How to Update Windows - dummies

By Dan Gookin

The Windows operating system comes with the feature Windows Update. It uses the Internet to check for any available new files or patches. Go to the official Windows Update web page to bring the PC’s operating system to current status or set your computer to do it automatically for you.

The manual approach to update Windows

You can still visit the Windows Update site to update your computer. This approach works for Windows XP users. But, when you visit this site in Windows 7 or Vista, you’re thrust back into local control, so there’s no point. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Control Panel.

  2. Choose System and Security.

  3. Beneath the heading Windows Update, choose Check for Updates.

Alternatively, you can configure Windows Update to automatically check for updates.

Automatically update Windows…or not

Windows Update can be set to run in one of three ways:

  • Fully automatic: Windows downloads and installs critical updates as they appear. You can schedule the updates, but otherwise this is the “blind obedience” choice.

  • Semiautomatic: You’re alerted to updates, and you’re given the choice of whether to download them. Updates are installed only when you choose to install them.

  • Not at all: Updates are neither checked for nor installed. You can still manually check for and install updates, but Windows Update doesn’t do it automatically for you.

In Windows 7 and Windows Vista, you configure Windows updates by following these steps:

  1. Open the Control Panel.

  2. Choose System and Security in Windows 7, or Security in Windows Vista.

  3. Choose Windows Update.

    The Windows Update window appears. Though you can’t tell by the picture, the top part of the window is shown in a happy green color. When Windows Update is turned off, the angry red color is used instead.


  4. On the left side of the window, click the Change Settings link.

  5. Use the Change Settings window to specify how often Windows Update works.

    For example, choose Install Updates Automatically (Recommended) to have the computer do everything for you. If you experience problems updating, or you’re just suspicious, choose Download Updates but Let Me Choose Whether to Install Them instead.

    When you choose Updates Automatically, be sure to set a time for the updates when the computer will be on and can connect to the Internet.

  6. Click OK to confirm the new settings.

  7. In Windows Vista, type the administrator’s password or click Continue to proceed.

    You may close the Windows Update window now, if you’re done.

In Windows XP, you turn on Automatic Updates from the Security window; open the Security icon in the Control Panel.

  • Windows Update may also check for updates to other Microsoft software you own, such as Microsoft Office. It doesn’t check for updates to other software. Instead, you have to manually update those programs; or, they may feature their own update options.

  • Windows XP features a Security Center icon in the Control Panel. You can open the Security Center icon to view the Security Center window and find therein an Automatic Updates item. There, you can turn Automatic Update off or on.

  • Many optional updates involve installing language packages for your version of Windows. Installation of these language packages is completely optional, though they continue to be displayed as optional updates until you install them.

  • Windows Update may also show driver updates, indicating that new software is available for certain peripherals or hardware components inside your PC.