Software & Apps Windows What Is Windows Update? Keep Windows updated with the Windows Update Service By Tim Fisher General Manager, VP, Lifewire.com Tim Fisher has 30+ years' professional technology support experience. He writes troubleshooting content and is the General Manager of Lifewire. our editorial process Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Tim Fisher Updated March 06, 2020 Windows The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide Tweet Share Email Windows Update is a free Microsoft service that's used to provide updates like service packs and patches for the Windows operating system and other Microsoft software. Windows Update can also be used to update drivers for popular hardware devices. Patches and other security updates are routinely released through Windows Update on the second Tuesday of every month—it's called Patch Tuesday. However, Microsoft releases updates on other days as well, like for urgent fixes. What Is Windows Update Used For? Windows Update is used to keep Microsoft Windows and several other Microsoft programs updated. Updates often include feature enhancements and security updates to protect Windows from malware and malicious attacks. You can also use Windows Update to access the update history that shows all the updates that have been installed to the computer through the Windows Update service. Windows Update Availability All Windows operating systems since Windows 98 use Windows Update, including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP. However, Windows Update doesn't update most of your other, non-Microsoft software. You'll need to update those programs yourself or use a free software updater program to do it for you. How to Access Windows Update How you access Windows Update depends on which Windows operating system you're using: Windows 10: Windows update is built-in and a part of Windows Settings, available from the Start menu. Windows Update (Windows 10). Windows 8, Windows 7, and Windows Vista: Windows Update is integrated as a Control Panel applet and is accessible from within Control Panel. Windows Update (Windows 8). Windows Update can also be accessed in Windows Vista and newer by executing this command from the Run dialog box (WIN+R). control /name Microsoft.WindowsUpdate Windows XP, 2000, ME, 98: Windows Update is accessible using the Windows Update website through Internet Explorer. Windows Update (Windows XP). See How to Check For & Install Windows Updates if you need more specific instructions. How to Use Windows Update Open the Windows Update Control Panel applet (or launch the Windows Update website in older versions of Windows). A list of available updates, customized to your specific computer, is shown. Select the updates you wish to install and follow any instructions given to download and install the updates. Most of the process is entirely automated and might require just a few actions on your part, or you'll be prompted to restart the computer after the updates are finished installing. Older Versions of Windows Update The Critical Update Notification tool (which was later renamed to Critical Update Notification Utility) is a tool Microsoft released around the time of Windows 98. It runs in the background and notifies you when a critical update is available through Windows Update. That tool was replaced by Automatic Updates, which is available in Windows Me and Windows 2003 SP3. Automatic Updates allows updates to be installed without having to go through a web browser, and it checks for updates less frequently than the Critical Update Notification tool. More Information on Windows Update Since Windows Vista, updates may have the .MANIFEST, .MUM, or .CAT file extension to indicate a manifest file, Microsoft Update Manifest file, or security catalog file. See our guide on How to Fix Problems Caused by Windows Updates if you suspect that a patch is the source of an error message or other problem. Some non-Microsoft programs install Windows updates if you don't want to use Windows Update. Some examples include OUTDATEfighter, Windows Updates Downloader, and Autopatcher. Windows Update is not the same utility as Microsoft Store (previously called Windows Store), which is used to download music and apps. Although Windows Update can update some device drivers, many aren't provided by Microsoft. These might include anything from a video card driver to driver for an advanced keyboard, in which case you'll want to update them yourself. One really easy way to download and install drivers without using Windows Update is through a free driver updater tool.