Windows Update Hosed my PC

Posted February 27th, 2005 by kyle

I have Windows Update configured to automatically download and install updates. Around February 8th, about 10 (!) security and miscellaneous updates were installed on my main development box. Some time after that, I started experiencing a problem with browsing of network shares on the LAN (our local network is a workgroup, with several Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows 2000 peers) — Explorer seemed to be selectively excluding quite a few files and folders from being displayed. Strangely, if I knew the filename and typed it in, the non-displayed files were still accessible, but obviously it’s pretty difficult to guess filenames. The problem was actually affecting things at the API level, as cmd.exe and our automatic backups were also affected.

I didn’t immediately connect the two events and initially thought that some other installation might have caused it. But after the same updates were installed on another computer on the network a few days later and it started having the same problem, I became very suspicious of Windows Update. Several searches for this behavior on Google didn’t turn up much. And I didn’t relish the thought of uninstalling all 10 updates one by one to determine which one was the culprit. Also, I had previously noticed that Windows no longer displays the updates in the Add/Remove Programs Control Panel applet, so I wasn’t sure how to even go about removing them.

A few days ago, I finally got frustrated enough with the broken network browsing functionality that I started removing the updates to see which one was the cause (after discovering the ‘Show updates’ checkbox at the top of the Add/Remove Programs window). The fourth one that I removed did the trick: Security Update for Windows XP (KB885250).

On a side note, the fact that the Add/Remove Programs applet has almost no keyboard accessibility annoys me to no end. None of Page Up, Page Down, Home, End, typing to search select a row, Ctrl Tab to switch tabs, or Alt R to Remove work. This was much more functional in older releases of Windows, and I can’t imagine why this was removed (it’s hard to believe there could be a security benefit to doing so).

Now that I knew the guilty party, a couple of Google searches did turn up several hundred related hits. The update actually seems to cause other problems as well, like issues with Save As in Word and Excel. Oddly, based on some of the posts, it seems that Microsoft is aware of the problems associated with the update but at this point isn’t planning on fixing them (?!@#$%). Robert Scoble, are you listening? Can you help with this?

I don’t trust it any more myself, but it is possible to keep Automatic Updates (automatic download and install of new updates) on while specifically bypassing KB885250. Choose Start -> Windows Update, and click Custom Install. KB885250 should come up in the list; uncheck it and check ‘Hide this update’ and click Install or close the window. This will prevent Windows Update from installing the problem update while continuing to install future updates. Or, if Automatic Updates beats you to it and prompts to install the update, choose ‘Custom Install’ there, uncheck KB885250, and click Close, then check ‘Don’t notify me about these updates again’ and click OK at the next prompt.

If you want to spend the time, there are some other ways to manually close the security hole this update addresses. See the ‘Vulnerability Details -> Workarounds…’ section in the security bulletin for more details (although by the way I read it, if you have the XP firewall turned on, the hole is already closed). I’m amazed that Microsoft doesn’t seem bothered by the wasted time and trouble they are causing their customers with this update. I am fairly tech savvy, and this problem wasted several hours for me, but it’s frightening to think how much time the average user will lose due to this problem (and how many will end up disabling Windows Update altogether out of frustration when they do determine the cause).

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2 Comments on “Windows Update Hosed my PC”

  1. Kinook Software Blog » Blog Archive » IE7 Already Losing Its Luster Says:

    [...] Beware that IE7 will be pushed via Windows Update after its final release. You may want to install the blocker kit if you don’t want that happening to you. I should be safe since I have Automatic Updates configured to download but not install automatically and always review any updates before installing due to problems in the past. Share and Enjoy:These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages. [...]

  2. Derrick Says:

    I followed Microsoft’s recommendation to install SP2. Once it had downloaded and run, the final message said that the install had fialed and that I should Uninstall SP2 and try again. So I uninstalled SP2. I lost all my drivers (printer, floppy, PCI-PCI, etc.) Also, my XP Home Edition would continually run the ‘Found New Hardware’ wizzards, ignoring that they had already been run. What a pain! I reinstalled SP2 (successfully [???), but I still have no drivers. I can’t print, bluetooth, etc. I tried to email Microsoft (One of two free online helps allowed, according to the website, but it would not accept my message w/o $35 that I WILL NOT PAY. Why does Microsoft have to suck so bad at these things?