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Microsoft has enriched the human experience by adding one more universal excuse to the list that includes "Sorry, I've got to wash my hair," and "I have a headache." It's "I've got to do my Windows critical updates."

And this one has a higher probability of being true.

The day before this was written, Windows XP whined in its lower right-hand dialogue bubble that critical updates were available, and could we please get with the program.

The program, in this case, was six "critical" updates and eight "recommended" updates. Reading the descriptions showed the difference between "critical" and "recommended." As in, it is "critical" that you exit your burning airplane and "recommended" that you use a parachute in the process.

Whatever. The total download was about 30 megabytes, which, together with installation, took about 40 minutes, even with the high-speed Internet connection at the AP's headquarters. Well, what's 40 minutes to make a product you paid for work as intended?

A lot more than 40 minutes, it turns out. Microsoft's update Web site has a history feature that shows you what you've updated and when, so out of curiosity, a couple of clicks produced the list.

Since Sept. 19, 2000, the computer that this is being written on updated its operating system 113 times. If, instead of an operating system, it were a car that had been recalled 113 times, the Justice Department would be doing a dance on the manufacturer's head while Ralph Nader chewed on its ankle. But because it is software, a lot of hours have been meekly devoted to fixing mistakes that shouldn't have been sold in the first place.

Worse, of the 113 updates, 30 are described by Microsoft as "failed." Which means about one out of four attempts to fix what shouldn't need fixing have flaws.

An examination of the updates shows updates that undo mischief caused by previous updates, kind of like a second surgery to fetch the instruments left inside you by mistake the first time. But not to worry — Windows XP has a "system restore" feature that allows you to go back in time to settings that were working before you mistakenly took Microsoft's advice.

Sitting next to this computer is a manual Remington portable typewriter that AP writers carried in the '30s and '40s. Other than a ribbon change, there is no evidence that it has required either a critical or a recommended update, and it works just fine.

Wonder if Windows will ever reach that plateau?

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