Understanding Windows Update

by Barry Dysert
(last updated February 16, 2015)

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Windows Update is a feature built into Windows that can be used to keep your computer current with the latest patches released from Microsoft. You have to be connected to the Internet for Windows Update to work. You can have the updates applied automatically, or install them manually after they're downloaded. However you use it, Windows Update is vital to keeping your computer running safely and efficiently.

To launch Windows Update, display the Control Panel, click the System and Security link, then click the Windows Update link. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Windows Update dialog box (Windows is up to date).

As Figure 1 shows, my computer is up to date with the latest Microsoft patches. If it were not, the dialog box would include some sort of notice that updates were available. How the notice appears depends on the version of Windows you are using and the type of updates available. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Windows Update dialog box (updates available).

If you are being told to install updates, click the button or link to install the updates. Windows downloads the latest updates from a Microsoft web site and attempts to install them. Some updates require that you reboot your computer after they're installed, but others do not. You will be told which is the case after your updates are installed. (Because restarting your system might be necessary, you might want to close any other programs you are using so you don't run the risk of losing any data.)

You can change how Windows Update works by clicking the "Change Settings" link on the left side of the dialog box. Windows displays the Change Settings dialog box. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. Windows Update dialog box (change settings).

There are three sections to this dialog box. The first is how to deal with what Microsoft considers to be "Important Updates"; the second is how to deal with what Microsoft considers to be "Recommended Updates"; and the third section varies based on whether you are using Windows 7 or Windows 8. In Windows 7 it simply tells the system whether all users are allowed to install updates (versus only the administrator); in Windows 8 it controls whether updates for other Microsoft products are installed or not via update.

There are actually three steps involved in using Windows Update:

  1. Check for updates.
  2. Download updates.
  3. Install updates.

By pulling down the drop-down list under the "Important Updates" section, you can specify whether your computer should perform one, two, or all three steps automatically.

You can also indicate when you want the update process to occur, but how you do it depends on the version of Windows you are using. If you are using Windows 7, you can specify an update time directly in the Change Settings dialog box. If you are using Windows 8, you'll need to click the "Updates will Be Automatically Installed During the Maintenance Window" link to specify a time.

If you're ever curious about your updates, click the View Update History link at the left side of the Windows Update dialog box. When you click this link, Windows shows you a complete recitation of what updates have been made to your system. (See Figure 4.)

Figure 4. View Update History dialog box.

Here you can see what all updates were applied, when they were installed, and whether they were considered Important, Optional, or Recommended. You can also see the name of the update and whether it was successfully installed. If you find that an update (especially an important one) was not installed successfully, you can begin the troubleshooting process by clicking the Troubleshoot link.

 This tip (12309) applies to Windows 7 and 8.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 35 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer. He is currently a software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. When not working with Windows or writing Tips, Barry is an amateur writer. His first non-fiction book is titled "A Chronological Commentary of Revelation." ...

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What is seven more than 6?

2018-08-13 06:29:17

Janine Domaille

Sometimes when Windows installs an update, the keys on my computer don't print the correct symbol. For example, the @ sign and " are transposed. If I press the £ sign, I get the hash sign # instead. This has happened several times and I don't know how to stop it. Then out of the blue, a week or so later, it corrects itself.

The other thing that happens after some updates is when deleting emails using the red X on the Home ribbon, a single click deletes two emails at one go even if only one is highlighted. To ensure we only delete one email at a time, we have to right click with the mouse and then choose Delete. This is far more time consuming than just pressing the X on the task bar, especially if we have received a whole lot of spam or advertising emails but there are others mixed in that we want to keep.

What is going on, and how can I put it right immediately rather than waiting for the computer to correct itself. My husband and I are not young and we don't like it when our computer changes things by itself!

We have also had trouble with Skype updates and settings being changed stopping us from hearing what our caller is saying. I had to get someone in to fix this as we couldn't work out how to do it.


2015-02-16 08:20:27

PeterSloan

error 8024402C prevents checking for updates on home network PC's. Havent found a solution yet.... microsoft help site not helpful


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