Two ways to update MS Office for security

Don't neglect the security of your Microsoft apps. Here are two ways to keep up-to-date.

Windows itself gets plenty of attention when it comes to stressing the importance of security updates, patches and maintenance; but sometimes Windows applications don't get all the attention (or respect) that they deserve. Nevertheless, packages like Microsoft Office need regular checks to see if they're current and up-to-date, just like the operating system does.

Today, there are at least two ways to check on the concurrency of specific Office installations:

  • From the target machine, you can access Microsoft Office Update (or start from your built-in Windows Update menu entry on the Start menu, and select Office Update from the menu bar at the top of the resulting window). Once you check there, click the Check for Update link to launch the update checker.
  • Microsoft also offers an Office Inventory Update Tool that you can use to check Office update status on one or more machines across a network (provided they can access a server share when network access is desired).

If you've got only a small number of machines to check, and it's not too inconvenient to access each machine, the MS Office Update tool works fine. But if you've got numerous machines to check, or you can't easily sit down in front of those machines, you may find the Office Inventory Update Tool a bit more convenient and helpful.

Both tools do the same thing, but deliver their results in different forms. The Office Update tool provides a nice, selectable checklist that users can easily drive to update individual systems (warning: have the install CD for the Office version in use available, or a pointer to a shared directory where those files are available, along with the corresponding Data1.msi file that the installer uses during the update process). The Office Inventory Update Tool reads a catalog of current and expired patches, fixes and service packs to determine what's current and what needs updating as it scans office packages and files on the machines where the inventory.exe program is run.

Interestingly, the Office Inventory Update Tool reads XML data to build its catalog and perform its analysis, and writes an XML output file that you can then open in a Web browser (or parse to build a batch file to drive the update process, since Microsoft's kind enough to include complete URLs for patch downloads in the results file it creates for you). Also, the tool can output CSV or TSV text files for easy import into various management consoles, and also produces files compatible with the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer (MBSA) and Microsoft's Software Update Services (SUS) component in Systems Management Server (SMS).

The details on the two command line programs involved—inventory.exe, which collects the data, and convert.exe, which converts it into the format of your choice (XML by default) -- are available on the Office Inventory Update Tool page. Try it out!


Thomas Alexander Lancaster IV is a consultant and author with over 10 years experience in the networking industry, focused on Internet infrastructure.


This was first published in January 2004

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