Home Office: 11 Easy Ways to Keep a PC Up-to-Date
I'll bet that you need something to worry about. Start with the latest rollout of ever more dangerous viruses and worms. Then wonder whether you have all the latest updates and hot fixes for your programs and devices. My strategy for staying one step ahead of the bad guys combines news feeds, alerts, online lists, and a few indispensable sites that deliver the information my PC can't live without.
Even with such snazzy new tools as instant messaging and RSS feeds (more about them later), I get most of my technology information the traditional way--via e-mail and by surfing the Web. Here are my au courant essentials.
First, make sure that you have Windows XP set to check for updates automatically (this feature isn't available in other versions of Windows, which you have to update manually). Right-click My Computer and choose Properties, Automatic Updates. Check Keep my computer up to date. (See this month's Internet Tips column for more on Automatic Updates.) Under 'Settings', choose either to be notified when updates are available, so that you can download them yourself, or to have Windows download them automatically and alert you prior to installing them. (I skip the automatic installs because I want to know what Microsoft is up to.)
Until recently, Microsoft supplied a free CD containing all critical Windows updates through 2003. My guess is they'll do it again. Check Microsoft's Security at Home page for the availability of the CD. If Microsoft does send out the CD again, you'll have to wait two to four weeks for delivery.
And don't forget to download and install Windows XP's new Service Pack 2, which improves the OS's security.
To keep up with happenings in the Redmond Empire, I subscribe to KbAlertz a free e-mail service from Scott Cate and Dave Wanta that covers important new Microsoft Knowledge Base articles. One of the service's recent alerts resolved a USB printing problem that had been plaguing me for months.
Download a Big Fix
BigFix (free for consumers) checks my PC for bugs, security risks, and outdated software. When you're asked during install whether you want BigFix to run every time you boot, say no. (Run the utility manually once a week.) After installing BigFix, open it and select Go, Subscribe to sign up for your version of Windows.
To keep my primary e-mail inbox from overflowing, I use a Web-based account for alerts and lists. (I'm lucky enough to have a Google Gmail account with 1GB of storage, but a Yahoo account with 100MB of storage would work, too.)
The hottest new technology for gathering information is RSS feeds (it stands for Really Simple Syndication, among other things). Instead of hunting down news and alerts yourself, you can subscribe to sites and services that send the data directly to you. The RSS format is easy to scan for critical headlines. And whereas my ISP's spam filter inadvertently blocks some e-mail lists, all of my RSS feeds get through to my inbox.
In order to use this technology, you must have an RSS reader. My favorite is FeedDemon, which also earned the Editor's Pick from last July's "News on Demand" roundup of RSS software. FeedDemon works very much like a program I'm already accustomed to--Internet Explorer. It comes with almost 180 RSS feeds presubscribed (because I was interested only in technology and news, I deleted almost half of the offerings). I love FeedDemon's Auto-discovery feature: If I browse to a Web page that has feeds, the program can quickly add them--no muss, no fuss. Unfortunately, FeedDemon costs $30, but it's worth it. Visit the Bradbury Software site to download the trial version. Pluck RSS Reader is a good, free alternative.
I'm interested in reading about upcoming products and those currently being tested. So I log on to WinBeta to see what is moving through Microsoft's product pipeline. Also cool are BugBlog's RSS feeds, which save me grief by telling me about software glitches and workarounds.
I gotta run. I just got an RSS feed from my wife, Judy, alerting me to the latest news: My dinner's getting cold.