Sometimes I'm surprised by how much information isn't as well known as I expect it to be. Last week, a very computer-literate friend asked me how to speed up the reinstallation of a couple of computer systems in his home office. He knew he couldn't speed up the basic installation of Windows 2000 Server and Win2K Professional, but he needed to apply about a dozen hotfixes to each computer. The resulting setup, install, and reboot cycle prompted him to call me and ask whether I knew of any way to install hotfixes without having to reboot each time.

I had the answer to his question at my fingertips. Microsoft has a utility that lets you install multiple hotfixes with one reboot, and the program works on all versions of Win2K and Windows NT 4.0. The tool is called QChain.exe, and you'll find complete information and a download link here.

I've linked as many as six hotfixes by using the qchain tool and the simple instructions on the Web site. I've heard about installations in which users linked more than a dozen hotfixes with this tool before rebooting, but I'd be concerned about my system maintenance if I needed to apply that many hotfixes and probably wouldn't try to apply them all at the same time. You can run Qfecheck.exe, a tool that I've written about before, to determine which hotfixes are installed on your system, and thus verify whether the installation successfully deployed your long chain of hotfixes.

If you prefer to manually check whether your hotfixes are installed, or you're one of those meticulous system administrators who wears a belt AND suspenders, you can check the registry key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Updates to see currently installed hotfixes. Checking this key before and after your hotfix application will let you track what's going on with your system.

Other tools you can use to determine whether your systems need hotfixes applied are Hfnetchk.exe for servers and the Microsoft Personal Security Advisor for workstations. (The Personal Security Advisor also works with servers that aren't running IIS.) Given the continued release of nasty worms and viruses, I can't understate the necessity of keeping your systems updated with the latest fixes.