Best practices for trouble-free Windows patching

Susan Bradley

For Windows users who manage their own system updates, the patching process is a bit like going to the dentist — you really hope it’ll be pain-free.

For making that twice-monthly chore a little easier, here are some simple tips and tricks to avoid patching woes.

Make the updating task a regular routine

If you’re a Windows user who handles updates manually, you might still be slogging through the most-recent Patch Tuesday releases of .NET, Windows, Office, and Silverlight fixes. My first tip for installing updates is to set aside a specific time each month to review and install them. Although new batches of patches typically come out the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month, in most cases it’s safe to tackle updates just once a month. (On rare occasions, an especially critical patch might require your immediate attention.) I tend to wait until the weekend following an update’s release.

Reboot your system more often — not less

Yes, I know it’s a pain to reboot your machine; but when it comes to patching, rebooting often is better. In fact, I recommend rebooting PCs right before installing updates. It reduces the likelihood that some unrelated issue is the cause of problems cropping up during the update process.

I’ve had computers fail to reboot right after an update was installed, and I eventually discovered that the root cause was something completely separate — such as a failing power supply, motherboard, or hard drive. Rebooting before patching might have revealed those types of problems and saved time wasted on troubleshooting a perfectly good patch. (It’s always a bit surprising that PCs can run continuously for months, then fail when rebooted.)

Expect 32-bit updates on 64-bit Windows systems

If you have Windows 7 x64, you’re used to seeing 64-bit patches. But what about those 32-bit Office updates constantly being offered up? It’s both common and perfectly normal to have 32-bit programs running on 64-bit systems. Windows x64 has a built-in emulator that makes 32-bit apps assume they’re running on a 32-bit OS. (The primary advantage of a 64-bit OS, as you probably know, is to allow access to more than 4GB of RAM on a system — especially useful for running virtual machines.)

You can tell whether an app is 32-bit or 64-bit. During installation, 64-bit software is automatically placed in the Program Files folder; 32-bit software is placed in Program Files (x86). (Windows makes this a bit more confusing than it should be. C:\Windows\System32 is the 64-bit Windows system folder, and C:\Windows\Syswow64 is the system folder handling 32-bit programs.)

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-05-17:

Susan Bradley

About Susan Bradley

Susan Bradley is a Small Business Server and Security MVP, a title awarded by Microsoft to independent experts who do not work for the company. She's also a partner in a California CPA firm.