Friday, February 27, 2004

Windows updates made easy

Friday, February 27, 2004

If you are running Windows XP and are at all concerned about the security of your computer you will be well aware of how important it is to install all the critical updates made available by Microsoft. Every few months a new flaw is discovered in the code, which if not patched quickly could result in a malicious hacker gaining access to your system and wreaking havoc. One major bug which was unearthed recently meant that you could have your entire c: drive wiped out if you were unlucky enough to click on a specially formed URL. All I can say is ouch!

Normally you would plug the holes with these band aids in an incremental fashion as and when they are released using either Window's auto-update feature or by downloading the patches to your hard drive via the Windows download catalogue to be installed later. Nonetheless, every so often Microsoft gathers together all the patches they've released up until a specific cut off date and combines them into what is known as a service pack. These are single, self-contained files that can be downloaded free of charge from the Microsoft home page and installed in the same way as any other executable program.

Eventually there will come a time when it becomes necessary to make a fresh installation of your Windows operating system. This is the perfect opportunity to merge the service packs with your Windows installation files so that your operating system will be fully patched the first time you boot into Windows. This technique is known as 'slipstreaming' and the process, you'll be pleased to hear, is as simple as copying a few short commands into your run box.

In the following example I'll use service pack 1 to demonstrate the procedure. First of all, move the service pack to the root of your c: drive and create a new folder, again in the root of the c: drive, called SP1 - using this default arrangement will allow you to follow my directions exactly so there is no margin for error. You will now need to extract the contents of SP1 to this new folder. To do this, press your start button, select 'run' from the menu and type the following command into the dialog box...

C:\XPSP1_EN_X86.EXE -U -X:C:\XP1

Now create the folder C:\XP and copy the contents of your Windows XP installation CD to it. The next step is to combine the two folders together like so...

C:\XP1\UPDATE\UPDATE.EXE -S:C:\XP

Once the XP1 files have been integrated with your Windows XP installation files you can proceed to re-install Windows using a DOS boot disk. You will find more information on how to go about this in my Ghost tutorial. Of utmost importance at this stage is to note down your serial number. You will be asked to enter this close to the end of the installation procedure - if you don't know what it is you will have to reboot to get access to it. Doing this obviously requires you to retrace your steps from the beginning, something I'm sure you'll want to avoid.

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