SolutionBase: Configuring Windows XP for Windows Update and Microsoft Update

Keeping Windows XP up to date is extremely important. If you haven't downloaded and installed the latest security patches, you're just asking for problems. Here's how to configure Windows XP to accept updates from Microsoft Update and Windows Update.

Microsoft makes it easy for you to keep your system up-to-date. You can download updates for Windows XP from the Windows Update Web site. The Web site will identify which of the available updates need to be installed on your system. Windows XP also includes a feature known as Automatic Updates. It takes the Windows Update one step further so you do not even have to look for updates. Automatic Updates will do all the work for you. The result will be a more secure and a more stable system.

Microsoft also offers another option for staying up-to-date. Aside for Windows XP, you might have additional Microsoft applications installed on your computer. These also need to be kept up-to-date with patches and fixes. You can use the Microsoft Update service as an alternative to Windows Update and get all your software updates in one place.

In this daily drill down I will describe how to use the Windows Update Web site and how to configure the Automatic Updates feature of Windows XP to keep your system up-to-date. I will also show you how to use a new service called Microsoft Update as an alternative.

Using Windows Update

Often times after a vendor releases an operating system or application, security issues are identified and reported. Most vendors, including Microsoft, will release updates that can normally be downloaded from their Web sites. These updates are released to fix known issues and security vulnerabilities with an operating system or software program. A critical update is one that considered critical to the normal operation of your computer.

Windows Update makes it very simple to identify any critical updates that should be installed on your computer. By using the Windows Update Web site, you can have your computer automatically scanned to determine if any critical updates are missing and which ones should be installed.

You can easily access the Windows Update Web site by clicking Start, pointing to All Programs, and clicking Windows Update option. Your web browser will open and your computer will be connected to the Windows Update Web site.

To begin scanning your system for missing, high-priority updates, you can select the Express button shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Select the Express button to manually scan for high-priority updates.

Once the scan is complete, you will be are notified if whether any updates for your system were detected. Windows Update will list any high priority updates that should be installed on your system. You can review the updates and click the Install Now button to begin downloading and installing them on your system. You also have the option of selecting the specific updates you want to install.

Note: One of the great things about Windows Update is that it will alert you to those updates that are considered to be critical to the normal operation of your system. Therefore, it is recommended that you download and install all those updates that are considered high-priority

Understanding Automatic Updates

With Automatic Updates in Windows XP, you have more control over how updates are downloaded and installed. Automatic Updates allows you to configure when and how Windows should be updated with the latest product updates. For example, updates can be downloaded automatically and installed at a pre-configured schedule. The advantage of using Automatic Updates is that you do not need to manually download updates from the Windows Update Web site. Instead it can be automatically done for you.

Configuring Automatic Updates

You can configure Automatic Updates in Windows XP using the System applet within the Control Panel. Click Start, point to Control Panel, and open the System applet. From the System Properties dialog box, click the Automatic Updates tab shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Automatic Updates can be configured using the System Properties dialog box.

It is generally recommended that you leave the default setting of Automatic selected. You can then use the drop down arrows below this option to configure the day and time that downloaded updates should be installed.

As you can see from Figure B, there are three additional options that you can choose from if the default setting does not meet your requirements. These settings include:

  • Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them: Updates from the Windows Update site will be automatically downloaded. An icon will then appear with a message that the updates are ready to be installed. Clicking on the icon will launch the installation of the updates.
  • Notify me but don't automatically download or install them : Selecting this option means that before receive a notification when updates are available for your computer. You will also receive notification before any updates are ready to be installed.
  • Turn off Automatic Updates : Selecting this option means you will have to manually visit the Windows Update Web site to obtain updates.

Automatic Updates is a great feature of Microsoft operating systems that allows you to easily keep your system up to date and secure. In most cases, Microsoft recommends that Automatic Updates remain enabled to ensure the latest updates are installed on your computer. However, there may be instances where you need to disable Automatic Updates. For example, if you use a dial-up connection, you may opt to manually check the Windows Update Web site for updates.

Once you disable Automatic Updates, Windows XP will disagree and continue to remind you each time it boots that your computer may be at risk. You can prevent this warning from appearing. Simply click Start and click Control Panel. Double click the Security Center applet. Under the list of Resources, click the Change the way Security Center alerts me option. Deselect the Automatic Updates option.

Using the local computer policy to configure Automatic Updates

The Automatic Update feature allows you to easily keep your computer up-to-date with the latest patches, hot fixes, and service packs. You can configure Automatic Update settings using the System applet in the Control Panel. Or, you can use the local Computer Policy.

To use this method, you must open the Group Policy Editor. Click Start and click Run. Type gpedit.msc and click OK. Within the Group Policy Editor, expand Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components. Select the Windows Update container as shown in Figure C and the configurable settings will be displayed in the details pane.

Figure C

Automatic Updates settings can be configured through the local computer policy.

To enable Automatic Updates, double click the Configure Automatic Updates Properties option. From the Setting tab shown in Figure D, select Enabled. Use the drop down arrows to choose one of the following options:

  • 3 - Auto download and notify for install
  • 2 - Notify for download and notify for install
  • 4 - Auto download and schedule the install
  • 5 - Allow local admin to choose setting

If you select 4 - Auto download and schedule the install, you can then use the Scheduled install day and Scheduled install time to configure when updates are installed.

Figure D

Enabling Automatic Updates through the local computer policy

Microsoft Update

Microsoft Update is a new service that is very similar to Windows Update. It provides all the same features of Windows Update with the major difference being that it provides updates for other products such as Office.

The obvious benefit of Microsoft Update over that of Windows Update is that you do not need to search for and download updates for Windows and other Microsoft applications installed on your computer. Instead you can get all the updates for all the products from one location.

The Microsoft Update service is not installed by default. You can install the service in Windows XP by completing the steps that are described below.

  1. Go to
  2. the Start Now button.
  3. Continue after reading the licensing agreement.
  4. necessary, follow the on-screen instructions to install the ActiveX control.
  5. the Install button when the Security Warning dialog box shown in Figure E appears.

Figure E

Click the Install button to install Microsoft Update on your computer.

Once the installation is complete, you can check for updates on the Microsoft Updates web site at any time by clicking the Microsoft Update option that now appears on your Start Menu. As with Windows Update, once you click this option, your computer is immediately connected to the Microsoft Update Web site where you can scan for updates. Click the Express button shown in Figure F to determine if any high-priority updates are available for your computer. Once the scan is complete, you can choose which of the updates you want to install.

Figure F

Click the Express button to find high-priority updates applicable to your computer

Microsoft Update also works with the Automatic Updates feature of Windows XP that is described earlier. This means that if you configure Automatic Updates to download and install updates on a specific schedule, this will also be applied to updates found on the Microsoft Update Web site.

Keeping up to date

Microsoft makes it easy for you to keep your system secure and stable. You can visit the Windows Update Web site to obtain the latest updates for your Windows operating system. However, Microsoft recognizes the importance of keeping applications up-to-date as well and now offers the Microsoft Update service. This allows you to obtain updates for all your Microsoft products from a single location. By configuring the Automatic Updates feature included with Windows XP, the updates available from these Web sites can be automatically downloaded and installed for you.