Types of Updates

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Types of Updates

There are three types of updates:

  • Service packs
  • Regular updates
  • Security updates

Service packs upgrade systems to the most current code base. Updates and security updates resolve a known issue. Updates should be adopted on an as-needed basis. They should be evaluated and applied only if computers within the organization are experiencing the problem the update is designed to resolve.

We recommend that organizations install critical updates and service packs as soon as they become available.

Service Packs

A service pack is a periodic update that corrects problems in one version of a product. In addition to correcting known problems, service packs provide tools, drivers, and updates that extend product functionality, including enhancements developed after the product was released. Specifically, service packs are designed to get software users to the current code base for the product in question. This is important because the current code base is where developers update the code.

Service packs keep the product current, and they update and extend a computer's functionality. Service packs may also contain a limited number of customer-requested design changes or features.

Service packs are product-specific, so there are separate ones for each product. Being product-specific does not, however, mean that they are Stock-Keeping Unit (SKU)-specific. For example, Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0 and Windows NT Workstation 4.0 use the same service pack. Service packs are cumulative, which means that each new service pack contains all the updates from previous service packs, as well as any new updates. Users do not need to install a previous service pack before they install the latest one. For example, Service Pack 6a contains all the updates in service packs 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.


Updates are code fixes for products that are provided to individual customers when those customers experience critical problems for which no feasible workaround is available.

Updates are not intended for general installation, since they do not undergo extensive beta testing when they are created. Microsoft targets update support toward enterprise-level customers and designs it to provide an extra level of security for mission-critical software systems. Updates may not be distributed outside the customer organization without written legal consent from Microsoft.

Updates are not regression tested. They are very specific, and only those organizations that experience the exact problems the updates address should apply them. These organizations must be using the current software version with the latest service pack.

For an issue to be evaluated for a potential update, general criteria to meet are:

  • The current code represents excessive loss of work or revenue to the customer
  • No reasonable, customer-accepted workaround exists
  • The customer has a Premier account, which is given a priority

Groups of updates are periodically incorporated into service packs that undergo more rigorous testing and are then made generally available to other customers.

Some customers may receive a custom update that is designed to enhance functionality present only within their organization. These custom updates will not be made generally available.

Security Updates

Security updates address security vulnerabilities. Attackers wanting to break into systems can exploit such vulnerabilities. Security updates are analogous to updates, but should be considered mandatory, and they must be deployed quickly.

For more information on security-related updates, see the following:

  • Microsoft Security Web site - For detailed information on security issues and security related updates
  • Microsoft Update - This tool uses Microsoft ActiveX technology to scan a computer connected to the Microsoft Update Web site. It collects information on what has been installed on that computer and presents a list of suggested components that need upgrading based on the most up-to-date and accurate versions.
  • Microsoft Security Updates Web site - To search for security-related updates.
  • Microsoft Office Product Updates - Product-specific security update download pages are available for Microsft Office products.
  • Microsoft Download Center - The Microsoft Download Center is searchable for security-related updates using the "security_patch" keyword. The Microsoft Download Center enables searches by product name, product category, and operating system. This site is best for browsing or if the other methods described here have failed to produce adequate results.