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The check was performed by querying the server for a file, "cucif.cab", which contains a list of all the critical updates released for the user's operating system.The Critical Update Notification Tool then compared this list with the list of installed updates on the user's machine, and displayed a message to the user informing them of new critical updates if they were available. Moore in early 1999 was critical of this approach, describing it as "horribly inefficient" and susceptible to attacks.Windows Update was introduced as an Internet web site with the launch of Windows 95.A link to Windows Update on the Start Menu gave access to additional downloads for the operating system.German technology web site published an analysis of the Windows Update communication protocol in February 2003, which received wide attention on technology web sites.The report, which was the first to contain extensive details of how the Windows Update communication protocol worked, also discovered that the make and model of the computer, the amount of free disk space, and the Windows product key, were sent.Microsoft routinely releases security updates on the second Tuesday of each month (Patch Tuesday), but can provide them whenever a new update is urgently required to prevent a newly discovered or prevalent exploit targeting Windows users.
By default, this check occurred every five minutes, and when Internet Explorer was started, though the user could configure the next check to occur only at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week.
As the number of updates offered by Windows Update grew, this resulted in performance concerns.
Arie Slob, writing for the newsletter in March 2003, noted that the size of the update list had exceeded 400KB, which caused delays of more than a minute for dial-up users.
Windows Update clients normally download updates over an Internet connection, although Microsoft makes provision for installing updates on computers without an Internet connection and a range of alternative methods and programs also exist to install updates. Security updates or critical updates protect against vulnerabilities to malware and security exploits.
Other updates correct errors unrelated to security, or enhance functionality.