Even though software is released, development teams continue to work to improve the software and to track and eliminate bugs that can hamper the software. When a fix to a bug is found, the software company informs the registered users that a fix is available.
When you register a purchased software product, most software vendors offer an option to request software update information as it becomes available.
These incremental updates are frequently called patches because they don't reinstall the entire piece of software, only the file or files that are in error. Software patches are generally small and can install quickly to fix existing problems.
When several important patches are combined together into a larger package, they are commonly called service packs. Service packs in general are much larger and take a considerably longer time to install, usually requiring the software or even the entire computer to be restarted.
An upgrade can be small or large, but it typically denotes a new feature that is available for you to add to the software.
Whether you're working with a patch, a service pack, or an upgrade, the methods for installing the fix are all about the same. The new files need to be installed using an installation routine. You can do this via a CD-ROM, a floppy disk, or via a downloaded file from the Internet.
Several software packages including Windows XP can automatically locate and install software updates using the Internet. Using the Automatic Updates option, you can select to check for updates daily or weekly; or you could set Windows to automatically download or notify you when updates are available without installing the updates.
To enable Automatic Updates for Windows, follow these steps:
Select Start Control Panel to open the Control Panel.
Double-click the Automatic Updates icon in the Control Panel.
You can also access the Automatic Updates panel from the System Properties dialog box.
In the Automatic Updates panel, shown in Figure 31.7, select the Automatic option and choose an update time when you computer is likely to be idle. Click OK.
Figure 31.7: The Automatic Updates tab lets you select an option that searches for Windows updates on a daily basis.
If you're concerned about letting Microsoft install updates for you automatically, you might want to consider selecting the Download updates for me but let me choose when to install them option or the Notify me but don't automatically download or install them option instead of Automatic.