Why and How to Update Your Software

Diligence will protect your computer programs from hackers and viruses, eliminate bugs, and improve functionality.

March 1, 2006

Few computer problems can slow down your productivity and endanger your data more than using outdated software. Fortunately, keeping current is easier than ever thanks to automatic updates built into many widely used software, such as Windows, antivirus and antispam programs, and Internet browsers.

Updating your software regularly is critical if you want to protect your programs from malicious hackers and viruses. It’s an arms race between those who create the updates and those who look to exploit holes in your software. The good guys can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

Another value of regular updates is to eliminate bugs in your software. Today’s applications are incredibly complex, so errors often creep in during their creation. These bugs can cause performance degradation, compatibility issues between different applications, or inconsistent program behavior. That’s why it’s important to install patches available for your programs.

The third reason to apply updates is improved functionality. In the rush to get new products to market, applications are often released to consumers before all the bells and whistles have been added. Updates can give you features not available in a program’s original release.

Updating Made Easy

In the past, updating applications was a laborious and technical undertaking. Now, with a few mouse clicks, it’s done.

To illustrate, let’s use Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system as an example. Like many software programs, XP can be set up to update automatically as frequently as you’d like. Generally you should select a daily update option, especially if you are using Windows antivirus features.

To turn on automatic updates in XP, click the Start button on your task bar and navigate to the Security Center. Here’s the path: Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Security Center.

Next, go to the bottom of the page under “Manage security settings for:” and click on “Automatic Updates.”

In the window, you’ll see four options. Click the Automatic button, select “Every day” from the dropdown box, and set the time you want the update to occur. The time should be set to a time you know the machine will be on and you’ll be connected to the Internet. Click the Apply button, and you’re done. It’s that simple.

Setting automatic updates is just as simple in most other programs. Check the application’s help feature or visit the vendor’s Web site for instructions on how to run updates.

Although there is no 100 percent effective way to protect your computer, regular application updates can help keep you ahead of the security curve and fix annoying application bugs.

Ian Smith is a former technical support analyst for the Center for REALTOR® Technology at the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.