Some patches are vital; others are a waste of time. Update your PC wisely and stay secure with PC Advisor.
Dealing with troublesome updates
If you learn that a new service pack is available for Vista, say, but worry that your current programs might not work with it, you have some options. Start by changing Windows Automatic Updates to specify either downloading without installing or notifying only. At the prompt for an installation method, choose Custom, untick the service pack or patch you wish to delay or avoid, and install the rest of the batch. You may be prompted from time to time to download and install the remaining update, but you can decline.
If an installed update subsequently causes problems, you can take steps to reverse the damage. If you have Windows System Restore turned on (Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools), you can return to a point before the patch was installed (but doing so may also undo any other recent installations).
An easier choice is to uninstall the patch. Go to Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs. Make sure the box at the top is ticked - the resulting list of installed apps will include Microsoft updates. As you scroll down the list, you'll see a large block of Windows Updates, identified by update number and date. Select the update with the highest number (or the most recent date) and uninstall it.
Windows will try to reinstall the missing patch the next time it has a chance to do so, particularly if Automatic Updates is turned on. To prevent that, change your settings so you're only notified of updates from now on, or they're downloaded but not installed.
There are some updates that present problems no matter how carefully you deal with them. Service Pack 1 for .NET Framework 1.1 simply will not install correctly for some people, for instance.
In this case, Microsoft suggests that removing a particular Registry key should make the service pack install correctly. Unfortunately, finding the information for troubleshooting individual updates can sometimes be tricky. Start by typing the exact error message into a search engine; the results page should include at least one Microsoft Knowledgebase support article.
In other instances you may simply want a newer version of, say, IE. Visit Microsoft Update, the Microsoft Download Center or the IE site.
Your OS isn't the only software that you need to keep patched. As hackers have begun targeting common desktop applications, vendors (of multimedia apps, in particular) have become better at pushing out their security patches. Here's how to update some of the most popular.
Firefox: Mozilla silently and automatically downloads its browser security updates in the background; when you next launch the browser, Firefox notifies you, waits for your go-ahead, then performs the installation.
If you think something hasn't been installed, click Help, Check for Updates. Note that full-version updates (an upgrade from Firefox 2.0 to Firefox 3.0, for example) will still take a clean installation from Mozilla.
iTunes and QuickTime: Whenever you launch an Apple application within Windows, Apple does a brief check and then notifies you of the latest release for iTunes or QuickTime (if you aren't already running it).
You can also request an update by clicking Help, Check for Updates. Once in a while, Apple will push out a notification of a security update for iTunes, QuickTime or both. When it does, you'll see a dialog box that explains what the update includes.
Apple sometimes bundles other offerings, such as Safari and Bonjour for Windows, with those updates - regardless of whether you have or want them. If you aren't interested, make sure you deselect them before installing the update.
Flash and Adobe Reader: Adobe pushes out security updates as they are released. You can request an update check by clicking Help, Check for Updates. In general you can expect legitimate requests from Adobe for permission to install new updates to appear shortly after you've booted into Windows.
Java: Sun recently ran foul of security researchers, who discovered that older versions of Java remained on the Windows machine on which the researchers had installed newer, more secure versions. With JRE6 Update 10.0, Sun now removes older versions of Java from a PC, but it doesn't remove any pre-Update 10.0 versions; you'll have to uninstall those yourself.
Don't worry if your PC is Java-less. Not all users have it installed on their desktop.