There have been a number of updates recently that extend beyond the realm of Microsoft and Windows Update.  To make things a bit simpler for friends and clients, I have compiled this checklist for keeping your computer software up-to-date.

  1. Microsoft Update:  Microsoft update includes everything that Windows Update includes, with the addition of updates for Microsoft Office and other Microsoft software.  To access it, go to:
    http://update.microsoft.com/MicrosoftUpdate
    In addition, your computer should be set to perform automatic updates (in Windows XP, right-click on “My Computer”, then go to the “Automatic Updates” tab)
  2. Antivirus software:  There are a bunch of them out there, but my favorites are Norton/Symantec and McAfee.  Make sure that your antispyare software is checking for updates daily, so you’re always protected from the latest threats.
  3. Microsoft AntiSpyware (beta):  I highly recommend that all Windows users run Microsoft Antispyware.  If you already have Microsoft Antispyware running on your computer, open it and check when it expires.  Click on the “Help” menu and then click “About” to check the expiration date.  While you’re there, also check to be sure that you have recent Spyware Definitions.  These should be updating automatically.  The latest version of Microsoft Antispyware expires on July 31, 2005.  If your’s expires earlier, download the latest version at:
    http://www.microsoft.com/downloads
  4. Adobe Reader:  Most computers have Adobe Reader — a common utility for reading PDF files.  To be sure that you have the latest version, open Adobe Reader, click the “Help” menu, then click “About Adobe Reader”.  The latest version is 7.0.5.  If you don’t have the latest and greatest, download it at:
    http://www.adobe.com/reader
  5. Java:  The Java virtual machine is an essential part of web browsing.  Recently, Java announced a new version which plugs certain security holes.  To check if you have the latest version, go to:
    http://www.java.com/en/download/installed.jsp
    The page will automatically check which version you are running, and will offer to download the update if necessary.  The latest version is 1.5.0_06.
  6. Macromedia Flash Player:  Flash is another common web browser plug-in, and is included with most distributions of Windows.  A security vulnerability was recently announced for Flash, so it’s important to make sure you have the latest version.  To check whether you have the latest version and download an update, if necessary, go to:
    http://www.macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it covers the current “hot buttons” for software security.  Of course, none of these really matter if you don’t practice safe computing habits.  Be suspicious of e-mail attachments, “free” programs from vendors other than Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc., and remember that the cleaner you keep your computer (in regard to loading software, utilities, etc.), the better it will treat you.

One final note…  if you’re interested in simplifying all of this, Microsoft is bringing out a new service called OneCare, which will streamline computer updates, antivirus, antispyware, etc. into one easy subscription service.  Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but you can go ahead and sign up for a free beta program at:
http://www.imagine-msn.com/minisites/onecare