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Keeping up-to-date is an important part of staying safe. Sometimes that means disk space is slowly used for more and more updates. And sometimes not.

There are different softwares installed on my Win XP (I am still on it). And I find that many of them keep themselves updating automatically from the internet. These are like Avast Anti Virus (program updates apart from the virus def files updates), Adobe Flash, JREs etc.

My question is - all these downloads do they keep adding to the older installation (and eating into my disk-space) or they replace the older installation?

And what about windows updates like the IE updates - where there are options to roll back to previous versions?

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

I don't mean to be flippant, but the reality is exactly that: some updates are cumulative, some are replacements, and others ... well, others you get to decide.

Let's look at some of those scenarios.

If I Could Turn Back Time...

"But this is a choice made by the designers of the software. Most will choose to replace previous versions completely ..."

If you can roll back an update, it's almost certain that the files that update replaced are still on your machine. That means that the update process is slowly taking up more and more disk space.

Windows is a great example.

An older article, Can NtUninstall folders be deleted? actually shows that a certain set of folders are created when updates are applied, for the express purpose of being able to revert from those updates. In fact, if in Windows XP you go to Control Panel, Add/Remove programs and click the "Show updated" checkbox:

Windows XP showing updates

you'll find that you have a much longer list of items as all the individual updates are enumerated. Many of them include the ability to be removed, implying that the files that they replaced have been kept on your system for just such an occasion.

An Update is an Update is...

Not all updates are created equal.

For example, your anti-malware tools should be updating their databases daily. Would you ever consider or want to roll back to the previous days database of malware? That seems unlikely. So unlikely that the update process is a true replacement - today's malware database replaces yesterdays. Aside from the difference in size between the two versions of the database (it's pretty likely that today's is somewhat larger than yesterdays, simply because new viruses have been found and added), there's really no cumulative growth in size.

Software manufacturers can choose to have their updates operate the same way. An update to Flash, for example, is pretty likely to replace the previous version completely. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that most software updates work this way, and that it's Windows and some Microsoft products that are the exceptions by providing the ability to roll back an update at all.

But this is a choice made by the designers of the software. Most will choose to replace previous versions completely, thus not adding dramatically to the disk space used. Others may offer the ability to roll back individual updates, which of necessity typically means that the old files are preserved somewhere.

Should You Care?

In a word ... no.

Honestly, if you're running low on disk space then there are probably easier ways to get more disk space the chasing after accumulated updates. Get a disk space display tool (there are several) and see what's taking up so much space. There's a good chance you'll find that it's not updates at all, but more likely things like caches, temporary files and a host of other random things that are easily identified as being large, and quickly dealt with to recover space.

And if you're not running low on disk space, then there's not really any point to trying to figure our the cumulative updates thing. Leave that for another day, if ever.

Article C4490 - October 17, 2010 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Arthur Sitko
October 19, 2010 11:26 AM

Good way to reclaim disk space is to delete your old system restore points-- Go to system - shut if OFF. Reboot and go back to system turn it ON and create a restore point!!

Les Meyers
October 19, 2010 12:43 PM

I have found that even though Secunia is great for notifying you that new versions of software are available for programs deemed security threats, their download solution doesn't always remove the old version (including Flash). After completing the update and rescanning the machine Secunia still finds a risk present with the older version. This has to be removed manually (and Secunia shows us where to find the culprit).

BarryZ
October 20, 2010 10:40 AM

First, you need to make sure that the computer doesn't have any viruses, malware, spyware or Rootkits on it. http://www.1usa.com, a national ISP based out of Reading PA, recommends Avast Pro anti-virus software, at www.avast.com.
1USA also recommends other brands, but this is the favorite. The PAID version of AVG is also OK but that's not the purpose of this discussion.

To clean out the Temp files, http://www.piriform.com/ has a free program called CCleaner that is good at cleaning out unused & surperfulous files. First you need to check or uncheck what you want it to do, and removing the installed WindowsUpdater downloads is one of the checkmarks.
After the files are cleaned-out, then click on the blue Registry icon on the left menu, and it will search for and remove erroneous entries in the Windows Registry.

Then, to keep the Temp Files at a minimum, go into Control Panel > Internet Options... and on the Advanced tab > Security section> is a checkmark for "Empty Temporary Internet Files Folder when Browser is Closed".

BarryZ
www.1usa.com national ISP service

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