A Patching Procedure For the Little Guy

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2003-07-06 Print this article Print

Getting ready to apply Windows 2000 SP4? Performing a brain transplant on your computer isn't a casual thing, so Security Supersite editor Larry Seltzer offers some tips to keep in mind before you install the update, on guard that sometimes things

There are a couple of conflicting truisms of computing: Always apply the latest updates and security fixes; and if it aint broke, dont fix it. The difference is clear when you consider the overhaul of your operating system that will come with Windows 2000 Service Pack 4.

Of course, we all have to take some risks now and then. Why wouldnt you apply a bug fix, a security update or a Service Pack? Microsoft supplies for each a usually long list of fixed problems, so assuming that any reported problem concerns you in the least bit, you have a strong interest in applying the approved fix. At the same time, you may be concerned that the fix will cause its own problems, something that can happen with updates of any kind, from the OS to any and all software programs. With this possibility in mind, you will need a way to back your way out of the update in case something goes wrong.
What does this mean? In brief, always back your system up before applying a major system change.
Happily, making a good backup isnt all that hard anymore, and doing a complete job isnt that much harder. All you need is disk space, and thats about as expensive as MCI stock these days. As we all know, backing up our data is important, and of course, we should do it regularly. However, thats not what Im dealing with here. In this case, the backup is all about reserving your system configuration and operating system files, and making sure the system will run in the event of a retreat.

Here are some tips to prepare yourself for the SP4 installation and protect your configuration in case of a bad result: The Quickie Approach

The first, most obvious way to be on guard is to note that all recent Microsoft Windows patches come with uninstall procedures. During installation, you must approve that the Service Pack installer archive the files that it will replace, and this action can take up a fair chunk of disk space. But in most cases, if something goes wrong, you can just go to the Control Panels Add/Remove Programs list to uninstall the Service Pack or update.

Another quick way to protect yourself, if youre running Windows ME or Windows XP, is to create a system restore point with the System Restore function. This feature saves and restores the operating systems configuration and files. This process also can require a substantial amount of space. In fact, many operations in addition to the Service Pack installations, will create restore points automatically. But just as we sometimes press an elevator button twice, its comforting to create your own set to be sure. In Windows XP this can be found in Start->All Programs->Accessories->System Tools->System Restore.

Alternatively, if you have Windows 2000 or something later, you can select the "Last Known Good Configuration" option at the Boot menu. I dont think this feature performs as complete a restoration, still it may get you past a boot problem.

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Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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