The Windows Update service rovides a way of checking whether your Windows operating system needs any updates.
This can include security fixes, and software and hardware updates.
It is essential Windows is kept up-to-date to prevent malicious programs taking advantage of security flaws to harm your PC.
You can download and install updates by visiting the Microsoft web site, or set your PC to automatically download the files in the background while you work.
Note that 'updating' is not the same as 'upgrading'. To upgrade your version of Windows XP to Windows Vista, for example, you would need to buy a Windows Vista Upgrade package. Updating Windows only ensures that you have the latest files for your particular Windows version such as XP.
Downloading updates from the Windows Update web site
Some of the steps below may require you to restart your computer, so you may wish to print out a copy of these instructions before you begin. You should also save any work in other windows before continuing.
Note that you will need to use Internet Explorer to visit the Windows Update web site rather than other browsers such as Mozilla Firefox.
Go to www.windowsupdate.com. When you arrive at the site, you may see a message that your browser is checking for the latest version of the Windows Update software. This is the software that determines if your system needs any updates at this time. If you see a Security Warning box appear asking if you wish to install and run Windows Update, click Yes.
You will be asked to choose between Express (essential updates) or Custom (optional updates for other programs). Most users should click the Express button.
The Windows Update software will now check which updates you already have and which you need.
If after the scan you see the message 'No high-priority updates for your computer are available' this means the most important updates including security fixes for Windows are already installed on your system and you can leave Windows Update for now.
If you require any high-priority updates, the Windows Update program automatically selects all critical updates to be installed. Click Install Updates.
Your updates will now be downloaded and installed, note that this may take several minutes or longer depending on your Internet connection and how many updates you need to install.
Once this is complete, you will be asked if you want to restart your computer now. Make sure you have saved your work in any other windows you have open, then click Yes and your computer will restart.
You should check the Windows Update web site once a month for any new updates.
Another way to get Windows updates is to have the files downloaded automatically to your computer using Automatic Updates.
The advantage of this is you can let Windows download updates in the background while you work, so you do not need to worry about updating manually.
A disadvantage of Automatic Updates is that it may use up some of your Internet bandwidth to download updates, which might be a problem if you are in the process of downloading a large file or playing an online game at the time and need the best speed possible. You can avoid this problem by setting a particular time for updates to be downloaded.
To turn on Automatic Updates, click on your Start menu, go to Control Panel and double-click Automatic Updates. Here you can choose whether to get updates automatically, set which times to download updates, and if you want to be notified before updates are downloaded or installed.