Keep your PC updated for security, performance

Published: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 27, 2003 at 1:21 a.m.

Many PC owners face a dilemma in whether to upgrade their systems to insure security and improve performance, or "leave well enough alone" and not risk an unknown problem with compatibility or system operations. In most, but not all cases, updating your system is the wiser choice.

Microsoft historically spends the most time updating its software, and as most PCs run on Windows, updates here are often the most critical. All versions of Windows beginning with Windows 98 include a "Windows Update" tool to help users find the latest updates for their systems. You can find it by clicking the "Tools" link at the top of Windows Explorer. Windows Update also loads a start icon on the Program List of many computers, so you may also find it there. If you still can't find it, go to and search for "Windows Update."

When you launch Windows Update, you're directed to a special Microsoft Web site. This site will scan your computer for security and performance updates for Internet Explorer, Windows and hardware drivers. If you're visiting the site for the first time, you'll often be asked to download the latest update control software. Finish that, and an option appears to scan your PC. Click that link, and your system will be examined automatically to see what updates are potentially needed.

A list of software will then be presented in the areas of Critical Updates and Service Packs, Windows Updates and Driver Updates. The Critical Updates and Service Packs contain important information, most often having to do with security holes discovered in Microsoft's software after release. You can review these items individually and remove any you don't wish to install. The Windows section will usually have a variety of updates for the operating system. Many of these are useful, but most users will not need the various language packs offered here and can skip those downloads. In this section users add only the options they select, rather than remove those they don't want. The third section, Driver Updates, should be viewed with caution. If you're not having device driver issues, it's often best to skip this option. Be sure to have your original drivers handy to reinstall if needed.

One key item here is the Internet Explorer Web browser. You can check to see which version of Internet Explorer you have by clicking "Help" at the top of the browser window, and then "About Internet Explorer." A window will display your Explorer version at that point. Microsoft is attempting to move as many users as possible to Internet Explorer 6 and a Service Pack with numerous updates is available via Windows Update.

However, users with older systems, slower dial-up connections and limited disk space may wish to stick with Internet Explorer 5.0 or 5.5 as long as possible. Service Packs are available for both of these older versions of Internet Explorer. If Windows Update doesn't provide ready links for them, you can locate them by searching the Microsoft Web site and using the phrase "Internet Explorer Updates."

Microsoft Office offers the same service beginning with Office 2000 and continuing with Office XP. You can find this link by clicking "Help" at the top of any Office program, then "Office on the Web." That will take you to the Office site ( Click the Product Updates link on this page and you'll get a chance to have your computer scanned for the latest Office updates and patches. One caveat here is you'll need your original product CDs handy to install most updates.

Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant whose column appears each Monday. He can be reached at or via His columns also are available at

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