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7/7/2004
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Fred Langa
Fred Langa
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Langa Letter: The Promise--And Problems--Of The New Windows Update

XP and Windows 2000 users soon will get a new version of Windows Update. Here's the full story, and remember, this is beta software, so be careful, Fred Langa says.

A new version of Windows Update is about to debut. It first appeared as part of the prerelease versions of Service Pack 2 for XP, which is still in beta as of this writing. But the Update software was separately released on its own in a free public beta about two weeks ago. The new Update process (comprising the software that resides on your PC and a new Update site that coordinates with that software) has different defaults and behaves differently from the Update you're probably used to: I suggest you read all the way through this article before deciding whether or not to try the beta on your system.

The new Update site sports a fresh look and requires installation of a new Update applet.

(click image for larger view)


Screen One

The new Update site sports a fresh look and requires installation of a new Update applet.

But beta or not, one way or another, you're going to have to deal with these changes to Windows Update. In the next weeks or months, the final form of this software will be offered to you either as a normal Windows Update for XP and Windows 2000 or as part of the final released SP2 for XP. Once the software is complete and out of beta, Microsoft will work hard to get you to use it, so it's worth the time to learn about it now. Let's take a look:

When you click to the new Update site from Windows XP or 2000, you'll immediately notice that Update looks different. (See Screen One.)


The new Update site and software may initially require several steps to get set up fully, but the process is straightforward and reasonably well-explained.

(click image for larger view)

Screen Two

The new Update site and software may initially require several steps to get set up fully, but the process is straightforward and reasonably well-explained.

When the Update site loads, you'll see a new site layout and graphic design, and you'll be offered a download of the new Update applet, which is mandatory if you wish to use the new site and features.

By the way, the new Update site and process is, at least for now, only for Windows XP and 2000. If you access the new Update site from Windows ME or 98, nothing happens; those versions of Windows revert to the current (old) Update software and site.

But XP and Win2K bring you to the new site. Your initial access to the new site may require several incremental downloads to install the new Update applet and then to install a catalog of available updates. (See Screen Two.)

The new Update offers you two major subchoices: Express or Custom installation of updates, giving you either a highly automated or a more manual approach to managing updates for your PC.

(click image for larger view)


Screen Three

The new Update offers you two major subchoices: Express or Custom installation of updates, giving you either a highly automated or a more manual approach to managing updates for your PC.

Once the new Update software is fully installed and running, you'll reach your first decision point: You must choose between Express and Custom installs for the updates you'll be downloading. The Express Install searches for and installs only "High Priority" updates, roughly analogous to what used to be called "Critical Updates." The Custom Install gives you more flexibility and potentially offers you more Updates: Not only the High Priority updates, as above, but also "Optional Updates," roughly analogous to the "Recommended Updates" in the old Update process. (See Screen Three.)

Note the "Automatic Update" panel in Screen Three. The new Update software defaults to full automatic mode: With no user input required, the software will detect, download, and install whatever updates it deems appropriate for your PC. This setting is convenient for some but can cause problems for others. We'll explore this more fully in a short while.

Unlike the old (current) Windows Update, which tends to be terse and fairly uninformative about the updates it offers, the new Update is far more friendly and open, with plain-English explanations of what the updates are and what they do. (See Screen Four.) And if the explanatory text is still insufficient, a "Details" pull-down provides additional information. (See Screen Five.)

The new Update tries to explain the benefits of any available downloads more clearly than the classic Update does...

(click image for larger view)



... with fuller, more technical explanations, including links to relevant Knowledgebase files, available via a ''Details'' pull-down.

(click image for larger view)

Screen Four

The new Update tries to explain the benefits of any available downloads more clearly than the classic Update does...

Screen Five

... with fuller, more technical explanations, including links to relevant Knowledgebase files, available via a "Details" pull-down.

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