Everything you ever wanted to know about Microsoft Windows Updates
Applying the latest Microsoft Windows updates and keeping your Windows PC up to date is always a good idea and is especially important if you use the Internet. When it comes to security, Windows has not had the best track record in the past, though with the more recent versions of the operating system Microsoft has made some significant strides forward in this area. In this ultra connected age, operating systems are constantly evolving and updating as potential exploits are discovered. All the more reason why you should install the latest security updates for your computer as soon as possible. Apart from patching security problems, installing Microsoft Windows updates can make your computer more stable, fix problems with existing Windows features and software or even introduce new features.
With Windows XP and Windows 2000, Microsoft made a real effort to streamline the update process. If you have enabled automatic updates on your computer, then Windows will download and install the latest critical updates automatically, as soon as they become available. These changes have persisted through Windows Vista and Windows 7 to Windows 8, where the updating process has been streamlined even further. There are some disadvantages to automatic updating however and some computer experts even go as far as suggesting that automatic updates should be turned off. Why is this? There are a number of advantages to turning off automatic updates, such as:-
- On rare occasions, updates are launched that cause problems with some systems. Windows runs on a huge range of systems and problems like this, while rare, are arguably unavoidable (and do happen on other operating systems too, such as Linux). Disabling automatic updates allows time for the updates to be tested in the wild and lets other users deal with the problems before you have to.
- Some users simply do not trust Microsoft. Microsoft Windows updates such as the controversial Windows Genuine Advantage, have convinced some users that they must scrutinize every update before it is installed on their PC.
The Windows Genuine Advantage ‘update’ shown in action here collects information from your PC in an attempt to combat piracy. Some users are angry at such intrusive efforts to thwart piracy and have therefore disabled automatic updates.
- The automatic update process may start while you are trying to complete other tasks on the Internet or on your computer, slowing down your connection speed or requiring you to restart your PC.
- The update process may begin downloading large files when you are using a metered internet connection, such as a cellular connection. Windows 8 has been designed to be aware of metered internet connections and avoid this, but there is no such facility in earlier versions of Windows.
In spite of these drawbacks, we here at Top-Windows-Tutorials.com still strongly recommend that users leave automatic updates on. There are several good reasons to leave automatic updates on, such as:-
- You are protected against the latest security threats as soon as possible.
- If an update goes wrong, Microsoft are far more likely to be of assistance than if you skip an update and as a result encounter a problem with your system.
- With automatic updates turned off, most users tend to forget to search for Microsoft Windows updates on a regular basis. This results in systems being un-patched for longer, leaving them vulnerable to security threats.
In Windows 10, Microsoft made the controversial decision to always enable automatic updates and the option to go onto manual updates has been disabled. If you need to disable or skip a specific update in Windows 10, you can however download and use this special tool from Microsoft.
If you do not know how to access the update options, check the links below for a short tutorial:-
Access Microsoft Windows updates in Windows XP
Access Microsoft Windows updates in Windows Vista
Access Microsoft Windows updates in Windows 7
Access Microsoft Windows updates in Windows 8
Access Microsoft Windows updates in Windows 10
Aside from a few subtle changes in wording, the Windows XP automatic update options are exactly the same as the Vista options shown above, with the exception of the “Recommended updates” section, which is not present on Windows XP. As you can see there are several options that you can choose. We recommend that most users choose the “Install updates automatically (recommended)” setting. This will download and install Microsoft Windows updates automatically. You can also have Windows download the updates, but not install them without your permission, by choosing the second option in this window. If you are concerned about exactly what Microsoft is putting on your system, choose this option. You can also have Windows check for updates but not download or install them without your permission, you might want to do this if you are worried about Windows update stealing your bandwidth. You can also disable automatic updates altogether, though we strongly recommend you do not, in this case you must remember to periodically check for updates yourself.
Finally, Windows Vista users have the option of including or excluding recommended updates from their automatic updates. Recommended Microsoft Windows updates are not critical to the security or reliability of your operating system, but they may include new features or improve existing ones. We recommend you leave this option ticked or checked.
In Windows 7, Microsoft have added even more options to Windows Update and the options available to Vista users are still present too. Let’s take a look at the new Windows Update options in Windows 7 now:-
So a few options have been moved around, instead of a radio button to choose the update options, we have a drop down box, but apart from this, the update options work the same as in Vista. Also, just like in Vista, we can opt to get recommended updates as well as important updates by ticking/checking the box under “Recommended updates”.
There are now a number of new update options. Firstly, “Allow all users to install updates on this computer”. If this option is selected, then Windows will download and install updates regardless of who is currently logged in. This is very convenient if you regularly run limited user accounts. It means you do not need to log into your administrator account or use User Account Control to install new updates.
Next, there’s a new section labelled “Microsoft Update”. If you select this option, Windows Update will check for updates for other Microsoft software too, such as Microsoft Office. You may also be invited to download software like Windows Live Essentials, which replaces several of the free programs that were bundled with Windows Vista but excluded from Windows 7.
Finally, selecting the “Software notifications” option will allow Windows 7 to give you “detailed notifications” (adverts basically) when new Microsoft software is available. This may include both free and paid-for software products.
In Windows 8 the options have been tweaked again, but remain largely the same as in previous version of Windows. The picture below shows the update settings in Windows 8:-
The main difference this time is the “Updates will be automatically installed during the maintenance window” option. The maintenance window isn’t a window you move around the desktop, but a window of time when Windows will perform maintenance tasks, including downloading or installing any updates. You can click on the blue text to change this maintence window and set it to a time when your PC is on but you are unlikely to be using it intensively.
You can check for updates manually by visiting Windows update. This can be done from the “Help and Support Center” on Windows XP and on Vista and Windows 7 via the Control Panel. In Windows 8, it can be done from the Settings Charm or the Control Panel. It’s not a bad idea to periodically check on Windows update as certain updates (such as optional driver updates) are not always installed automatically. So you can take full advantage of Windows update, we have prepared these short tutorials to show you how you can manually update your PC.
If you have several PCs to update, or if you want to update a PC that has limited or no access to the internet, you can use the WSUS Offline Update tool to create a DVD or USB drive containing all the latest Windows updates. The tutorial below show you how to use this tool.
The Microsoft Windows updates do a good job of updating most parts of your computer but, they do not update everything. One of the areas that isn’t updated is DirectX. DirectX is used for most of the multimedia, video and audio processing done on Windows. If you play games on your computer, it is a very good idea to keep your DirectX up to date. See our how to update DirectX tutorial for more information. Updating DirectX is necessary even on newer versions of Windows. Because lots of games and multimedia applications use older versions of DirectX that don’t come pre-installed, you should always make sure to install this update if you have any issues with game software.
Updating Graphics Card Drivers
Anyone who plays the latest 3D games on their PC should frequently check for new drivers for their graphics card. Updating your graphics card drivers can result in better performance and stability when playing games or even working with your computer in general. Often new graphics card drivers are made available through Windows update but, in our experience, it is better to download them from the manufacturer’s website. If you have an ATI graphics card, you can check for new drivers by clicking here. If you have an Nvidia graphics card, you can check for new drivers by clicking here. If you have another brand of graphics adapter (such as Intel) you will need to visit the manufacturers website for further instructions. Alternatively, you can use Snappy Driver Installer to check for graphics card and other drivers from all manufacturers. Read on to find out more about this utility.
Updating Other Drivers
Often hardware manufacturers release updated drivers for their products to fix problems or to improve performance. If you are having problems with hardware in your computer, it is always worth checking to see if an updated driver is available. Keeping your PC’s drivers up to date is also a great way to ensure peak performance from your system. Modern PC’s are composed of dozens of different hardware components from different manufacturers and each of these components requires a different driver. Drivers allow Windows to talk to the hardware in your computer and are therefore critical to the everyday running of your PC.
Although some driver updates can be obtained through Windows update, this is by no means exhaustive. Unfortunately, there are far too many different pieces of hardware available for Windows to cover them all! In the past you would have had to visit each manufacturer’s website in turn and hope their driver update instructions were clear. However, you can now use Snappy Driver Installer to check and update all of the drivers on your PC. The tutorial below will show you how to use this fantastic utility.
Updating Other Software
Much modern software will now also automatically update itself when an update becomes available, or at least alert you to the fact that an update is available. It’s worth checking the documentation that came with your software to see if this is the case. It is a good idea to keep Internet enabled software, such as web browsers, instant messaging programs or on line games up to date. Fortunately these programs usually automatically check and update themselves each time a new update becomes available.
If you want to automate the process of checking for updates for your other software applications, Flexera Software Personal Software Inspector is a program designed to audit the software on your PC and advise you of any updates. Check out our tutorials for this app by clicking below.
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