Keeping Your Windows Systems Updated

I run both Windows XP and Windows 2000 Professional as client OSs, but I find that XP helps me keep my Win2K systems updated. Updating your computers should be an automatic activity—either by using the built-in tools in the OS (as with XP) or by getting in the habit of checking for updates (Win2K and Windows NT). With XP, you automatically get all the critical updates, but without manually checking the Windows Update Catalog Web site, you won't know whether updates are available that can improve performance or reliability. Although many of the updates that the XP Automatic Updates download are XP-specific, some are also beneficial for Win2K and NT computers on your network.

I find that automatic updating is important for a couple of reasons, but the most pressing is that my previous source of concentrated system update information, the Windows Update Corporate Web Site, was officially retired almost 6 months ago. Users must now go to the Windows Update Catalog Web site. But the Windows Update Catalog Web site seems less user-friendly to me than the corporate site, which let me create download packages specific to what I wanted to download. Now, I have to download the updates one at a time. Fortunately, the Windows Update Catalog lets you check for updates for XP and Win2K from a machine that runs either OS, and you can download the updates to a location on your network for later installation. To use the Web site's "Scan for Updates" feature, you need to click the Windows Update tab, not the Windows Update Catalog tab that you'll see at the top of the Web page.

I hadn't realized how complacent I had become about updating my Win2K systems until this week, when I noticed that one of the updates delivered to my XP desktop was the August cumulative update for Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE). I realized that this update wasn't XP-specific, and I decided to check the Windows Update Catalog Web site to determine how many updates I'd missed for my Win2K systems. I discovered that I was at least four or five updates behind on my Win2K Pro systems, and on my least-used Win2K server, I was 26 updates behind!

Although I've been letting XP's automated update install whatever it wants to on my primary XP desktop system, I thought I would let the Windows Update Catalog Web site scan that computer to see how "updated" it really was. Imagine my surprise when the Web-based tool reported 14 available updates, 9 of which were classified as "Recommended." By using the tool on three other XP systems, I found at least the same number of available updates for all of those computers, so I let them download and run the update installation to get caught up with the available updates. For the Win2K Server updates, I downloaded to my network all 26 updates that the least-updated system needed, then installed the updates where I needed to.

I thought that I was very good about keeping my computers updated with the most recent OS patches, but when I investigated, I found that my systems were far from current. And the OS updates they needed didn't even include what I found I was missing when I checked the Office Update Web site by clicking its tab on the Windows Catalog Update site—I was just as far behind in keeping Microsoft Office XP up-to-date. Many updates are available for all the current Windows OSs, but unless you explicitly check for them, you'll never know that they exist. When was the last time you double-checked the state of your client systems?

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