Microsoft Windows background update blocks 80 patches

A Windows expert says the repair feature of Windows XP has been knocked off balance by a silent update Microsoft pushed out in July and August.

A Windows expert warned Thursday that the repair feature in Windows XP was knocked out of alignment when Microsoft silently deployed a batch of new support files for Windows Update (WU) in July and August. As a result, those who rely on XP's repair function were unable to install 80 of Microsoft's latest patches.

People have told us that we should have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself.
Nate Clinton,
program managerMicrosoft Windows Update

Scott Dunn, associate editor of the Windows Secrets newsletter, wrote that trouble ensues when users reinstall XP's system files using the repair tool found on XP CD-ROMs. "The repair option, which is typically employed when XP for some reason becomes unbootable, rolls many aspects of XP back to a pristine state [and] wipes out many updates and patches and sets Internet Explorer back to the version that originally shipped with the operating system," Dunn wrote. "Normally, users who repair XP can easily download and install the latest patches using the Automatic Updates control panel or navigating directly to Microsoft's Windows Update site."

But after using the repair option from an XP CD-ROM, Dunn wrote, Windows Update now downloads and installs the new 7.0.600.381 executable files. Some WU executables aren't registered with the operating system, preventing Windows Update from working as intended. "This, in turn, prevents Microsoft's 80 latest patches from installing -- even if the patches successfully downloaded to the PC," he wrote.

Dunn said he was able to independently confirm the glitch on a test machine. When WU tries to download the most recent patches to a "repaired" XP machine, he wrote, Microsoft's Web site simply states: "A problem on your computer is preventing the updates from being downloaded or installed."

To work around the problem, Dunn said users can install an older version of WU over the top of 7.0.600.381. The newsletter also offers instructions to register seven missing DLL (dynamic link library) files needed for the patching process to work properly.

Nate Clinton, program manager for Windows Update, acknowledged in the Microsoft Update Product Team Blog that there may be a better way to do things going forward.

"People have told us that we should have been clearer on how Windows Update behaves when it updates itself," he wrote. "This is helpful and important feedback, and we are now looking at the best way to clarify WU's behavior to customers so that they can more clearly understand how WU works."

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