How often do you install a clean version of a Windows operating system either for yourself or somebody else? Although a lot of users are sensible and make full backups of their system using either disk imaging software or something like the Windows 7 System image function, there is sometimes no option but to reinstall because it can’t be avoided. Hardware failures, viruses, or even computers with poor performing or highly abused operating systems are all reasons to have to wipe the old system and start again. Some users even install their operating system regularly to keep it clean and running at maximum performance.
Whether you’re installing a new Windows by choice or by necessity, you will soon be pretty sick of wasting hours downloading all the hotfixes from Windows Update and continuously downloading patch after patch. Having just installed Windows 7 to see how many updates are available for the most popular version of Windows, it’s quite shocking to see it has 117 important updates ready to be downloaded! And that obviously doesn’t include recommended updates like the multitude of newer .NET Framework patches and subsequent updates after you install software like Internet Explorer 9 or 10 etc.
One solution is to use a slipstreaming application like nLite to integrate hotfixes into the install disc, but even these become outdated every month after the latest round of hotfixes. If waiting for all the updates to install doesn’t appeal, an alternative is to have a program store and automatically install the updates for you from a USB stick or external hard drive. While it isn’t as quick as a slipstreamed disc, this method is an awful lot quicker than waiting for everything to be downloaded and installed from the internet, and can be left to it while you go and do something else. Here are 4 applications that can do exactly that, you can even run them on a currently installed Windows to bring it up to date.
AutoPatcher has been around for several years and used to be distributed as a huge executable file that included all the update patches inside. After complaints from Microsoft in 2007, it was modified to download and distribute the patches direct from Microsoft’s own servers. AutoPatcher isn’t just a tool to apply Windows hotfixes though. Besides being able to install critical and recommended Windows updates, it can also do the same for Microsoft Office and install a number of extras such as the Office add-on pack, Adobe Flash and Reader, JAVA, the .NET Framework and Visual C++ patches.
The package itself is split into 2 modules, the updater module (apup.exe) is where you select and download the chosen update packages, and the Patcher module (Autopatcher.exe) which you run to select the updates and addons to install on the unpatched system. Make sure to select and download the latest AutoPatcher program, engine and common module updates as the patch installer module gets downloaded in the engine update.
Tick everything you want and click Next to start downloading. When all the required updates are downloaded, simply take the whole folder on a flash drive or hard drive to the target computer, or find the network drive, and run AutoPatcher.exe. After a few EULA screens and a file integrity check, the options screen will be displayed where the available updates and extras can be chosen for install. Critical or important patches will be ticked already, those in blue are currently installed on your system and don’t need selecting unless there is a specific need to do so.
Click the button and then wait for AutoPatcher to install all the updates you have selected. To use AutoPatcher all you need on your operating system is the latest service pack to be able to install hotfix updates as it doesn’t support older Service Pack installs. SP3 for XP, SP2 for Vista and SP1 for Windows 7. Windows 8 isn’t supported yet although there is talk in their forum of implementing it in the future. You don’t need a clean install either, even the latest up to date Windows can still install any other add ons or extras that aren’t currently installed. This is an essential tool to save serious amounts of time and effort.
2. WSUS Offline Update
Formally called c’t Update, WSUS Offline Update is another tool that can update a number of Windows operating systems to the latest patches, and also keep nearly all versions of Microsoft Office up to date too. Although like Autopatcher in a lot of ways, there’s also some differences. WSUS Offline Update can update any Windows revision and doesn’t rely on it having the latest Service Pack installed. This can be a great help as lots of computers still don’t have XP Service Pack 3 or Vista Service Pack 2 installed which makes Autopatcher unusable until they’re updated. It can also download and install updates for several different languages so you’re not restricted to just English.
After downloading, extracting and running the UpdateGenerator.exe, tick the boxes to select the operating system versions, Office versions and languages you require. Everything is split over 3 tabs called Windows, Office and Legacy products which includes Windows XP and Office 2003 as support for them ends in 2014. Some of the Options are very useful such as whether to download Service Packs, and whether to include Microsoft Security Essentials or Defender definitions in the package. The inclusion of C++ Runtimes and .NET Frameworks is also optional but leaving them included will be a BIG time saver.
Something else WSUS Offline Update can do is write the update package to an ISO image which can be burned to CD/DVD/Blu-ray. Great for older systems or if you don’t have the right sized USB flash drive handy. Alternatively choose the USB medium option to copy the updates onto a USB flash or hard drive. Once you press Start, a Command Prompt window will open and begin downloading the files from Microsoft, the wait could be long if you’ve selected multiple options.
Once completed, you can then take the disc or drive to another computer and run UpdateInstaller.exe to popup the installer window. Some options such as Internet Explorer versions, .NET Frameworks, PowerShell and Media Player will be greyed out depending on whether you have the option already installed or if operating system supports it. The “Automatic reboot and recall” option is a potential big time saver if you want the updates to be installed unattended. Be aware that the option temporarily disables UAC and also creates a temporary new user account called WSUSAdmin while updating. It will be deleted again after updating has completed.
3. Portable Update
Portable Update has been created with the idea of being able to download patches using an online Windows and then install them to an offline system from a source such as USB flash drive, via LAN share or network drive etc. It also uses the standard Windows API to perform the updates, the patches to be installed are copied to the Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder. This has an advantage of showing all actions in the Windows Update History log as if you had used Windows Update itself.
On first running Portable Update it will need to download around 85MB of files from Microsoft before it can be used. The program is split into tabs; Going into Search and pressing Start will start the process and look for updates that can be applied to the computer it’s running on. This will also populate the Download tab with all available update files that can be downloaded, the patches that can be applied to the current machine are ticked ready to be downloaded. Obviously if you want a complete offline update distro just click the select all tick box which will download everything to the Cache folder when you click Start.
After all the files have downloaded nothing else needs to be done. Now, when you take Portable Update and run it on a target computer, click Search to check which updates are already installed and what needs installing. Because all the patches have already been downloaded to the cache folder for offline use, instead of the Download tab, click the Install tab and tick everything that needs to be installed. Then hit Start to begin the updating process. This program is perhaps a bit safer than Autopatcher or WSUS Offline Update because it uses the Windows Update API for updating and doesn’t rely on the software itself to get everything right.
The History, Services, Settings and Log tabs are only really for informational purposes. Although Portable Update can update Windows 2000 SP3+, XP SP2+, 2003, Vista, 2008, 7 and 8, it does have one drawback. It will only update the same version of Windows you are running the program on to download the patches. For example, you couldn’t download the files on Windows 7 and then update an offline XP or Vista. For a true multi version update tool, you would need to have access to an installed copy of every Windows. However, if all Windows versions you want to update are going to be the same, Portable Update is very useful.
4. Windows Updates Downloader (WUD)
Windows Updates Downloader differs from the other tools here, because it does exactly what the name suggests, which is it only downloads the service pack files and all the hotfixes for a specific version of Windows. It does NOT automate installing any patches or updates but is more of a solution to get all the files and store them locally for deploying onto computers yourself manually.
The good thing is WUD works from a series of separate “Update Lists“, you download and install whichever ones you want into the program. Lists for Office 2003, Windows 2000, 2003, XP, Vista and Windows 7/8 are available although the Vista lists seem to have been abandoned since 2009. After installing the program, simply download and double click an update list file to integrate it into WUD, they are then switchable via the update list drop down menu.
The process is easy, once the list you want is displayed simply go through the list and select what you want, or press Check All to get everything including any Service Packs, Windows Live Essentials and Security Essentials etc. Then press Download and wait a while to let the program do its job.