Get free patching without Windows Update

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

My Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 articles about silent and flawed upgrades involving Windows Update have made many people wonder whether they should really trust Microsoft’s installer.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to Windows Update that will keep your system fully patched without costing you a dime.

It’s easy to replace Windows Update’s functions

In my previous columns, I reported that Windows Update has been periodically installing at least a few small executable files without notice to users, even when those users have selected a do-not-install option in the Automatic Updates control panel. This stealthy behavior upsets many people, but they don’t want to completely do without a method of installing new security patches from Microsoft.

Windows Update (WU) does three things when it scans a PC: it determines which upgrades are needed, downloads the relevant files, and ultimately installs them. Fortunately, you can replace each of these tasks without spending any money.

In doing so, you give up some of the ease of automation offered by WU and Microsoft Update, WU’s big brother, which also upgrades Microsoft Office applications. But the good news is that using alternatives makes it easier to update software from all major vendors, not just Microsoft.

In two previous articles, I explained how to determine which security upgrades a system needs. The best free scanner to diagnose your patching needs is currently’s Online Software Inspector. My Sept. 9 article explains how to use the service with Internet Explorer. A Sept. 13 article explains the steps using Firefox.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2007-10-04: