Langa Letter: Microsoft's Problematic Updates

Windows Updates sometimes cause more harm than good. What's the best way to handle them?

Fred Langa, Contributor

March 4, 2003

2 Min Read

The hassles with patch 811493 show why I've previously recommended manual installation of all Windows Update items. (See, for example, "10 Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better"; and a related item on making the best use of the "System Restore" feature) With manual installation, you're in control of what gets updated and when. You can defer installation of updates until you've had a chance to see what they do, what they might affect, and how others have fared. (Usenet can be an invaluable ally in this: Simply search Usenet for a given patch, using the patch's numeric designation as the search term, like this.
q=811493&hl=en&btnG=Google+Search )

Plus, configuring all the PCs you control so that they only update on demand--by manual control--means you can try a new patch on a test machine or on your own set up under controlled circumstances. Then, once you're sure a patch is worth having, and that it doesn't cause undesirable side effects, you can roll out the patch on the rest of the PCs. If the patch doesn't work out, you have only one system to restore to pre-patch status.

Some people consider this to be excessively cautious; they prefer to reserve the small-test/large-rollout model only for wholesale system changes such as whole new operating system versions. But I've found Windows Update items to be just dangerous enough to warrant a fairly high degree of caution, such that I never, ever, let my main production PCs automatically update themselves, even for updates that Microsoft calls "Critical."

Instead, I'll check out Critical Updates via the above process, usually waiting at least a day or two before taking any action (so others can serve as bellwethers, and post their experiences on Usenet). Lower-rated updates get pushed further down the to-do list, and get tested and installed on an as-time-permits basis.

But what's your experience? Do you accept the default/recommended settings and let Windows manage its own updates, automatically? If so, has the process been reliable, or have you ever had to undo an update? If you opt for manual updates, how often do you check for updates, and how do you evaluate whether a given patch or update is both worthwhile and safe? Let's pool our knowledge, and see if we can lay out a strategy that yields the benefits of having an updated operating system, but without undue risks of system slowdowns or other problems! Join in the discussion!

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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