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I have a neighbor with and old computer with XP on it which someone gave to her. She's heard about internet hackers on TV and she wants to make the computer more secure and she asked for my help. Windows update is disabled on her computer for some reason. Can it be activated or will it make her computer unusable?

Obviously, she should buy a new computer with legal windows on it, but she can't afford it. Should I turn on Windows update on her computer or it would ask for some license key, so it is better to leave it as is? I use Linux, so I'm not familiar with updating Windows, let alone a pirated one, and I don't want to make her computer accidentally unusable.

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Well, even if she decided to convert to a genuine copy of Windows XP; buying a new computer wouldn't be necessary unless there were evident and major enough to justify hardware problems - i.e. Hardware written off. – user209959 Mar 24 '13 at 9:36

I wrote this in a comment, but it's an important enough point that I think it belongs in a full-fledged answer: Users who suspect they have a pirated (or "non-genuine," as Microsoft calls it) copy of Windows should still install all security updates and service packs. Contrary to popular myth, Microsoft does not prevent non-genuine copies of Windows from downloading service packs, update rollups, critical reliability updates, compatibility updates, and most software upgrades. (After all, if a pirated computer gets malware because security updates aren't installed, it endangers us all).

Non-genuine copies of Windows are not allowed to use the Windows Update and Microsoft Updates Web sites, but they can still use the Automatic Updates client to download critical and important updates, and the update service does not check to see if Windows is genuine, forcibly download anti-piracy updates, or search for and disable pirated software on the local computer.

For more information, see this entry in the Windows Security Blog.

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But the guys at Microsoft can simply disable illegal copies remotely if they want to, can't they? That's why I'm hesitating turning on automatic update, because it can cause problems for her later. – Dan Oct 16 '09 at 18:07
I mean they can decide to disable illegal copies one day. Who knows. – Dan Oct 16 '09 at 18:07
I suppose anyone can do anything to anyone, but thinking like that is no way to live one's life. In any event, I know (unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm at liberty to say yet just how I know) that this is a message that Microsoft is making a particular effort to spread at the present time, for precisely the reason I mentioned earlier: no one benefits if computers get malware because they haven't been updated. It's up to you how much credence you want to give that rationale, although if your suspicion of Microsoft is that high then I agree with CarlF that you're better off running Linux. – phenry Oct 16 '09 at 18:20
Yes Microsoft guys can disable pirated PCs. But according to the privacy laws, it cannot use the data obtained from pirated PCs to pin point the PC & lock out the PC or get the person arrested for piracy. – Ganesh R. Oct 16 '09 at 18:46
To be fair, the "myth" didn't come out of nowhere. Vista RTM pretty much worked this way: – wfaulk Oct 16 '09 at 22:30

Really, the answer is "install Linux" but obviously you don't want to do that.

You can grab the necessary Windows updates offline and install them without activating Windows Update:

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Someone wrote WGA should not be installed. Is it possible to avoid installing it when using an offline update? I see no such filter feature on the screenshots on the link you posted. – Dan Oct 16 '09 at 18:03

It can do, if Genuine Advantage hasn't been installed yet then it will be fine, you just can't update apart from system critical stuff.

I'd update, but make sure you don't install geniune advantage.

Remember that Windows 7 is only about £70, (, so it's not a massive amount of money.

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Is installing geniune advantage a choice? Isn't it forced? BTW, google says there is thing called offline update. Is it a better alternative than the online update (checking credentials), or it's completely the same? – Dan Oct 16 '09 at 17:29
Yeah, Windows 7 is not too expensive, but I'm not sure her old computer can run it. Does win7 work well on old hardware? – Dan Oct 16 '09 at 17:30
if you use the "notify before download" method in xp's automatic updates, you can uncheck WGA (genuine advantage) before it's downloaded. if it asks, tell it never to offer it again. – quack quixote Oct 16 '09 at 17:41
Regarding old hardware, Win7 is way better than Vista and my experience is that yes, it is possible as long as it gets enough RAM (2GB) and the processor isn't too slow. If the hardware struggles with XP already or is kinda slow, then Win7 is not feasible. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 16 '09 at 17:42
Yeah, I've run 7 on a 1GB system with a P4 processor and it was smooth. – Rich Bradshaw Oct 17 '09 at 7:48

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