Microsoft has developed a number of sites to help you ensure that your software is up to date and secure.
Whether you're looking for a quick fix with the latest patch to protect against a new security threat or want to bring your software up to date with a new service pack, you can do so easily via one of Microsoft's download sites. The one you select will depend on how urgent your need is, as well as your level of technical knowledge.
The Microsoft Windows Update site
The Windows Update site offers the ultimate in convenience. Using ActiveX technology, the site scans your system to see what you have installed, then offers you a list of suggested updates specific to your system. The scan takes place on your computer, so your system remains secure, and no information is transmitted.
The Windows Update site offers updates for Windows 98, 98 SE, ME, NT 4.0, 2000, XP, Internet Information Server 4.0, 5.0 and Internet Explorer.
The site consists of two main areas: Product Updates containing updates, fixes and enhancements, and Support Information where you can obtain help with installations and using the site. The updates you choose to install will be up to your individual needs; however it's always a good idea to download the Critical Updates to fix known problems and software security issues.
The convenience of the site comes at the cost of immediacy, and newly released patches and updates often take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to arrive on the site. If you're in a hurry for a specific patch, however, you can always consult the TechNet software security site or the Download Centre, discussed below.
If when you visit the Product Update section you see a message that an ActiveX control on the page is not safe, then your security setting in Internet Explorer is set to High. How to change this:
In the Tools menu. select Internet Options.
Click the Security tab.
Adjust the settings to Medium or lower.
How to install an update
Click Read this first for a description of the component, instructions for how to use and uninstall it and support information.
To select a component, click the box next to it.
Check that all your selected components are on the list.
Click Start Download. Some downloads may ask for additional information during installation.
You're done when you see Installation Complete. Some installations may require that you restart your computer.
Keep current automatically with Windows XP
With Windows XP, you can stay up to date automatically. Here's how to turn your automatic updates on and off:
Go to the Start menu and click Control Panel.
Click Performance and Maintenance.
Click the Automatic Updates tab and select the setting of your choice.
Microsoft Office Updates
The Office Update facility can be found via the Office Tools on Web site at the above address. Here you can find updates and patches for Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, FrontPage, Access, Project, Visio and MapPoint.
You can search for updates in two ways: Like Windows Update, Product Updates reads your system and offers you a list of recommendations. Like Windows Update, the downside here is that you often have to wait for the latest updates.
If you're after a particular patch or update quickly, you can use the manual search facility. Click Download Center, select the product, version and type of download you want and you'll be presented with a chronological list to choose from.
The Microsoft TechNet security site
If you're after a software security patch in a hurry, this site is a good bet if you have some technical knowledge.
The three most recent patches are listed on the home page, the rest can be found via the Hotfix and Bulletin Search. Clicking this link takes you to a page with a chronological list of patches and service packs. Otherwise you can search the section by product.
Bulletins are labelled according to the vulnerability they describe rather than the patch name or number. Clicking on a patch tells you who should install it, what risk it poses, any caveats and additional information, plus where to download it from. Unlike the Windows Update site, however, there's no quick way to establish whether the patch has already been installed.
The product security notification service
To stay up to date, you can subscribe to the software product security notification service on the TechNet security site for free and receive emails containing the latest software security bulletins within minutes of their being posted on the site.
The Download Centre
The Download Centre is where most patches get posted first, and most TechNet security bulletins will refer to the Download Centre when first released. Once you've found what you're looking for at the Centre you download it and install it by executing a self-extracting package.
The Download Centre also contains white papers, product updates and tools. It's fairly easy to search, though it isn't quite as user-friendly as the TechNet site. When doing a keyword search, note that security patches always have the keyword security_patch associated with them.
Did you know ?
Windows XP Professional comes with an Internet connection firewall - to block unwanted traffic to your computer so you are not at risk from outside hackers when you use a dial up connection to the Internet. More....
If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between service packs and patches and when to install which, why not read the article Service Pack or Patch? Which to use and when.