How to Use Windows Update to Keep Your PC Safe

Keeping your Windows software up-to-date is not only a way to keep your computer running efficiently, but a security precaution as well. If you've been lax in keeping your operating system updated, getting it caught up is simple, and you can even automate the process.

Windows Update receives most important security updates on the second Tuesday of every month (known as "Patch Tuesday"), but also offers a number of optional updates at irregular intervals.

The process varies slightly depending on whether you use Windows Vista, 7 or 8, but once you open the right program, the rest of the steps should fall into place easily.

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(If you have Windows XP, the process is very different. That said, if you have Windows XP, you have only two Patch Tuesdays left, and should upgrade your OS or buy a new PC as soon as possible.)

1.     Open Windows Update. If you're using Windows Vista or Windows 7, you can usually find this option in the Start Menu.

All three operating systems also allow you to access it from the Control Panel. Open the Control Panel (via the Start Menu in Windows Vista and 7, and the Apps menu in Windows 8). Click System and Security, then click on Windows Update.

2.     Check for updates. On the left side of the menu, you'll see the Check for updates option. Click on that and let Windows determine whether your system is up to date. It could take 10 or 15 minutes to process the information.

3.     Install the updates. Critical updates will install automatically, but you will have to manually select less urgent ones, which Microsoft categorizes as "Important" and "Optional" ones. Both are in fact optional. When you've finished deciding what to install, click OK or Install updates.

4.     Schedule automatic updates for the future. If you generally keep your computer connected to the Internet, setting up automatic updates is the best way to keep your system safe and current. In the main Windows Update dialogue box, click on Change settings. This will bring you to a menu in which you can select the time and frequency for subsequent Windows updates.

That's all there is to it. Even if you schedule automatic updates, it's a good idea to run Windows Update manually now and then to see what kind of optional updates you can snag.

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