Sunday, September 18, 2011

What To Update?

Update May 2019: Please read this article, it supersedes what follows here. 

Revised September 18th 2011 and October 3rd.

All to often I hear from customers remarks like “There are always these reminders to update this or that but I am afraid to do something wrong so I always say NO”. I do understand the basic impulse behind this reaction; I always ask “Why didn’t you ask me?”. And that is where we usually have to leave it because I am at their home to do a job.

There is an easy answer to the title question: “Every program you use”. But I realize that this answer raises for most of my customers even more questions; it appears that is not a correct answer.

Here is an updated attempt to put together a list of programs that IMHO should always be kept up-to-date. Please respond with as many suggestions, critical remarks and questions as possible right here in the blog by using the Comment feature. I hope this list will grow and become a good point of reference for the ubiquitous question “What should I Update?”. The bolded words are a list of what you should keep up to date.

Windows itself and all other programs from Microsoft need to be kept up-to-date all the time. My experience shows over and over that the standard Windows feature called “Automatic Update” is not really dependable. On computers I have set up you will find a desktop icon for Windows Update or Microsoft Update. Although the background color will be different on your computer they look like this:

     Windows XP              Vista/7

When Automatic Updates has worked it may show you a small icon in the tray area (bottom right corner of the screen).
image           image
Windows XP       Vista/7
When you rest your mouse cursor on one of these icons Windows will tell you for example that “Updates are ready for your computer. Click here to install them” or “Updates have been installed. Click here to restart”. Well, please do that; Windows is telling you that important security relevant changes have been made and you need to allow Windows to complete this process!

Any and all security programs like anti virus, adware- and spyware scanners and the like have to be kept up-to-date.

Your web browser, hopefully Firefox, has to be kept up-to-date. It should check for updates automatically but this sometimes just does not work. Firefox for example allows you in the Help menu in About Firefox to check for an eventual update like this:
Another important thing are Firefox add-ons (also called extensions), little programs that add functionality to the web browser like weather status, blocking of advertisements and color coding of dangerous web sites in Google search results. Currently I install three extensions: Adblock Plus (block advertisements from known commercial advertisement servers), Forecastfox (weather info) and Web Of Trust (warns of unreliable web sites in search results). Firefox may ask you to check for Updates for installed add-ons.

After you have done the check you may be told that there are updates available; allow these updates to be installed!

If it tells you that “No updates were found” just close the window.  

Another slightly more detailed representation of Firefox Add-ons on my blog is here.

Update 03/0/2016:
is a computer system independent programming language that used to be widely used on the Internet. It has so extensively been abused to distribute viruses that it hardly used any longer.

I do no longer install nor support Java. If for any reason need to have Java installed keep reading, all others please remove Java from your computer(s) and skip to Adobe....

All too often I find computers with terribly outdated Java installations; this is like playing Russian Roulette with a revolver that has five of six chambers loaded. Java mainly gets updated to fix security risks and there are many Java viruses out there that just wait for a computer with an older version of Java. 

The newer versions of Java have an Auto-Updater that should check at least once every month for updates.You find the most current version Java on

If you get a Java update you are NOT done yet, sorry. Newer versions of Java since about one or two years will normally remove older versions but they can do that only in a limited fashion. You have to check manually that there are no older versions left on your computer!

In Control Panel click on Programs and Features (in XP click on Add/Remove Programs). In the resulting list look for any Java entry with a version number lower than the highest, that is the most recent one. If you find older Java entries highlight them and click on Uninstall (or Remove). Here is what is current per Sept. 19, 2011, example from Windows 7:

Java In Prog-Features
Naturally this will change with future updates or releases.  

Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash and Adobe Shockwave are ubiquitous on the Internet and important to be kept up-to-date. Here is how you can check for updates yourself:
  1. Adobe Reader: Help menu, Check for Updates will tell you...
  2. The About Adobe Flash Player page has to be visited with every web browser that you use regularly.
  3. Adobe Shockwave Player; when you see a version number in the graphics box then you have the most current version. If not then please update immediately!
Please see below the paragraph beginning with "For the technically inclined reader…".

If you use the Thunderbird email program it too needs to be kept up-to-date. In Thunderbird you can check for an eventual update in Help, About Thunderbird. You will see something like this:
For the technically inclined reader I recommend Secunia PSI, a free program that will tell you when ANY program you have installed needs to be updated. 

Here is the list of the most important things that have to be kept up to date:
  1. Windows (better: all Microsoft software)
  2. Security programs
  3. ‏Firefox web browser 
  4. Firefox add-ons
  5. Adobe Reader
  6. Adobe Flash
  7. Adobe Shockwave
  8. Thunderbird email client
  9. Thunderbird add-ons
Please help to improve this list by making suggestions in comments.

As usual I welcome comments and suggestions right here in the blog. Thank you in advance.

Click here for a categorized Table Of Contents.


Anonymous said...

Secunia PSI was easy to install and run and updated 7 programs (including Adobe and Java which I was having trouble doing on my own), giving me a Secunia score of 100. but Secunia also found "12 programs requiring attention but not presenting security risks" that they state are "more difficult to Patch" and suggest their Advanced feature for anyone able to uninstall and delete files, but state if you switch to the Advanced interface mode that will disable their Easy-to-Patch (Simple) feature. Query: I'm wondering if anyone has used the advanced mode and how difficult they find it to be. If it is too difficult
once I get into it, could I go back to the Simple Mode? Thanks for your comments. And Thanks Ike for suggesting this program.

Eike Heinze said...

You are welcome, Anonymous.
Yes, you can switch back and forth between the Simple and the Advanced mode, I just did that to try it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Eike-

I opened your what to update blog for the first. It is a well-crafted explanation but does not mention an opinion on whether to update Apple?

Dave Pride

Eike Heinze said...

Thank you for the comment.
This blog post talks about the software that I recommend and install on most of my customers computers.
As I said in the second paragraph “Every program you use” needs to be kept up-to-date. So if you installed and use software from Apple then YES, that needs to be kept up-to-date as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Eike, I have always run a scan on my computer and it is set automatically to run at 1am. recently I lost the little icon for running the scan & update. which I do also. How can I retrieve this icon?

Eike Heinze said...

Anonymous (Jan. 23, 2016)
Thank you for reading this blog.
Please send a personal email (address in left side bar under About Me). Include info on what program(s)/icon(s) you are talking about.