Hotfixes are bits of code in the form of small files that patch bugs or problems in software, most notably in Microsoft™ operating systems (OSs). As vulnerabilities are discovered, Microsoft releases hotfixes or patches to keep the software as secure as possible. Microsoft also uses the term Quick Fix Engineering (QFE) to refer to hotfixes.
Hotfixes are automatically downloaded and installed when end-users have the “automatic update” feature of Windows enabled. Barring this, an occasional trip to Microsoft’s website is warranted to manually check for hotfixes. Patches might be rated to let the end-user know if the bug is critical or if the vulnerability only presents a low-level threat. Hotfixes are also explained so that the end-user knows what bug or vulnerability they address. Not all users will require all patches, and files can be downloaded and installed at the user’s discretion when updates are made manually.
A Service Pack (SP) is a collection of hotfixes bundled together. Windows XP was updated with two Service Packs, making the last distributed version “XP SP2,” though an SP3 may be released in 2008. Each subsequent Service Pack should incorporate all previous hotfixes so that if updating an original version of XP, for example, only the latest Service Pack should be required.
Keeping up with patches as they are released saves the end-user time and provides maximum security. However, in the case of a failed hard drive a new installation might be necessary. When an operating system is newly installed from the original CD, all hotfixes issued after its manufacture must be downloaded and (re)installed. This can take considerable time.
One way to alleviate this problem is to create an updated installation disk by slipstreaming all hotfixes to date along with the original installation files to a new CD. In doing so patches and Service Packs are incorporated into the new installation process. As time passes additional hotfixes will need to be added to the CD or installed after the fact, but this method still significantly reduces time and effort when faced with reinstallation.
Keeping up with hotfixes is crucial to maintaining the health and security of your computer system. Web browsers, firewalls, anti-virus and spyware programs should also be current. If you prefer to keep the automatic update features of these programs disabled, it might be a good idea to bookmark the manufacturer’s websites and set a weekly scheduler as a reminder to manually check the sites for patches or updates.