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Automatic Updates: Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: January 21, 2005

Applies To: Windows Server 2003, Windows Server 2003 R2, Windows Server 2003 with SP1, Windows Server 2003 with SP2

Automatic Updates: Frequently Asked Questions

Why are updates important?

How does Automatic Updates work?

What if …?

Why are updates important?

What are updates?

Microsoft offers important updates, which include security and other critical updates, to help protect your computer against new viruses and other security threats that can spread over the Internet or a network. Other updates contain enhancements, such as upgrades and tools that can help your computer run more smoothly. What are all of the different types of Microsoft software updates?

How can I keep my computer updated?

Turn on Automatic Updates
Get high-priority updates, which include security and other critical updates, automatically delivered to your computer and installed on a schedule that you set. Turn on Automatic Updates and choose a setting by opening System and then clicking the Automatic Updates tab. (If you are running Windows 2000, click Start, point to Settings, click Control Panel, and then double-click Automatic Updates.)

Visit the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/)
Go here on a regular basis to get high priority and optional updates for your computer.

Why should I use Automatic Updates?

Turning on Automatic Updates is the easiest way to help protect your computer against new and ongoing attacks. When you turn on Automatic Updates, Windows regularly checks the Windows Update Web site for important updates that your computer might need. These updates can include security updates, critical updates, and service packs. Windows downloads updates behind the scenes when you are online—the updates do not interfere with other downloads and you aren't interrupted while you're working.

Windows automatically installs important updates for you, though in some cases you may be asked to accept an End User License Agreement (EULA) or restart your computer to finish the process. Updates are installed on a schedule that you set, so you don't have to search the Windows Update Web site for new updates or worry that something important might be missing. You can also set up Automatic Updates to notify you when updates are available so you can download and install updates yourself.

How does Automatic Updates work?

How are updates downloaded?

When you connect to the Internet, Windows sends data about the way your computer is set up to the Windows Update Web site so the service can determine which updates your computer might need. Windows does not send your name, address, e-mail address, or any information that can be used to identify you or contact you. If updates are available, they are downloaded behind the scenes when you are online—they do not interfere with other downloads and you are not interrupted.

If you use a broadband connection, updates can be downloaded at any time, even if you are not actively using the Internet. If you use a dial-up connection, updates can be downloaded only when you are connected to the Internet. If you disconnect from the Internet before updates are fully downloaded, the download process will continue the next time you connect to the Internet.

Remember that updates must be installed before they can help protect your computer. Remember, too, that if you do not use the Automatic (recommended) setting, Windows can only remind you about updates if you are logged on as a member of the Administrators group. (Only administrators can add or remove programs, including updates.) To notify you, the Windows Update icon appears in the notification area and an alert appears, stating that new updates are ready to be downloaded.

How are important updates installed?

How updates are installed depends on the Automatic Update settings you choose. If you use the Automatic (recommended) setting, updates are installed at 3 A.M. However, you can change the time or frequency of scheduled updates to best suit your needs. If your computer is turned off during a scheduled update, updates are installed the next time you start your computer.

In some cases, an update will require you to accept an End User License Agreement (EULA). If so, Windows notifies you. If an update requires you to restart your computer before it can be installed, Windows notifies you to restart your computer for security maintenance. Make sure you save your work frequently and remind other users to save their work, especially before scheduled installation times.

Remember that if you do not use the Automatic (recommended) setting, Windows can only notify you about updates if you are logged on as a member of the Administrators group. (Only administrators can add or remove programs, including updates.) To notify you, the Windows Update icon appears in the notification area and an alert appears, stating that new updates are ready to be installed.

You do not have to be connected to the Internet for updates to be installed.

Are Automatic Updates the same updates as those that are available from the Windows Update Web site?

Yes. However, Automatic Updates delivers only the latest important updates that can help protect your computer against viruses and other security threats. These updates can include security updates, critical updates and service packs and should be installed as soon as they are released. You can download and install other types of updates, such as upgrades and tools that help improve the performance of your computer, by visiting the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/) on a regular basis.

How long will it take to download or install an update?

It depends on the type of Internet connection you have and the size and number of updates that are being downloaded or installed. You can view the progress of downloads by hovering over the Windows Update icon which will appear in the notification area. Remember that updates are downloaded behind the scenes so you are not interrupted. You can view more details about the installation progress by clicking the Windows Update icon while updates are being installed. If there are a large number of updates and the download process is expected to take a long time (due to infrequent or slow Internet connections), Windows will also notify you at least once every other day about updates that have successfully finished downloading.

Will I need to restart my computer?

It depends. Some updates cannot be installed or will not take effect until you restart your computer. For those, Windows notifies you to restart your computer for security maintenance. If you are an administrator for your computer, you can delay the restart; otherwise, Windows warns you and then restarts your computer for you. Make sure you save your work and remind other users to save their work, especially before scheduled installation times.

Will I need to accept an End User License Agreement (EULA)?

Sometimes. Some updates require you to accept a EULA before the updates can be installed. These updates can not be automatically installed so an alert and the Windows Update icon Windows Update icon will appear in the notification area to let you know that updates are ready to be installed. Click the icon to view and accept the EULA for these updates and then install them.

How do I know which updates are already installed?

To see a list of updates already installed on your computer, go to the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/). In the left pane, under Other Options, click View installation history. In Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), you can also open Add or Remove Programs in Control Panel and select the Show Updates check box.

How can I be sure that updates are safe to install?

Windows uses Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt the transfer of system information and updates between your computer and the Windows Update Web site. Each file that you download using Automatic Updates has a digital signature from Microsoft. Digital signatures are designed to ensure the authenticity and integrity of signed files. Automatic Updates will not install files that do not contain the correct digital signature.

How much does it cost to use Automatic Updates?

There is no charge to you for this service. Updates from Microsoft are provided at no cost, as part of maintenance and support service for Windows users. Microsoft is committed to helping protect your computing environment, no matter what tasks you perform at your computer. Depending on your Internet connection, standard local and long distance phone charges and Internet service charges might apply.

What type of information is sent to Microsoft during the update process?

To provide you with the best possible service, Windows Update collects some system configuration data in order to provide you with updates that apply to your computer. This information includes:

  • Computer make and model

  • Windows version number

  • Internet Explorer version number

  • Version numbers of other Microsoft software for which updates might be available

  • Plug and Play ID numbers of hardware devices

  • Region and Language setting

  • Globally Unique Identifier (GUID)

  • Product ID and Product Key

  • BIOS name, revision number, and revision date

Microsoft is committed to helping protect your privacy. Windows Update does not collect your name, address, e-mail address, or any other form of personally identifiable information. Your Internet Protocol (IP) address is logged when you connect to the Windows Update site, but this address will only be used to generate aggregate statistics. For more details on how the information is protected, see the Windows Update privacy statement. You can always find the privacy statement at the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/).

What if …?

I'm not an administrator for my computer?

To help protect your computer, use the Automatic (recommended) setting, which checks for new updates and automatically downloads and installs them—regardless of whether you or other users are administrators for your computer.

Only users with administrator privileges may add or remove programs, including Windows updates. If you are not an administrator for your computer, you need to contact someone who is so they can change your Automatic Updates settings to the recommended setting.

It is strongly recommended that you log out of the computer administrator account when you are not performing tasks that require administrator privileges. If you are logged on as an administrator when your computer is the target of a virus or malicious user, the attack can cause extensive damage. For example, it might be able to reformat your hard drive, delete all your files, or create a new administrator account so the attacker can take over your computer. For more information about user accounts and why you should not run your computer as an administrator, see Help and Support.

My Internet connection disconnects before an update is downloaded?

If you disconnect from the Internet before updates are fully downloaded, the download process will continue from where it was interrupted the next time you connect to the Internet. If you use a dial-up connection, we recommend that you try to stay connected long enough for Windows to download all applicable updates. You do not need to be connected to the Internet to install updates, just to download them.

My Automatic Updates options are grayed out?

If your computer is part of a network, your network administrator might have configured your Automatic Updates options for you. Network administrators often need to implement systemwide changes to help make sure that the network operates smoothly and more securely whenever changes, such as updates, are applied. Your options might also be grayed out if you are not an administrator for your computer. Only administrators can add or remove programs, including updates.

I hid an update but want to install it later?

You can install all hidden updates by opening System, and, on the Automatic Updates tab, clicking Restore hidden updates. (If you are running Windows 2000, click Start, point to Settings, click Control Panel, and then double-click Automatic Updates.) The next time you connect to the Internet, Windows will check for all applicable updates for your computer, old or new.

To choose which hidden updates you want to install, go to the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/) and click Custom Install. In the left pane, under Other Options, click Restore hidden updates and then select the updates you want to download and install.

I can't hide an update?

If your computer is part of a network, a network administrator has determined that the update must be installed for security maintenance. The update will be installed on the schedule that the network administrator sets. In rare cases, Microsoft will issue an update deemed critical to how the Windows Update Web site or Automatic Updates functions. These updates cannot be hidden, so you will always be notified that they are available to be downloaded or installed so you can continue using Automatic Updates.

I can't uninstall an update?

Only administrators can add or remove programs, including updates. If you are not an administrator for your computer, you must contact an administrator to manage updates. If your computer is part of a network and you uninstall an update, your network administrator may re-install it as part of systemwide security or maintenance policy. In rare cases, some updates can not be uninstalled.

I want to uninstall some of the updates from a security package?

Some security updates can contain multiple updates, which are downloaded and installed as a package. You cannot uninstall some of the updates within a security package; you need to uninstall the entire package.

I've restored my hidden updates but cannot find the one I want?

If you visit the Windows Update Web site (http://www.microsoft.com/) but cannot find the update in the Restore hidden updates list, the update no longer applies to your computer. Updates no longer apply when another update, such as a critical update, security update, service pack, or other type of update, includes the same solution for your computer and that later update has already been installed.

I share my computer with other users—do we get the same updates?

Yes. Updates apply to the computer, not to each user account. If you install an update, the update applies for all users of the computer. Similarly, if you decline or uninstall an update, it will not be available for other users.

I have a home network—do all computers get the same updates?

Not necessarily. If you use more than one computer, including laptops, in a home network, each computer must have access to the Internet and you must turn on Automatic Updates for each computer separately. Also, if any computers run different versions of Windows, different updates will apply.

It's a good idea to use the Automatic (recommended) setting for all your computers so you can keep Windows up to date and help protect your home network, no matter who uses the computers. Unless you use the Automatic (recommended) setting for all computers on your network, or set policies using a domain controller, you need to be sure that updates are downloaded and installed for each computer separately.

My computer is in hibernate or standby mode during a scheduled update?

Updates will not be installed at the scheduled time. Instead, updates will be installed the next time you start your computer. This means you need to shut down your computer, not let it hibernate or stand by, and then restart it before the updates can be installed.

If you are an administrator for your computer and you usually hibernate or suspend it, you can install available updates as soon as they become available. The Windows Update icon Windows Update icon appears in the notification area whenever updates are fully downloaded and ready to install. If you like, you can click the icon and install new updates before the scheduled time.

My computer is turned off during a scheduled update?

Any updates that have been downloaded are not installed. Instead, updates are installed the next time you start your computer. If you are an administrator for your computer, the Windows Update icon Windows Update icon appears in the notification area whenever updates are ready to install. If you like, you can click the icon and install new updates before the scheduled time.

I never turn off my computer?

If you use the Automatic (recommended) setting, or scheduled updates, Windows will download new updates whenever you are connected to the Internet. Updates are installed at the scheduled time, as long as your computer is turned on. If any updates require you to accept an End User License Agreement (EULA), Windows will notify you and the updates will not be installed until you view and accept the agreement.

Some updates cannot be installed unless your computer is restarted. For these, Windows notifies you that your computer needs to be restarted for security maintenance. If you are an administrator for your computer, you can delay the restart. Otherwise, Windows will warn you and then restart your computer so the updates can begin to help protect your computer.

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