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Taking Back Windows XP

Do you want automatic or manual updates?

(Originally carried by BugNet in December 2001)

“That’s not a bug, that’s a feature” is something we’ve heard before at BugNet. More than a few times we’ve been heard mumbling under our breath “That’s not a feature, that’s an annoyance.”

Windows XP comes with many new features that some people might count as annoyances. In the series “Taking Back Windows XP” we will identify these features for you, and show where they are controlled. It’s your computer, and you should be the one to determine what is running in the background.

This month’s lesson: the automatic Windows Update

Previous versions of Windows have had Windows Update buttons on the Start menu. Click this, and you are taken to a page on the Microsoft web site. You see a list of available updates, which are compared to what is on your system. Then you are given the chance to select and download the updates you want.

This has been taken a step further in Windows XP. Unless you tell it otherwise, Windows XP will automatically search for and download updates. The updates will not be installed. Instead, an icon will appear in the Notification area (what is also known as the Systray – the right-hand side of the Task Bar, over by the clock.) To install, you need to click the icon and then follow the directions.

Don’t want your computer going off on its own? Switch to manual updating. Click Start, Control Panel. If using the Classic view, click on the System Icon. If using the new Category view, click Performance and Maintenance, and then click System. Once the System Properties dialog is open, go to the Automatic Updates tab. There are three choices: automatic downloading, and then notification before installing; notification before downloading, and then notification before installing; and manual. Click the choice, and then select OK. If Manual is selected, then use the Windows Update shortcut on the Start menu to initialize the update process.


Use this dialog to determine how automated you want the Windows Update process to be.

Why might you choose a manual process, rather than an automatic process? If you are band-width challenged (still using a dial-up modem) then you may want to control when the process happens, to keep other Internet activity from slowing down while Windows goes off on its search. Also, it may be a good practice to delay slightly before applying Microsoft updates – unless the update is a critical one for security. Why? Unfortunately, Microsoft has not been flawless in the way they release their fixes.

Last month, Microsoft had to recall a hot-fix for Windows Terminal Server that actually caused more problems. A perusal of past BugNet alerts also shows:

  • December 2000, a fix for Microsoft Internet Information Server broke a previous fix;
  • August 2000, Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 had conflicts with popular firewalls Black Ice Defender and ZoneAlarm;
  • March 2000, Office 2000 Service Release 1 Problems;
  • November 1999, Windows NT Service Pack 6 Interferes with Lotus Notes/Domino;
  • May 1999, Microsoft releases and then recalls Windows NT Service Pack 5;
  • Even earlier, Microsoft Office 97 Service Packs 1 and 2 both had problems;
  • Maybe the biggest disaster of them all, Windows NT 4 Service Pack 2, which triggered the BugNet story “NT Service Packs: Spawn of the Devil?”

We are not saying avoid Microsoft updates and patches. We’re just saying you may not want to rush into them as soon as they are realized. Like fine wine, the aging process adds something. In this case, it lets others find the bugs for you.

Take Back Windows Page