Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Preventing Disaster

Being able to recover from disaster is good, but preventing disaster is better.

There are several tasks that, if done regularly, will prevent problems with crashes, performance, and viruses. This week we are going to talk about one of them—running Windows Update.

Windows is full of security problems. You may have even read in newspaper articles about security flaws that would allow another person to take over your computer. “Why doesn’t Microsoft do something to fix them?” you might ask. The good news is that they do.

When Microsoft finds a flaw in Windows, they write a patch for it. Each month, they are posted to Microsoft’s website. Getting the patches is very easy to do:

  1. Open Internet Explorer
  2. On the “Tools” menu, go to “Windows Update.”
  3. You will be taken to Microsoft’s website
  4. Microsoft will scan your computer to see what updates you need. (When you are asked questions, go ahead and give it permission to do what it needs to do.)
  5. You will see a message telling you if there are any “critical updates” that you need. “Critical updates” are the only ones that need to concern you.
  6. Follow the instructions to download and install the updates.

The first time you update Windows, do not be surprised if you are told you need several dozen updates. You will find a large group of updates will be downloaded and installed, and you will then be prompted to restart your computer and run Windows Update again to continue the process. You are looking at as much as an hour even with a T-1 line, so have at hand some other tasks to keep you busy. Do not despair, however. After the first time, updating Windows takes only a couple of minutes a month. You will find many months you are told that you do not need any updates at all.

How important is updating Windows? In a word—very. In August 2003, a worm called “Blaster” was infecting computers all over the world. One source estimated the cost in lost productivity, lost revenue, and lost services to restore infected computer was in the neighborhood of $500 million worldwide. All of that stress and heartache was totally unnecessary. In July, a full month before this worm infected computers, Microsoft had already released a patch. Everybody who ran Windows Update in July avoided the worm in August.

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace;
making the complicated simple,
awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

—Charles Mingus

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