Windows Vista Update: tell Bill who’s boss

Windows XP’s update process always seemed a bit oddly shoehorned into the web browser requiring various ActiveX controls to be installed over time.

Vista’s new software update is more neatly integrated into the system as a dedicated application but does it offer any actual functionality over the XP approach?

The answer is yes — if you know where to look.

A default Vista installation automatically downloads and installs updates — great for mums and dads who’d never get round to doing it themselves but it can be annoying for people who do know what they’re doing.

When Vista applies an update it often requires a reboot which means if you walk away from your machine for an hour and come back it will start pestering you to reboot incessantly.

Take control of when updates install

If you’re doing a clean install when asked to configure Automatic Updates select “ask me later” – you’ll get more control over setting up how and when updates are applied.

When the desktop loads either click on the Automatic Update icon in the system tray or go Start Programs Windows Update. When the Windows Update screen pops up select “Let me choose”.

Windows Update – Choosing

On the Change Settings screen there are a number of update options.

I find the most effective option for day-to-day computing is the third option – “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them”.

This setting minimises both bandwidth usage and drive space and gives you the best control over what’s available versus what you actually want.

It’s also worth ticking the checkbox to have Vista check for recommended updates as well.

Hit OK and the changes are saved.

Windows Update – Update Settings

Vista will check for updates straightaway and will notify you of any (which there almost certainly will be).

Other useful options

On the left hand side there are links for:

  • refreshing the available update list
  • changing the update settings
  • viewing the update history (very useful for administrators)
  • restoring hidden updates (more on that further down) and
  • a link to the incredibly thorough Vista Help app.

If you’re running Vista Ultimate there will also be an option “Learn about Windows Ultimate Extras”.

Windows Update – Main Window

Under “Install Updates” you can click on “View available updates” which gives you the full list of updates broken down by application and type.

By default Vista will auto-tick all the Important and Recommended updates and leave the Optional ones alone.

Find out what Microsoft is doing to your PC

Windows Update – Available Updates

Highlight and right-click any update and you’ve got three options: View Details Copy Details and Hide Update.

Viewing details gives you a rundown on the Hotfix details and links to the Microsoft Support page for that particular update — worth reading if you’re interested in knowing about the defects you might encounter in unpatched Vista systems and also what Microsoft is doing to your PC (not all updates are for the benefit of the user — some upgrade DRM protections and so on.)

Windows Update – Update Options
Windows Update – Update Details

Avoid unnecessary bandwidth-wasting updates

If you’ve got an update that you’re never going to install (for example a Vista Ultimate Language Pack) then Hide Update is very useful as it gets it out of the list (once you hit F5 to refresh anyway).

You can restore hidden updates using the link in the left-hand panel of the main Updates window.

Get updates for your apps as well as Windows

If you’ve got other Microsoft products like Office or Windows Defender installed then you can configure Windows Update to download updates for these applications too.

On the main window click on “Get updates for more products”. This opens Internet Explorer and directs you to Windows Update online. Tick the checkbox “I accept the Terms of Use” and click Install.

Windows Update – Microsoft Update
Windows Update – Microsoft Update 2

This adds extra updating functionality to the Update application – the main window now states that you’re receiving updates “For Windows and other products from Microsoft Update”.

When ready click “Install Updates” and Windows Update will head off and download then install the chosen updates.

Windows Update – Downloading

Failed updates: tracking down the culprit

If System Restore is still enabled (that’s the default when you install Windows so it will be enabled unless you’ve specifically disabled it) Vista will create a Restore Point before the updates are installed and depending on what updates are installed Windows may need a reboot.

Once that’s done go back into Windows Update and click on “View Update History”. Here you get a list of what updates were attempted whether they were successful and what date they were installed.

This is useful just in case things go wrong after an update and you need information to help in tracking down the culprit.

Windows Update – Update History

The more I use Vista the more it seems that the main benefit of the new OS is using features which are present in Windows XP but have been given a thorough going-over and are far more streamlined informative and user-friendly and Windows Update is a great example of this.