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Use Microsoft Update to help keep your computer current

Published: August 9, 2005
Help keep your computer's defenses current with Microsoft Update

Hardly a day goes by without a new story about spam, viruses, spyware, and other hazards of using the Internet. Spammers and malicious hackers work relentlessly to defy computer defenses, expecting that some people haven't applied the latest security fixes.

You can help thwart them by keeping your computer's safety net current, and Microsoft has a new service that can help: Microsoft Update.

On This Page
What is Microsoft Update?What is Microsoft Update?
Keep current effortlessly using Automatic UpdatesKeep current effortlessly using Automatic Updates
How to sign up for Microsoft UpdateHow to sign up for Microsoft Update
What else you can do to protect your PCWhat else you can do to protect your PC

What is Microsoft Update?

Microsoft Update is a Web site that offers the same downloads available from Windows Update—plus the latest updates for Microsoft Office and other Microsoft programs. It can help keep your computer more secure and performing at its best.

When you visit Microsoft Update, it scans your computer and gives you a list of updates, which you then decide whether to download and install. High priority updates are critical to the security and reliability of your computer—for example, repairs for security gaps in your system, boosters for system reliability, or the latest protection against spam for those who use Microsoft Outlook. Without these security patches (as they're also known), your computer is more vulnerable to attack from cyber crooks and malicious software (or malware).


Tip: Visit the Microsoft Update Web site to get other optional software updates to help keep your computer running smoothly or simply make using it more fun—for example, the latest versions of Windows Media Player or Windows MovieMaker.

Keep current effortlessly using Automatic Updates

The most reliable way to get updates from Microsoft is to have the updates delivered automatically to your computer using Automatic Updates.

Once you determine how often and what time of day or night you want Automatic Updates to connect to the Internet and scan your computer for updates, Automatic Updates automatically keeps your computer current. Instead of giving you a list of updates for your computer, Automatic Updates can download and install them at your convenience.

If you don't have Automatic Updates turned on, you can turn it on when you visit Microsoft Update. (If you use Windows Millennium Edition (Windows Me), see the Security Essentials page for information on turning on Automatic Updates).

Note: If you already use Automatic Updates, when you sign up for Microsoft Update, Automatic Updates will continue to operate it as you've set it up.

How to sign up for Microsoft Update

There are two stages to this process that you'll follow in these steps.

Set up the Microsoft Update program and Automatic Updates. (You only do this once.) Depending on your system, this may include installing two ActiveX controls, which are small pieces of software that help Microsoft Update talk to your computer.

Direct Microsoft Update to check your computer and install any necessary updates.


When you're connected to the Internet, go to http://update.microsoft.com/microsoftupdate or click Microsoft Update on any Microsoft.com site.
(If you've already signed up, you'll skip straight to Step 7.)

Try Microsoft Update screenshot


Click Start Now, and then click Continue.


Follow the directions on the screen to install this ActiveX control.

Install the ActiveX control screenshot


Click Install.

Depending on how your system is set up, you may need to repeat steps 3 and 4 once more. This is all part of setting up the Microsoft Update program to work with your computer.

Security warning dialog box


If you've been using Automatic Updates, you'll skip to Step 6. If you have not been using the Automatic Updates service, click:

Turn it on now to sign up, and follow the directions on the screen.

Change setting to turn on Automatic Updates. Follow the directions on the screen.


Now that you have set up the Microsoft Update program and turned on Automatic Updates, click Check for Updates.


Click to choose either Express or Custom installation.

Express finds high-priority updates for your computer which you install with one click.

Custom finds both high-priority and optional updates (listed at the left of the screen). You individually review and select the updates you want to install.

Express and custom options screenshot

A Get answers to questions you have about Microsoft Update.

B Another opportunity to sign up for Automatic Updates.


Microsoft Update scans your computer for the updates it needs. Follow the directions on the screen to download and install them.


Tip: Find out how to keep earlier versions of Windows (Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows 95, and Windows NT) and Office versions before Office 2000 up to date.

What else you can do to protect your PC

Using Microsoft Update with Automatic Updates is a strong first line of defense against security threats. You can also improve your computer's security by using a firewall and maintaining a current antivirus software subscription. Find out how to do these and address other security essentials of protecting your PC. You might also consider a review of articles that explain other specific ways you can help protect your PC against online dangers, including viruses and spyware.


Microsoft Update supports Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 2000 with Service Pack 3.0 or greater. It contains updates for Microsoft Office XP and Office 2003. (Updates for more programs will be added as time goes on.) For those who are more technical, note that Microsoft Update also works on Windows Server 2003 and contains updates for Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft Exchange Server.

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