This my friends is the very question to what ends up being controversial unfortunately, thanks in part to Microsoft themselves. You see, it all starts when you place a lock on something; people are curious and want to try and break in--get past the lock. If it weren't locked in the first place, then the curiosity tends to go away. This is only one theory of course, and one that I have found to be more true as internet security becomes even more of a concern. Where do I stand on this question? When you are dealing with hundreds of clients as I do on a day to day basis, I would like it if I could set all the computers that I manage to 'automatic' however, this is where Norton/Symantec and Microsoft got us all in to hot water with the one security fighting the other. Now within Microsoft's own supposed WGA (windows genuine notification) which keeps all things 'legal' has become its own worst nightmare when it comes to the usage of such programs as the Microsoft Defender.
I generally like to have the windows operating system get all the available updates automatically and have found this to be the best policy, since after all, it is the operating system and it should be the most important thing to worry about--not the spyware and antivirus issues, they come a close second and third. Obviously you need to have antivirus protection just as you should be running routine (if not daily then at least every other day) scans of the spyware issues (using such programs as Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy) which you can always get the latest copy of from the SOFTWARE/SUPPORT page. The programs like Adobe Acrobat reader, on the other hand, doesn't require 'automatic' updates but because we will quite often choose the 'typical' installation, the automatic update feature is installed as well, the windows start folder will now gain an adobe quick start file which is not required as well. Thing is, because the automatic feature is on, even though you may remove this from the windows start folder once, it will be placed back in there the next time an update happens. When does this update occur? When you start the adobe reader. Therefore you should be aware that you can turn off these automatic update notification features from within the programs options (which I would typically be doing if I was to tweak your computer), This is because I feel this sort of program is fine so long as you can read the .pdf file-who cares if you are not completely up to date. As for any security risk that may happen because you haven't got the latest adobe acrobat reader, I highly doubt this to be a problem, at least for now. Maybe if a certain virus or other spyware alert is released regarding a flaw in the adobe security then it might be time to update, either that or when you are actually having troubles with the program (freezing or not closing properly for example), this would be a good time to open the program, click on the HELP and then CHECK FOR UPDATES. (note that this is where most software programs will have a link to check for any updates available. If not, there may be a link to the software makers website where you can then check what is available. Using the rule "if it ain't broke don't fix it" applies to this sort of program. So if you use the theory that the automatic windows updates is a good thing, also realize that windows messenger (msn messenger, yahoo messenger, skype, AOL, etc) will also have some sort of built in updates (note that the msn messenger will happen as part of the microsoft updates if a critical alert is issued), but because these are meseenger programs, programs that are set up to run when windows starts (something that I also recommend turning off in the options for those on a dedicated internet line), it is one thing to use the messenger program but it should not simply start when you restart windows. You should still be able to have the option to log in to the internet using that program if you so choose, just as I also suggest you log off when you are done using the computer for the day. If you read my OPTIMIZING TIP then you will see that I recommend leaving your computer turned on all the time, but set up all your maintenance tasks to happen throughout the night/day, depending on when your computer will be idle for the longest period of time in the 24 hour span. Also realize that after said update has been completed, if you have already changed the 'automatic' status to manual updating, but have just completed an update, you will want to check the settings again since a typical messenger will automatically reset itself to "start with windows start up". Following the OPTIMIZING tip should be checked routinely, especially if you notice your computer taking longer to restart.
I also make it a point to do two full virus scans a week, the spyware scans run daily and any other program updates are done only when security issues are released or if the program stops functioning correctly. That is always a good time to check to see if there is an update for that program available.
Best thing you can do if you are unsure, is ASK SOMEONE THAT KNOWS THE ANSWER, since going ahead with any update from a window that pops up on your screen may end up saving you a lot of time (and money) by not installing something that appears to be legitimate simply because it looks like a 'windows' window.