A Great Patch Solution, but Is It Kosher?

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-07-08 Print this article Print

Opinion: AutoPatcher is a helpful program that solves a big problem. Too bad someone would have done it long ago if it were legal.

Thanks to the many readers of my last column who pointed me toward AutoPatcher. I had been complaining about the lack of a good offline patching solution from Microsoft, and thats what AutoPatcher tries to be. I decided to give it a spin on my own. First of all, its free. Not, as the anarchist left of the software world would say, as in speech, but free as in beer. You, in turn, are free to make a donation to the project.

Its a series of tools combined with the actual Microsoft patches. Right now there is only a Windows XP version, but the authors say they are working on Windows 2000 and 2003 versions. Theres a lot more than just patches in this package. It also installs a variety of tools and third-party products. Theres the Microsoft Bootvis tool, which is a diagnostic for improving boot performance. Theres the Sun Java VM 1.4.2_04. Theres the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer 1.2, the SharePoint Migration Tool, a whole mess of screen savers from lots of sources, the Macromedia Flash and Shockwave players, the Google Toolbar, and, as they say, much, much more!

For insights on security coverage around the Web, check out eWEEK.com Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.
There are actually four Windows XP versions: Full, Update, Lite and Ultralite. Update requires a system fully updated as of February. The others just have differing amounts of the stuff described above and weigh in at approximately 88MB, 143MB and 260MB. Thats a long time even on a fast connection.

I restored a ghost image of a Windows XP Pro system that I had imaged on March 4 of this year. I turned off automatic updates as soon as it booted. The downloaded executable extracted a directory structure with an executable and autorun file at the top. This structure is what you want to burn to a CD to carry around, so thats what I did.

After making you agree to its own license agreement, the program, which does let you redistribute it as long as you dont charge or mess with it or try to call it your own, confirms you want to scan the registry and deselect previously installed hotfixes.

It recommends disabling any anti-virus software for a completely silent install and warns that AutoPatcher is only for English versions of Windows. Then it opens a long outline control of system components and updates with some boxes checked and others not. Theres an option to keep hotfix backups thats selected and recommended.

This is when you actually start the process. The initial estimate for my system was 132 minutes. It actually took just about an hour. At some point the Windows Display Properties comes up. This must have been a side effect of AutoPatcher installing new screen savers and changing the default one. Then I clicked Finish, and the system restarted.

The next obvious step was to run Windows Update. I saw three critical updates and nothing else. The first one—"Critical Update for ADODB.stream (KB870669)"—was released Wednesday, so no surprise. The second one—Security Update for DirectX 9.0 (KB839643)—was released June 8, so I can see why it wouldnt be in the June version. But the third update—Security Update for Microsoft Data Access Components (KB832483)—goes back, as best I can tell, to Jan. 13. It must be an AutoPatcher bug.

The total download for all three updates was about 2.5MB, so its not that horrible to finish up even for a modem user. The one problem aside, I think it worked really well.

Next page: The real question about AutoPatcher.

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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