A patch of one's own

For the past three weeks, I've discussed the seemingly weekly patches that emerge for Windows, spawning various patch-automation tools from Microsoft and ISVs. This week, I continue with my readers' findings on these products.

For the past three weeks, I’ve discussed the seemingly weekly patches that emerge for Windows, spawning various patch-automation tools from Microsoft and ISVs. This week, I continue with my readers’ findings on these products.

In addition to the products I previously wrote about, one called Patchlink was selected for a US federal agency after an evaluation of alternatives by reader John Gambriel. “For about $US12 a year per workstation and the cost of a server,” he says, “patches are collected and distributed to the appropriate desktops for operating systems, suites and a multitude of vertical applications.”

This fulfills the agency’s need for resource management as well as security updates.

Jay Miller was the first of several readers who recommended a different product called BigFix. Its approach uses Fixlets, small files that detect potential problems and alert administrators or users to the cures.

Phil Schulan likes a free service called Catchup. “Catchup has separate scan functions for program updates, security patches and adware/spyware,” he writes.

Some readers praised free Microsoft utilities. Simon Mazzucca uses QCHAIN, a Windows NT/2000 tool, “when a new machine has to be prepared from scratch and a lot of patches and hot fixes have to be applied at the same time”.

Because most fixes require a reboot, people hate waiting for multiple updates. But Mazzucca uses a batch file in which QCHAIN correctly installs several new Windows files in a single restart. For details, go to support.microsoft.com, click Show Options, select Article ID, enter Q296861 in the input box, then click Search Now.

Bob Juch recommends Microsoft’s OCA (online crash analysis), available for XP users and “Windows 2000 Premium Customers” at oca.microsoft.com. You upload a crash report and receive an analysis of the problem. For no good reason, however, Microsoft requires OCA users to sign up for a so-called Passport account, which is a security nightmare of its own.

Other readers criticised Microsoft for causing the need for so many patches in the first place.

“How ludicrous it is that one would have to buy software to do nothing but manage patch updates on what is ostensibly a mission-critical platform for some businesses,” writes James Taylor of the East Cobb Group. “Considering the time a business has to devote to this process to protect itself, the utility should be gratis, with a rebate on the original software granted for every 50th use.”

Bravo — I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For being first to send me comments I printed, readers who appeared in this and previous weeks’ columns will receive a gift certificate for a book, CD or DVD of their choice.

Send tips to Livingston. He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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