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By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2004-07-01 Print this article Print

First, point your copy of Internet Explorer to the Windows Update Catalog. (Sorry, no other Web browsers allowed, but you can get all Microsoft updates with any browser the even harder way at the Microsoft Download Center.) Click the first link "Find updates for Microsoft Windows operating systems." You will see a listbox with Windows versions. From this we can already see that the updates we download will probably (not necessarily, but you must assume this will be the case) be specific to a version of Windows and probably a particular service pack. Select the right one for you and a language and press Search.

Youll see a list of categories of updates, with the most important one—Critical Updates and Service Packs— at the top. Click on it, and a list of updates appears magically below. Click the Add button for each one you want, and it will be added to your "Download Basket" as if you were shopping on a commerce site. You need to be careful about which version of Windows you choose in the previous step. I find that the difference between "Windows XP SP1" and "Windows XP Professional SP1" is large; with the latter I didnt see any security fixes.

Dont just go clicking everything. If you read carefully youll see a lot of stuff you dont need, like updates to the Korean version, lots of updates just for the Media Center version of Windows and the MyDoom removal tool. When youre done, click the "Go to the download basket" link. From here you can click a browse button to find a location to download the files to. Fill it in and click Download Now. Youll have to accept a bunch of agreements and then the downloading starts.

You might have noticed in the list of updates that some of them were "cumulative updates." This is another reason Windows Update is better and that Microsoft really should have provided offline software: If we go through all these updates, one by one, well be applying a bunch of redundant updates. Theres no easy way around this problem, but there is a hard one. After your download is over you will see a Download History listing all the updates you just downloaded and the dates of their issue. This at least gives you an order from which to begin. Working from most-recent backward, when you find a cumulative or rollup update, open up the description and read it to determine which older updates you can cut from the list and delete from the download directory.

Check out eWEEK.coms Windows Center at for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis. One last tip: You will have to do a lot of rebooting, but you may be able to limit the number of reboots using some tools Microsoft provides. See Knowledge Base Article 296861—How to Install Multiple Windows Updates or Hotfixes with Only One Reboot. Read carefully. This stuff works sometimes and sometimes not.

So, is all that worth it? Im not so sure, but I see a third-party opportunity, perhaps by one of the patch management companies, to take a catalog like this and make it easier to install. But it shouldnt have to come to that. Microsoft should be providing this.

Perhaps Microsoft is just waiting for Service Pack 2 of Windows XP and that will be their answer to everything. Im sure that SP2 CDs will be easy to come by (wishful thinking?) and its still generally regarded as a huge security improvement, but its not a good excuse for letting things slide in the interim. And not everyone uses Windows XP. Its clear that Windows 2000 users wont get the same security enhancements in XP SP2, but they deserve better access to the updates that Microsoft is supplying.

Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center at for security news, views and analysis.
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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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