Customize Windows Update

Windows XP's System Restore utility (in concert with the Windows Update Web site) might be the best reason to upgrade from Windows 2000 to XP Professional Edition. Just ask my IT staff. As part of my job, I support a mobile sales force, and the ability to easily restore a system to a previous state has certainly saved my organization time and money.

We equip our sales teams with identical notebook computers, primarily to simplify support problems. We store a master image of the standard notebook configuration on our network so that we can easily configure computers for new sales staff or quickly replace a broken notebook. However, we can't lock down the notebooks too securely: To demonstrate certain products, the sales people need Administrator privileges on their systems.

Despite explicit instructions about what users can and can't do with their systems, one user went home and installed a CD-ROM full of ISP software. The next day, the computer started exhibiting random crashes, lockups, and other types of problems that IT departments love.

To correct the problems, we first uninstalled the offending software. The problems decreased but didn't disappear—a not-unexpected phenomenon because removing the software didn't undo all the registry changes that the software installation made. Next, we tried XP’s System Restore utility, which restored the system. Unfortunately, however, the IT staff got carried away and rolled the system back to its installation date, sweeping away a lot of patches and configuration data along with the problems.

We went to the Windows Update Web site to reinstall the necessary patches, but then we ran into a new problem: The Web site kept telling us that the rolled-back patches were still applied to the system. By default, the Windows Update site doesn't let you download patches that it thinks are already installed on your system. You can, however, configure the site to allow these downloads. Open the Windows Update program. Under Other Options, click Personalize Windows Update. Select the "Display the link to the Windows Update Catalog under See Also" check box. The catalog lets you customize a download of appropriate updates for your system.

XP's System Restore utility is an indispensable part of a systems administrator's toolkit, but if you roll back your system too far, Windows Update can be the ultimate hero.

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