Updates: frequently asked questions


Here are answers to some common questions about updates. To learn how to install updates, see Install Windows updates in Windows 7. For information about updates and your privacy, read the Windows Update privacy statement online.

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What are updates?

Updates are additions to software that can help prevent or fix problems, improve how your computer works, or enhance your computing experience.

What are software notifications?

Software notifications will periodically let you know about new programs that can enhance your experiences with your computer and the Internet. You can choose to receive detailed notification messages letting you know when a new program is available for download and installation. When you get a notification, you can review what's being offered, and get more details. You can install the programs if you like what you see. The notification will appear for a limited time, and you can close it if you're not interested. To turn software notifications on or off, follow these steps:

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Change settings.

  3. Do one of the following:

    • To turn on new Microsoft software notifications, select the Show me detailed notifications when new Microsoft software is available check box.

    • To turn off new Microsoft software notifications, clear the Show me detailed notifications when new Microsoft software is available check box.

  4. Click OK.

Where can I find updates?

For Windows updates, including those for programs that are included with Windows, go to Windows Update in Control Panel:

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Check for updates.

We recommend that you turn on automatic updating so Windows can install new updates as they become available. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off.

To find updates for the Microsoft Office System and other Microsoft software, go to the Microsoft Update website. Once you turn on Microsoft Update, this link will open Windows Update, where you can check for any new Microsoft updates. For updates for other programs and devices that you use, check the website of the publisher or manufacturer.

How do I let all users on my computer install updates?

By default, Windows only allows users with administrator user accounts to install updates. You can also allow users with standard user accounts to install updates. This can be convenient if you're using a family computer where most of the users have standard accounts for better Internet safety or parental control. You can choose to allow standard, non-administrator users to install updates manually with this option.

To allow all users to install updates, follow these steps:

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Change settings.

  3. Do one of the following:

    • To allow standard users to install updates, select the Allow all users to install updates on this computer check box.

    • To prevent standard users from installing updates, clear the Allow all users to install updates on this computer check box.

If you use automatic updating for Important or Recommended updates, those updates are installed regardless of whether the current user is an administrator or not.

What do the different types of updates mean?

Updates are classified as Important, Recommended, Optional, and Featured. Here's what they mean:

  • Important updates offer significant benefits, such as improved security, privacy, and reliability. They should be installed as they become available, and can be installed automatically with Windows Update.

  • Recommended updates address non-critical problems or help enhance your computing experience. While these updates do not address fundamental issues with your computer or Windows software, they can offer meaningful improvements. These can be installed automatically.

  • Optional updates can include updates, drivers, or new software from Microsoft to enhance your computing experience. You can only install these manually.

Depending on the type of update, Windows Update can deliver the following:

  • Security updates. A broadly released fix for a product-specific security-related vulnerability. Security vulnerabilities are rated based on their severity, which is indicated in the Microsoft security bulletin as critical, important, moderate, or low.

  • Critical updates. A broadly released fix for a specific problem addressing a critical, non-security related bug.

  • Service Packs. A tested, cumulative set of hotfixes, security updates, critical updates, and updates, as well as additional fixes for problems found internally since the release of the product. Service Packs might also contain a limited number of customer-requested design changes or features.

Do I need to download and install updates?

Yes. Updates do not take effect until they are installed, but to install updates, you must first download them to your computer. You can choose to have Windows automatically download and install updates for you, automatically download updates and notify you so you can install them yourself, or notify you to both download and install new updates yourself. For more information, see Change how Windows installs or notifies you about updates.

Windows Update keeps an update history so that you can check which updates were installed and when. For more information, read the article See which Windows updates are installed.

What types of updates can Windows install automatically?

You can set Windows to automatically install important and recommended updates, or to install important updates only. Important updates provide significant benefits, such as improved security and reliability. Recommended updates can address non-critical problems and help enhance your computing experience. Optional updates are not downloaded or installed automatically. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off and Change how Windows installs or notifies you about updates.

To install drivers and other optional updates

  1. Open Windows Update by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button. In the search box, type Update, and then, in the list of results, click Windows Update.

  2. In the left pane, click Check for updates, and then wait while Windows looks for the latest updates for your computer.

  3. If you see a message telling you that important updates are available, or that optional updates are available, click either message to view and select the updates to install.

  4. Select the optional updates that you want, click OK, and then click Install updates. Administrator permission required If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.

For more information, see Change how Windows installs or notifies you about updates and Install Windows updates in Windows 7.

How often should I update my computer and my programs?

As often as possible. Updates are the best way to prevent or repair known problems, and they can enhance the security of your computer. For Windows, the easiest way to install updates is to turn on automatic updating. Windows will install new updates as they become available. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off.

What happens if I forget to install an update?

Your computer might be at risk or you might experience unnecessary problems with Windows or your programs. Malicious software is being released all the time which uses vulnerabilities in Windows or other programs to damage or gain access to your data or computer. Windows updates and other software updates correct these vulnerabilities soon after they are discovered. If you delay or don't apply updates, your computer can become vulnerable to these threats.

Can I get updates automatically?

For Windows and programs that ship with Windows, yes. Just turn on automatic updating. For more information, see Turn automatic updating on or off. For other programs, check the website of the publisher or manufacturer to see if you can get updates automatically.

How much do updates cost?

Updates and software from Microsoft for Microsoft products are free as part of maintenance and support services. For other products, check with each program publisher and device manufacturer to see if updates are free of charge. Depending on your Internet connection, standard local and long-distance phone charges and/or Internet service charges might apply while you download and install updates from any publisher or manufacturer.

Why do I need to install some updates separately, before or after installing other updates?

Typically because these updates require you to restart your computer before they can take effect. You might, for example, need to install an update for Windows Update itself before you can check for other updates for your computer. In other cases, an update might be a new version or a service pack for software that you're currently running. To make sure that your computer is ready to install these updates, you must first install all important updates for your computer. After you've installed important updates, Windows will ask if you want to install the stand-alone or "exclusive" update by itself.

I share my computer with other people. Do we all get the same updates?

Yes. Updates apply to Windows and your programs, regardless of who uses them.

I have a home network. Can I update all my computers at the same time?

No. You need to turn on automatic updating or check for updates for each computer separately. For example, computers running different versions of Windows need different updates. Windows detects which updates apply in each case but you can't, for example, apply updates for Windows XP to a computer running Windows 2000.

Can I remove updates?

You can remove some updates, but not updates that affect important operating system files. You should remove an update only if you're sure that it's causing a problem.

For more information, see Remove an update.

Why couldn't I install an update?

There are a number of reasons an update might fail. Windows Update needs to be able to scan your computer for needed updates, download the updates, and then install the updates. If something goes wrong during any one of these stages, it can prevent an update from being installed on your computer. For more information about an error or failure, click the Help link in the error message. If there isn't a topic on the specific error, see Troubleshoot problems with installing updates for more information.

If you continue to see an error, see this automatic troubleshooter on the Microsoft Support website, or go to the Microsoft Answers website for more assistance.