XP Home: Automatic updates

Why update? It is important to keep Windows XP current so that your system is protected from any potential security holes, so it remains resilient to possible driver conflicts (especially for new hardware releases), and so your operating system can incorporate any general improvements that Microsoft adds to the OS.

Keeping Windows XP up to date is relatively simple, especially if you make use of the Automatic Updates feature. If you have a fast Internet connection, and rarely check for updates yourself, this feature will prove extremely useful. However, if you already check for updates, and would rather not have your work interrupted, you may want to disable this feature.

Automatic updating

When Automatic Updates is enabled, Windows will detect when you are online and will then search to see if Microsoft has released any updates for Windows XP. Automatic Updates can be configured by opening System from the Control Panel and selecting the Automatic Updates tab. You must be logged in as computer administrator to do this. Under the Automatic Updates tab, you have three settings to choose from:

Download the updates automatically and notify me when they are ready to be installed. When this option is selected, Windows will search for and download updates for your computer in the background. When the download is complete, you will be notified by an icon in the notification area. Clicking the icon will present you with a list of the updates that you can then install on your system.

Notify me before downloading any updates, and notify me again when they are ready to install. This option is the best choice for most Home users. Windows will still search for updates on a regular basis but it will not download any updates until you have given the go-ahead.

Turn off automatic updating; I want to update my computer manually. If you would prefer to use the Windows Update site to keep your computer up to date then use this option to stop Windows from automatically checking for updates.

Manual updating

If you decide to take full responsibility for keeping your system up to date then you will need to check the Windows Update site fairly regularly. The site's address is http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com but you can also access it by selecting Windows Update from Internet Explorer's Tools menu. The Windows Update site makes use of ActiveX technology, so you will not be able to access it with Netscape Navigator.

The first thing that Windows Update does is gather system information and ascertain which updates are already installed. Armed with this information, Windows Update provides you with a list of the updates that are applicable to your system. These updates are categorised under the following headings: Critical Updates, Service Packs and Recommended Downloads, Windows Tools, Internet and Multimedia Updates, Additional Windows Downloads, and Multi-Language Features. Of these, you should definitely install any of the critical updates along with any recommended downloads that are relevant to you. After selecting the updates you wish to install, you will be asked to accept a Microsoft licence agreement and the download process will begin.

Network administrators and advanced users will be interested in the Windows Update Catalog. This catalogue is the place to go for all Windows updates, fixes, and enhancements, as well as Windows Hardware Quality Lab (WHQL) device drivers. You can access the Windows Update Catalog from the left-hand navigation menu on the Windows Update site (if it isn't available on the menu then click Personalize Windows Update and select the Display the link to the Windows Update Catalog. option).

Another extension that will aid network administrators in the updating of "multiple computers is Windows Update Corporate Edition (http://corporate.windows"update.microsoft.com). The Corporate Edition allows administrators to host their own version of the Windows Update Web site on a local Intranet. This will help companies preserve bandwidth that they now use to repeatedly download the same fixes and will offer greater control over which updates users can install.

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