If you haven't been religious about updating your operating system every time a security patch comes out, you'll probably be happy to hear the news: Microsoft is now shipping a CD that includes every fix for all versions of Windows, going back to the original Windows 98. The disc is free--you don't even have to pay for shipping and handling. Use this link to order the Windows Security Update CD.
Once you pop the disc into your PC's drive, the CD will act a bit like Windows Update. It will figure out which operating system you're running and the patches you lack, and then it will present you with the list of fixes you need. After that, the CD will install them.
The bad news, though, is that the disc contains patches only through October 15, 2003. So you'll still need to fire up Windows Update and get any patches issued since then, one by one.
New XP Update
Microsoft is readying Service Pack 2 for Windows XP. This huge bundle of fixes is being tested now, and the company says it should be available by the end of the first half of 2004. SP2 will apply, in one shot, all of the bug fixes and security patches that have been released since XP first came out. Perhaps more important, it has new features aimed at blocking attacks on your PC. For example, SP2 turns on XP's Internet firewall by default and automatically closes any unused ports.
SP2 will probably be too big for a dial-up download, so the update will undoubtedly be available on CD, just as SP1 is. Visit "Windows XP's Big Security Fix" for details about PC World's SP2 test-drive. Use the following link, if you want to see Microsoft's SP2 information in excruciating detail, and download the company's Word document. But be warned: The documentation is aimed at programmers.
If you are a Windows XP user and are tempted to put off getting the CD and wait for SP2 instead, don't. Release dates for updates as large as SP2 can slip, and in the meantime the bad guys will continue to scale up their attacks.