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115 - Microsoft Software Updates - You Should Do Them

Here's a case where the experts do it, and you should too. Now don't faint dead away, but Microsoft actually offers a valuable free service for people who use their software. They even put a shortcut to it on the XP Start menu these days, but you can access it without the shortcut. More about that in the "Here's how you do this -" section, below. The service I'm referring to is the "Windows Update" service. (Microsoft doesn't support Windows 95 any longer, so if you're still running that version, you're out of luck on this one.)

When you connect to this service, it actually runs a program that looks at your specific computer and determines if there have been updates released for the specific software you have. Not only does it look at your operating system (that's geek talk for "Windows"), it also checks other Microsoft products (such as MS Office), and tells you about them too. It get even better. They also look at your hardware and tell you whether any new "drivers" have been released for your specific hardware.

This is actually a pretty hot deal! Microsoft swears that they don't snoop on your personal information. From my own personal experience, they seem to be telling the truth here. Not even your name is collected and they don't check whether your applications are licensed and registered or not. They just check what's there and tell you what's available. This service is implemented properly, so Microsoft gets my praise on this one.

So, what are these "updates"?
The "updates" can be many things. Some fix program "bugs", the things which make your system malfunction. Some make stuff run faster. Some add new features. Yes, even new features! A few years back, when Windows 98 was released for sale, it had lots of bugs in it. As you may remember, they later sold a Windows 98 version called "SE", for "Second Edition". If you had kept up with your updates all along, you would have already received most of the new features and fixes that Second Edition contained, all in the form of "updates".

More importantly though, many of these updates are security related. Just last month, as was widely reported in the newspapers and on TV, there was a big virus that spread around very quickly. Major corporate systems (including Microsoft's own systems), bank ATM's, and other major software company systems, were all hit hard. Some of the biggest systems crashed. The irony is that way back in June of last year, Microsoft released a security update that would have prevented the problem. Microsoft had failed to keep the updates current on some of its own systems and they paid the price.

What to expect -
When you sign on to their web site, a program is run which examines your system. It takes a few minutes to do this, but soon returns with a list. Even brand new systems will be behind on updates. They are issued constantly and it's good practice to check for them at least once a month. I check more often than that.

The program finishes and presents you with a result similar to this: "You have 2 Critical Updates, 2 Windows Updates, and 1 new driver". The "critical" ones are the security updates. You will get a short explanation of each update and they will ask if you want to download and install the updates.

NOTE - Just be aware that some of these updates are quite large. If you are running on a modem connection and the download says it's 10 megabytes large, you might want to start the download when you will be doing something else for a while. A download that large will take hours to run via modem! You get to pick and choose which ones you are going to do now. You can come back later and do the rest. I often narrow the list by picking all the short ones, and doing them first.

Many of the updates will end by asking you to reboot your system. They don't take effect until the next time you boot, so always follow the suggestion. Other updates require you to apply them in a particular sequence, but Microsoft won't let you do this incorrectly, so don't worry. They will tell you, "You can't run this one until you run (that other one) first."

Here's how you do this -
1. Sign on to the Internet. If "Windows Update" is found somewhere on your Start menu, click on it. If not, go to www.microsoft.com. On the left side of the screen, you will find a link to "Windows Update". That's the one you want.

2. On the Windows Update screen, click on "Scan for updates". I'm running Windows XP myself, and the Windows 98, ME, or 2000 screens may vary slightly, but you'll be able to sort that out I suspect. Anyway, you will get a message that "Windows Update is looking for available updates." It will report progress until it finishes. Be patient. It can take a minute or two.

3. Now, you have two places to look. a) There will be a message informing you of what it found about "critical updates" - or - b) On the left part of the window, there will be a part that says "Pick updates to install". Under this heading there are three categories. Each one has the number of updates to be made enclosed in parenthesis.

4. One at a time, for each category showing that there are update(s) to be made, click on the category. On the right side of the screen, there will appear a short description of the update(s). You can "Add" or "Remove" the update(s) from the list by clicking where indicated.

5. When you have made your selection(s), click on "Review and install updates".

That's it. From then on, just follow whatever prompts they send you.

As always, just call or email me if you have questions. (303) 794-0694

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