To help distribute its most comprehensive security update ever for the Windows operating system, Microsoft Corp. is asking hundreds of millions of users to turn on a function called "automatic updates."
It's located in the "system" control panel, found by going to the "start" menu.
Users were likely given the option of turning on automatic updates when they first installed Windows XP, but many may have refused because they were concerned about giving Microsoft permission to automatically interact with their computers.
The company is now asking those who decided against it to reconsider, arguing that it is the quickest and least disruptive way to get big files like the security update onto your computer.
Consumers also will be able to download the update, dubbed Service Pack 2, from Microsoft's Web site all in one chunk. And eventually, Microsoft will send a free CD copy of the upgrade to people who request it.
With automatic updates, Microsoft will slowly download Service Pack 2 -- and future security fixes -- using a technique that reduces disruption to normal work, e-mail or Web surfing.
Microsoft estimates that about 90 million Windows users have signed up for automatic updates, and it hopes to add millions more as Service Pack 2 is deployed this month.
John Pescatore, vice president of Internet security with Gartner Inc., said his company recommends the automatic update function for consumers.
But he warns that it also downloads other "critical" software improvements that aren't security related. Although there's no evidence Microsoft is misusing the feature now, he said it could allow Microsoft to eventually counter a competitor's new product with an added feature of its own, delivered in real time onto Windows.
Microsoft senior product manager Matt Pilla said that in addition to security, the automatic updates are mainly to do with reliabilty and performance, and the system does not send out new versions of products.
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