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Keeping Windows 7 and Other Software Up to Date : Windows Update

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Windows Update is an important built-in online tool that ensures your system gets all the latest software additions and bug fixes. Unlike the Windows Update version in Windows XP, Windows 7 supplies users an integrated update system that does not require the user to go to the Microsoft update website. Instead of opening a web browser, the new version of Windows Update opens in the same existing window.

Windows Update has been made to be seamless to its users. Let’s say a newly installed update requires a restart while you are in the process of doing important work. You can postpone that restart easily without any disruptions. Also a great feature to Windows Update is the way it handles updates for already running programs. If Windows Update has an update that needs to be installed on an already running program or service, Windows will safely stop the program or service, install the update, and then restart it. This doesn’t apply to every program, such as Microsoft Office applications or games, but it does cover antivirus software running continuously in the background and similar programs.

Windows Automatic Updates

Windows users all know how important critical updates are to a system. Windows Update downloads and installs updates automatically by default, guaranteeing your computer acquires all the newest important updates. The tool runs at a scheduled time daily, although you can change the setting to check once a week (which isn’t recommended). Windows Update’s default setting is to install important (critical and highest-priority) updates first, and then recommended updates. The tool lets you choose whether to install other updates that pertain to your computer but are optional, such as a driver update for your network adapter.

Note

The Windows Update technology is robust. Among other things, system administrators can use it to control updating many machines across a network.


Upon installing Windows 7, Windows Update is configured to check for updates daily at 3:00 a.m. If you open the Windows Update tool and click Change Settings in the Tasks list, you’ll see a prominent green shield icon with a check mark alongside a menu item recommending you leave automatic updates turned on (the default). Selecting Never Check for Updates (Not Recommended) from the drop-down list displays a red shield with an X in the middle.

Note

In Windows 7, you must be logged on as an Administrator, or provide an Administrator password in the User Account Control (UAC) dialog box that appears, to install components or modify Windows Update automatic settings.


With automatic updates enabled, information about your computer will be uploaded to the Microsoft Windows Update Database. Then security patches, critical updates, office updates, drivers, and operating system service packs will be automatically downloaded and installed to your computer. If you decide to deactivate automatic updates, you will be bugged incessantly about it, so why fight a good thing? We believe this is good thinking on Microsoft’s part.

Note

Windows does not use your name, address, email address, or any information that can be used to identify you or contact you.


Allowing Windows to download and install updates automatically keeps your system current without having to remember to initiate an update check. It does not matter whether you have a broadband or dial-up connection. Windows Update downloads just the files you need, or just the parts of the files you need, thereby keeping the downloads as small and fast moving as possible. The system is made additionally efficient by ensuring the system downloads and installs the most crucial updates before less-important patches. So when the next virus outbreak hits, Windows users will immediately be protected. To additionally make the most of your connect time, if you disconnect from the Internet before your updates are finished, nothing is lost.

Letting Windows automatically update can sometimes cause your computer to automatically reboot by itself—a few important updates require a restart to successfully install. That means if you leave Windows Update at its default settings, you could potentially lose unsaved work. For example, say you leave your computer to automatically update at 3:00 a.m. every day, and the previous night you worked on important Word documents and left your computer on. While those important documents are open on your computer (and unsaved), Windows downloads and installs an update that requires a restart. Windows will restart automatically, which could cause you to lose your work. This default selection might not be the best choice for you, and you might want to change these settings.

Caution

With Windows 7, keep in mind that with automatic updating turned on, Windows might restart your computer automatically after installing updates. Always save data and close programs if this option is activated. Otherwise, change how Windows controls automatic updates!

To alleviate this type of problem Windows 7 supports hotpatching, which enables Windows 7 to install most system updates without rebooting. This is a welcome feature, especially if you like the convenience of automatic updates but dislike having backups, remote access, or other tasks disrupted by system reboots after updates are installed.


Be aware that it is still possible that an update could damage your system. Windows Update creates a restore point for your system before installing the available updates. If a problem does occur, you can always roll back a system to its state before the update .

Windows Update Applet and Functions

As you can see from Figure 1, the user has different options for updating her system. On the main Windows Update applet, you can see the basic settings applied, the last time the system was updated, and what kind of updates (for Windows only). On the left side of the window is a list of options that the user can select.

Figure 1. The Windows Update applet.

Manually Install Updates Using Windows Update

The process to manually update Windows is easy and user friendly. By manually updating your system, you can obtain various critical and noncritical updates. To use Windows Update manually, follow these steps:

1.
Click Start, Control Panel, System and Security, Windows Update.

Tip

Another way of getting to the Windows Update page is to click Start, All Programs, Windows Update.

2.
In the Windows Update window, click Check for Updates in the Tasks list. Windows Update will then look for all possible updates.

3.
After a list of updates appears, you can select and install the updates you want. If you don’t install Important updates at this time, they will be installed during the next scheduled automatic update.

Manually updating your system allows you to decide which updates you want and lets you know which updates you need.

Updates Do Not Install Properly

If one or more of your Windows Updates did not install properly, or the program failed to install and/or produces an error, check the following:

  • Is there enough free disk space on your computer? An update will not install if there is insufficient free space for it to install on. Free up space on your system and reinstall the update.

  • Did you accidentally cancel an update while it was installing? If the update was not fully downloaded, run Windows Update again. If the update was downloaded but not installed, simply go back and reinstall the update.

  • Was the Microsoft Software License Terms accepted? If an error code was created about licensing, review the error code and select Try Again. When the licensing agreement opens it will ask you to review the license and agree to the terms.

  • If none of the preceding solutions works, review the error code that was created and search online for more help.


Other Windows Update Settings

You can also hide an update if you do not want to install it. If Windows consistently asks you to install an update and you have no desire to, just hide the update. To hide an update, right-click the update you want to hide and select Hide Update from the shortcut menu. Hiding an update is helpful because you essentially filter the list to display only those updates you’re interested in. If you want to see hidden updates again, click Restore Hidden Update in the Tasks list of the Windows Update applet. To install an update, it must not be hidden. If an update is hidden and you do want to install it, restore the update first and then install.

Can’t Find Hidden Update

You occasionally won’t be able to locate an update you unhid. The likely cause is that a newer update that addressed that problem has already been installed. Windows 7 will check whether a newer update has already been installed before it will allow you to install the older update.


Also, after every update, you can view the installed updates by clicking View Update History, which visually shows you all updates that were installed (or attempted), whether the update installation was successful, the priority of the update, and the date of installation.

Windows Update also allows you to change certain settings pertaining to updating. By clicking Change Settings, you will see options for Windows automatic updating, recommended updates, and which users can install them (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Change Settings window in Windows Update.

The Important Updates section offers four drop-down menu items that affect automatic updates. The default setting is to install updates automatically at a set time. You may change this setting if you want to (1) choose which updates to install or (2) choose the updates before downloading. The ability to selectively install updates is valuable. Without choosing one of these options, Windows may automatically restart your system, in which case open or unsaved files could be damaged or lost. If you’re the type of user who always reads and responds to system messages, consider changing to one of these settings—automatic updates are important to your system, but you do not want them to ruin your important work. The last option, Never Check for Updates, is strongly discouraged by Microsoft.

When would you use the fourth option, to turn off updates altogether? In general, we’d rule that out as an intelligent option, with two exceptions:

  • If you have a computer that is almost always off the Internet or a LAN, is “mission critical” (has to be up and running), and rarely if ever has new software (including email) added to it, this is a potential candidate. When we get such a dedicated system running, we don’t have much interest in tempting fate with software or system upgrades.

  • If you’re running and maintaining PCs in a corporate setting. These PCs are connected to the Internet and probably on a corporate network. You want to rigorously test updates before you install them across the corporation’s PCs because Microsoft patches and updates can sometimes break your applications’ features in subtle ways.

Note

All updates that pertain to maintenance and support for Microsoft products are free.


New to Windows 7 is the Allow All Users to Install Updates on this Computer option, which is selected by default. Previous versions of Windows required the user to be logged on as Administrator to manually install updates. This new option lets standard users install all updates, including optional updates, without prompting for administrative credentials. We recommend leaving this option selected on standalone computers.

Finally, the Change Settings window also includes a Microsoft Update check box that enables you to receive updates for Microsoft products and check for new optional Microsoft software when you update Windows.

Viewing and Changing Installed Updates

As stated previously, some updates can cause system problems. By viewing which updates are installed on your computer you can repair critical updates and remove optional updates (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Viewing installed updates.

To repair or uninstall an update, follow these steps:

1.
Click Start, Control Panel, Programs, Programs and Features, View Installed Updates.

2.
Under Programs and Features select View Installed Updates.

3.
A list of all updates displays. Click the update you want to change.

4.
After selecting an update, you will see various details in the middle of the window. Also, on the top toolbar there will be an option to uninstall (see Figure 3). Uninstalling asks for an administrative confirmation before uninstalling.

Can’t Uninstall Current Update

If your current update is not uninstalling or Windows 7 reports that the update cannot be uninstalled or produces an error upon uninstalling, the problem might be that Microsoft is not allowing you remove that particular update.

If an update is an Important update and applies to the security of the OS, you cannot install it. Otherwise, if you’re on a network, make sure your computer is actually connected to the network. Uninstalling an update requires your computer to be connected to a network due to the Group Policy. Group Policy is a network administrative tool that will manage all settings for users and other computers.

If an update that you uninstalled keeps automatically installing on your computer, then the automatic updating feature in Windows could be the culprit. If you have Windows Update set to update automatically, you may experience this problem. To solve it, you do not have to shut off or change the setting to automatic updating. Instead of disabling features, uninstall the update, click Check for Updates, and then click the appropriate Updates are Available link. This will display a list of updates you may install and the update that keeps automatically installing. For the update you do not want installed, simply right-click the update and select Hide Update.

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