows to grab waiting Critical Updates, including Service Pack 2.

PCs: The Missing Manual
ISBN: 0596100930
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 206
Authors: Andy Rathbone

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