Windows Update: The slowdown continues

Windows Update: The slowdown continues

Summary: I first reported on apparently widespread problems with Microsoft's Windows Update and Automatic Update services on Saturday. Since then, I've heard numerous confirmations of problems from others. I've sent e-mail to Microsoft requesting comment. Meanwhile, here's the result of some more testing I've done in the past 24 hours.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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Update: Microsoft got back to my request for a comment or interview. See the bottom of this post for details.

I first reported on apparently widespread problems with Microsoft's Windows Update and Automatic Update services on Saturday. Since then, I've heard numerous confirmations of problems from others. I've sent e-mail to Microsoft requesting comment. Meanwhile, here's the result of some more testing I've done in the past 24 hours.

It appears that Microsoft has prioritized its download servers so that the urgent MS06-040 patch is being delivered first.

  • On one virtual machine that has been running continuously for the past week, this patch was the first of eight to be successfully delivered at 6:35 AM the day after they were released. They were automatically installed via a forced restart at 3:00 AM the next morning, using the default Automatic Update settings.
  • This morning I started a second virtual machine that had not been turned on for roughly a week. The yellow shield icon flashed in the taskbar and then quickly went away. Although it appeared that the update had failed, a check of Event Viewer logs showed that one and only one update - the MS06-040 patch, aka KB921883 - had been downloaded. When I clicked the Start button and chose Turn Off Computer, a shield icon showed that the update was ready to install, and a manual restart installed it immediately.

It may be just a coincidence, but both of these machines are using the Microsoft Update service rather than the generic Windows Update. Are the MU servers getting preferential treatment?

Also, if you chose the past few days to reload Windows XP on a computer, you might discover that you're unable to download any updates at all. That's the case with one test system here, and I received a report of an identical experience from a colleague this morning. The unpalatable options are to run a PC without security updates - in my case, this means doing without every update issued since Service Pack 2 was released in late 2004 - or to go out and download dozens of individual updates and apply them manually.

Speaking of SP2... Wouldn't it be convenient if Windows XP users could download all updates released since SP2 as a single package to be applied at once? Since the beginning of this year, Microsoft has made each month's security updates available as downloadable ISO images. I'd like to see an additional ISO package, updated each month that contains all patches since the most recent service pack. It would be a lifesaver in times like this.

Update 14-Aug 3:00PM PDT: A Microsoft spokesperson replies:

After each security update release, Microsoft watches very closely to help make sure the updates are being deployed seamlessly.  It is still early in the August release cycle but we have not verified any customer reports of deployment issues at this time. Customers who believe they are experiencing issues with any of the updates are urged to contact Product Support Services for no-charge support so we can be made aware of the issue and assist them.

When verified known issues are identified by customers working through Product Support Services, Microsoft updates the security bulletin and associated KB article with information and guidance regarding those known issues.

Not exactly the answer to the questions I've been asking. I sent the following note back:

The issues I noticed last week involve delays in the delivery of updates to Windows customers with the Automatic Updates feature turned on.

I have kept meticulous records of the performance of Automatic Updates on one machine in my office. From December 2004 through January 2006, it routinely received updates within a day or two of their release on Patch Tuesday. However, beginning earlier this year, my records show that updates now routinely take four days or more to arrive via Automatic Updates.

In my original post, I documented several examples of people who posted public reports of what appear to be problems with the delivery of updates via the AU mechanism. In addition, I saw many reports of problems with connecting to Windows Update. In fact, I was seeing many of those problems myself. (I've submitted a support request but have not yet heard back.)

On three of four systems in my office, one and only one of 8 available patches were delivered last week, the MS06-040 patch. The others arrived several days later.

Does Microsoft have a service policy that dictates a maximum time a customer should have to wait for updates assuming their computer is turned on and AU is enabled? Are there metrics that show what percentage of Windows customers receive updates within one day, two days, etc. of their release, typically on Patch Tuesday?

I would be very interested in speaking with someone about Microsoft about the architecture of the Windows Update process and how it works. With hundreds of millions of WU and AU requests, I can understand that some degree of staged delivery would be essential. I know my readers would be interested in an explanation of how the process works.

I'll let you know what I find out.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • Ed, thanks for the follow-up...Have you heard a peep yet from microsoft?

    ????

    Have they offered any excuse?...("Excuse" was not intended as a vile, dirty word against Microsoft)....Have they yet offered a REASON for this?

    Your first article on possible broken update servers mentioned you haven't heard from Microsoft as to the cause of slow updates.

    Are you still in the dark or have they commented?
    Yodaddy
    • Waiting

      I received a reply from an MS representative this morning saying they would get back to me as soon as they have more information to share. Boilerplate response. I'll report if/when I get something of substance.
      Ed Bott
      • Who needs substance?...I'd like to hear any excuse

        Hey, thanks first for asking the question. At least they seem to hear your voice.

        I got a lot of respect for you Ed....I'll admit I never heard of you till last week, but still, I like the way you deal with things/people and confront them head on and wave away their spin without losing your focus.

        I'm bad about breaking noses and choking people...I got this anger management issue I've been working on....It does me good to see a guy like you handle things like you do.
        Yodaddy
  • Good work, Ed.

    I reported in response to your main article how two Dell notebooks are just sitting, not hearing hide nor hair of any updates from MS.

    As a result of your update to your article, I accessed Windows Update on one of these machines and installed the 2 default updates needed to access the update page, and discovered there must be over 50 updates available, but which are not being triggered by AU.

    Waiting ... waiting ... waiting
    OButterball
    • 50? I thought mine was bad.

      After I let them install WGA Windows Update lists 27 high priority updates as available for this PC.

      High-priority updates
      Microsoft Windows XP

      Security Update for Windows XP (KB921883)
      Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool (KB890830)
      Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer for Windows XP (KB918899)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB917422)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB920670)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB920683)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB921398)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB922616)
      Security Update for Outlook Express KB920214)
      Update for Windows XP (KB916595)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB914388)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB917159)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB911280)
      Windows Genuine Advantage Notification (KB905474)
      Security Update for Windows Media Player 9 (KB917734)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB918439)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB913580)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB917953)
      Update for Windows XP (KB900485)
      Cumulative Security Update for Outlook Express for Windows XP (KB911567)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB911927)
      Security Update for Windows Media Player Plug-in (KB911564)
      Update for Windows XP (KB910437)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB899589)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB901017)
      Security Update for Windows XP (KB905414)
      Security Update for Microsoft .NET Framework, Version 1.1 Service Pack 1 (KB886903)

      Automatic updates (auto download and install) are ON but I haven't seen a shield of any color.
      Hallowed are the Ori
      • Yeah, excuse me, I overestimated:

        There are ONLY [b]42[/b]!

        LOL! :D
        OButterball
  • Hmm, like XPSP3 maybe?

    "Wouldn't it be convenient if Windows XP users could download all updates released since SP2 as a single package to be applied at once?"

    And maybe they could name it XPSP3?

    What's taking XPSP3 so long, anyways? It's been two years since XPSP2.
    PB_z
    • Doesn't have to be SP3

      Because after a service pack comes out, you then have an increasing number of post-SP patches to install each month. I'm just talking about a cumulative monthly updates rollup in ISO image format.
      Ed Bott
      • I don't get what you mean by your first sentence...

        "Because after a service pack comes out, you then have an increasing number of post-SP patches to install each month."

        What are you comparing? Are you saying, for example, that XPSP2 users have more patches to apply each month than XPSP1 users? I'd say they're pretty much the same number: most recent XP patches have applied to both SP2 and SP1. Sometimes you'll find some for SP1-only (e.g. the hole was already fixed in SP2, or mitigated in SP2); rarely do you find that an SP2 hole needs a patch that SP1 doesn't need.

        In any event, issuing an XPSP3 would "raise the baseline" so to speak. Other posters have said that if you start today with a fresh XPSP2 installation, you have 85+ patches to apply to get yourself fully patched. If XPSP3 had been released by now, then a fresh installation of XPSP3 would require less patches to become fully patched.

        XPSP2 is two years old now, and we're supposed to wait another year for XPSP3? That's three years' worth of one-off patches that people need to install to get themselves up-to-date. Service packs are supposed to be ways to get these collected into a convenient interim package.

        XP is the longest-running Windows OS so far (e.g. it will have the longest amount of time as being the "current" client Windows). Yet, it's service pack frequency has been among the minimum of all Windows OSes. If SP3 comes out in 2007, that will be 3 SPs in SIX years. NT4 had 6 service packs in that time. 2000 got 4 service packs in 5 years. And even Windows Server 2003 is getting both SP1 *and* SP2 between the dates of XP SP2 and SP3.

        Why is this? Since XP is the first NT line for consumers, is MS afraid that service packs are too confusing for consumers? I don't know. All I know is that they delay for XPSP3 is puzzling, frustrating, and makes keeping our systems secure more inconvenient.
        PB_z
        • I'm saying they're separate issues

          A Windows service pack includes all updates issued up to that point and is cumulative. So when a new SP comes out, you can install your original media and the new service pack and you are done. You don't have to install SP1 and then SP2, because SP2 replaces SP1 completely.

          But a month later, you need to use your original media and the latest SP and the latest patches. And two months later you need two months worth of patches, and so on.

          So I'd like to see some way to conveniently download the latest post-SP updates without having to go find and download each one individually.

          That's a separate issue from service packs.
          Ed Bott
    • XPSP3 is called Vista.......LOL!

      And Vista Plus will include a working version of Explorer....At extra cost.

      Sorry, but I couldn't resist.
      Yodaddy
      • Ha ha.... not funny.

        Stupid comments like "Vista is XPSP3" are just that... stupid.

        They're working on SP2 for Server 2003 already... (SP1 was released just over a year ago). So what's taking the XP folks so long?
        PB_z
        • I tried to explain, but you said it was stupid.

          Like I said, XPSP3 is Vista....Vista is XPSP3

          But before you get upset, you got to look at this way: Vista is seriously delayed, no hard ETA yet, so that means they really need to consider an SP3 for XP, and they need to do it quickly.

          ....Therefore, XPSP3 is Vista for all practical purposes as far as I am concerned.

          And if the truth is known, if Vista was on the selves now, I doubt there would ever be an XPSP3.
          Yodaddy
          • Sorry,,Yo, you're wrong

            There is an XP SP3 on the schedule and I am certain it will be released in 2007 as planned.

            Windows 2000 had two service packs after XP shipped. SP3 in Aug 2002, SP4 in June 2003. So why wouldn't XP continue to be supported after Vista ships?
            Ed Bott
          • I know Ed, just being negitive....

            I'll sit quietly till I regain some objectivity.
            Yodaddy
    • They almost have it ready - It's named "Vista"

      Just a joke. Sorry Microsoft, I couldn't resist.
      WiredGuy
  • 85 + patches since sp2

    Just reloaded xp w/ sp2 on friday... 85 patches just for windows
    walway@...
  • Still Can't Update

    I still can't get ANY updates on 3 XP machines, and I'm a behind one batch of updates. I always wait until the next month to download the previous month's patches to give Microsoft time to revise the patches if there are problems. All 3 machiens are running Microsoft Update. I connect to the Web Site, choose the custom option, and it hangs at checking for available updates. The green status bar animation never starts. The whole thing just freezes and crashes my IE.
    adsanders@...
    • Found One Solution

      Today I tried updating using the Automatic Updates shield in the tray (I have AU set for notify but don't download or install). I don't like using this option since it uses BITS and takes much longer than the Updates Web Site. However, it worked, and I was able to download and install the updates. Hopefully after the reboot my PC still works...
      adsanders@...
    • Auto update service hangs the machine

      I have the same problem. I really noticed it when I added a new hard drive to my machine, because when I switched on the machine again I could not access the new drive to create a partition or format it. I got this done on another machine, but I got no access to the drive on my own machine. So I did a repair from the XPSP2 CD. And the problems got worse. I could download the 80+ updates but not install any. The machine hung on the initialisation. Also, I could access the old disks but not the new one (Windows Explorer hung), and I could not display the installed program list (the Configuration Panel hung). At this point I reformated the C: drive and reloaded XPSP2. The system now worked ok: I could now access the new disk, display the installed programs, etc. Auto updates also worked and I installed all pending updates. Ha Ha - now I was back to square one! The problem was back again, exactly the same. So now I went to MsConfig and turned everything off, then progressively back on. Guess what, with auto update service turned off and everything else turned on, the machine works fine, but when I turn it back on again, I get the problem back again. The machine hangs. For me this is conclusive proof that there is a bug in one of the updates to the auto update service, and I will no longer use it untill I hear from a reliable source (definitely not Microsoft, who seem quite unwilling to listen) that the bug has been found and corrected.
      david.llewellyn