What went wrong with Microsoft's August updates?

What went wrong with Microsoft's August updates?

Summary: UPDATED. Buggy updates are certainly a problem, but the company's poor communication of the problems is an even bigger cause for concern.

SHARE:
177

It's been a long time since Microsoft had a Patch Tuesday this bad. By Friday they were conceding problems with several updates. Not only did they withdraw four updates, but they recommended that users uninstall one of them.

Yesterday they reissued that update, but they also announced that it had its own set of new bugs, one of which can make windows inaccessible or invisible. Three of the four withdrawn updates are still withdrawn and two of those are also subject to the missing window bug. Two other updates, previously uninvolved with the August updates, also have this missing window bug.

I have no hard numbers to go on, but I do suspect that the number of users affected by all these problems is, as Microsoft says, small. Perhaps very small. Even so, it's hard to escape the feeling that something went very wrong recently at Microsoft's update shop.

Not only have the developers at Microsoft had a bad month, but the communications machine has faltered as well. Microsoft has a large collection of blogs, several of which touch on update issues, especially the MSRC (Microsoft Security Response Center) blog. There have been problems with updates in the past and Microsoft has been rather forthright about them in these blogs. But the discussions of the recent troubles with updates are so fleeting, perfunctory and, I would argue, misleading, that the company seems more embarrassed than concerned.

Since I just wrote "misleading," I should explain. The MSRC blog entry announcing yesterday's re-release of MS14-045 uses weasel words to give the impression that the problems were caused by a change in the company's scheduling practices for non-security updates, but they don't actually say that this was the cause or that it was even related.

The blog says that Microsoft would start releasing non-security updates on Patch Tuesday, rather than throughout the month. In fact Microsoft has, for a long time, released non-security updates on Patch Tuesday, although they have also released them at other times during the month. For years the fourth Tuesday has been a second Patch Tuesday for non-security updates. Does the new practice mean that the fourth Tuesday will no longer be used? A different Microsoft blog earlier this month indicated that the point of the change in update practice was to bring out new features quickly, when they are available, and not just once a month.

Update on August 28: I have spoken to Microsoft and they say that they will tend towards releasing new features on the regular Patch Tuesday (i.e. the second Tuesday of the month) but that they will continue to release non-security updates on the fourth Tuesday.

A better question is what any of this could possibly have to do with buggy security and non-security updates, unless they are claiming that it led to inadequate testing. This they clearly do not say although, to be honest, they don't say it didn't happen either.

There are other communications gaps. If you read the re-released security bulletin carefully, and specifically read the Update FAQ, you see that "Microsoft strongly recommends that customers who have not uninstalled the 2982791 update [the old update that was withdrawn] do so prior to applying the 2993651 update [the new, re-released update]." They don't say you must do this, just that they strongly recommend it.

What happens if you don't? They don't say. Why does the 2993651 update, or Windows Update, not remove the 2982791 update first? This is unclear. In fact, at the same time, Microsoft recommends relying on Automatic Updates which will install the new update without removing the old one and not inform the user of the fact.

Update on August 28: I have asked Microsoft why the new update does not replace the old one. The company has no official response, but I’m hearing that it is not, in fact, necessary to uninstall the old update before installing the new one. Once the new update is in place it is used by the system and the old code is never executed, even though the update remains installed on the system.

uninstall.update
To uninstall the old update go to Control Panel, Programs and Features, Installed Updates, find the 2982791 update in the Microsoft Windows section, right click and uninstall. You can find the update by searching for "KB2982791" in the Control Panel for uninstalling updates.

Another communications gap concerns new bugs in the new updates. The security bulletin is silent on them, but if you read the Knowledge Base article for the new update you'll see that there are two known issues with it. Neither are trivial and the second could be quite serious. It changes the z-order, or depth level of windows, so that they may be invisible or hidden behind other windows.

Furthermore, this z-order bug is also present in four other already-released updates (one of them is just a hotfix, so it will be less prevalent).

How often does this bug manifest when the user has any of the installed updates? No word on that but, as I said earlier, I suspect it's actually pretty rare, or we would have heard of them from parties other than Microsoft.

I've also been concerned that the same severe problem, such as the Stop 0x50 blue screen bugs for which the MS14-045 update was originally recalled, are also caused by updates for, at best, tangentially-related software. The same can be said of the z-order bug.

For years, Windows Update and the updates it delivers have had a high level of reliability. This has allowed Microsoft to default to delivery and installation of updates in Windows, to the great benefit of users. August 2014 has called this achievement into question. Can we just blindly trust Microsoft's updates anymore? At the moment, even Microsoft seems not to know.

Topics: Security, Microsoft, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

177 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 2982791 & 2993651 updates

    I uninstalled KB2982791 and installed KB2993651 yesterday after reading your email. It went well I HOPE. I am on Windows 8.1 64 byte. Question is should I uninstall KB2993651 today and just wait for MS to get their act together on this issue. I have had no issues since doing above.
    colonialrep
    • Microsoft says yes

      My understanding is that everyone should remove KB2993651, they pulled it from updates all together.
      KarterJK
      • I think you mean KB2982791

        not KB2993651
        daikon
      • Incorrect

        "KB2982791" was pulled and replaced by "KB2993651"
        redwolfe_98
    • Goodbye to Microsoft

      Fortunately we we able to close off our systems to the outside world and continue to use Windows XP for the few Jobs it has been performing for us these last 15 years. We bought a professional copy of Windows 7 and quickly got the "This is a pirated copy" in the right bottom corner of the screen. It certainly was not! We complained but heard nothing. Now all our dealings with the outside would are done via Linux. Thank God for Linux and it's army of volunteers! We have been using several Linux driven servers for about 10 years . . . I, for one, will not be going back on the MS track.... The Ubuntu Desktop has finally come of age and for most office tasks is just the ticket.
      spangledfox
  • Windows 8 Horrible OS, switched back to BlackBerry and shopping for Mac

    Microsoft should have stopped @ Windows 7 and regrouped. Windows 8 is horrible and every day those dumb tile go by I am wishing Mac was more affordable and more business friendly. Mobile wise, why would you trust Windows when their PC updates are frequent and buggy? I went back to a BlackBerry 10 device and am really happy with the intuitive BlackBerry OS and we'll built device. Big upgrade over flimsy Nokia plastic and Windows Phone headaches. Now if I could only get rid of Windows laptops for a reasonable price...
    HenselM
    • How Relevant..

      Wow, how relevant to the topic... you know, NOTHING to do with Windows 8 and whether it's good or bad. Trolls are so utterly predictable and boring. Go back under your bridge.
      Draclvr
      • careful...

        @Draclvr

        The Title is "What went wrong with Microsoft's August updates?"

        I think HenselM is just reminding people that the whole of Windows 8 was one utterly terrible update to Windows 7 and so we should consider painful updates to be the new norm.
        Henry 3 Dogg
        • careful...

          You say he's "reminding people". Of what? An opinion?

          Yours is another clown post, troll. Neither of you offered anything substantive.

          Now go make me a sammich.
          ahy-nonimous
          • The problem with Windows-8

            is that Microsoft completely changed the OS user interface, and provided no coaching or learning experience out of the box. There are classic problems with this. How can you search the web for tutorials when you can't figure out how to get to the web browser? Further, the whole hot corner thing, while familar to Mac owners, and perhaps others who have used such things, is not a feature of any known part of windows. The missing start menu, further complicates peoples use of the system because many people intuitively navigate with that mechanism and don't know how to use keyboard short cuts and other mechanisms for making parts of the UI function.

            Further, the metro vs desktop navigation debacle has been a top leader in peoples complaints about what is "wrong" with windows-8. Clearly, you want to defend what you feel is "just fine". But, your conversational mode here feels like fanboy talk and I'd even hazard a guess that you are wondering a bit about whether you made the right decision about using windows and have adopted a bully attitude towards people putting down windows to make yourself feel better about your own choice.

            In the end, Microsoft's slide down hill is quickening. They've never had a quality software development environment. Certainly, the patch/security team seems to have picked up a huge amount of slack in the basic buggy deployment habits of Microsoft developers. The number of recurring, same theme problems patched every month, in the same applications, filling the history of CERT alerts speaks loudly to the overall inability of Microsoft, in general, to do quality work.

            If you go read the software VPs blog, you'll see that it's complete mayhem in that environment. It seems that there are a bunch of cowboy developers running around trying to get their gangs of supporters for their work, and then muscling it into the release train.

            I've been free of Microsoft as a base OS on any of my computer systems for years. I have windows-7 running in a VM on my Mac because I have to use it for some software products.
            greggwon@...
          • WHAT?!?

            First off, you appear not to understand Win 8 or the complexity of maintaining an OS that works on so many hardware platforms and is so prevalent in the world. Your OSX is on a select group of hardware. MS does not have that Luxury.

            As for the actual article, it I a shame this mistake happened and MS is dealing with it. I don't expect tem to reveal intimate details of their mistakes. That would be reckless if they did and might risk security issues for the masses. Whether it is MS Apple, Google, etc... They all have issues. This is to be expected with the breakneck pace of software development. It is clear you have no concept of this.

            As for your comment that used the word "bullying". WOW, really? Are you a 10 or 12 year old?

            The opinions expressed about Win 8 being a great system are just as valid as you not liking it. I have five different OS's running at any given time and each one has quirks and each parent company that brought them to me has made big mistakes. But you know what, I still enjoy each one of them and the different abilities they bring.
            135boom
          • I do understand the complexity, and that is, in fact what Microsoft is...

            changing in their development of hardware. They bought interests in Dell, it would seem to me, to have a place to get quality hardware made. They completely understand, now, how the generic PC market has created a lot of bad user experiences, and complicated their software development. But, in the end, poor UI design and deployment is not new to Microsoft. They've had many similar issues where they've tried to shoehorn new UI experiences into software to make things easier, while complicating the user experience, requiring millions of hours of retraining across the globe, with no, real, net improvement.

            Microsoft is trying lots of different things, but demonstrating over and over that they are planning nothing. The end result, is that there is no end to end improvement of what users can achieve with their OS or applications, but rather new expense and new frustration for users, world wide, leading to large amounts of wasted time and money. To this day, people around me are buying windows 8.1 loaded PCs, and asking me simple navigation questions because for them, there is nothing obvious about the UI experience.

            I have many many friends in the software development community who's friends and relatives are providing ample evidence that this issue is frustrating people and causing them to ask why did they buy another PC.

            8.0/8.1 is not the only issue. There are problems in all the places of the windows platform. Sure, other OSes have issues. But, they are things which get addressed much more readily than Microsoft's issues do. The cowboy attitude keeps Microsoft's developers, teams and organizations from working together. It's clear in many of the problems with .Net, that people just don't want to work together, or don't want to 'finish' something because the cowboy that started that project is off doing something else now, and no one wants to maintain their code.

            End to end planning and buy-in, across the organization would keep that from happening. All of the managers would agree that an API or system interface or service or whatever level component, was important to the platform. It would be finished, maintained and extended so that everyone's dependency on it, would be value added to the platform, instead of a risk like it is today.
            greggwon@...
          • but when Apple does drastic UI changes....

            It's Magical.
            warboat
          • When Apple changes UI stuff, they at least have done evaluations...

            with end users and have focused on the user experience more than it would seem Microsoft has. Perhaps you can illustrate something that changed on OS-X for UI implementation, which a large body of OS-X users have hated as much as Windows-8, or Vista, or Windows-ME? I've used OS-X since 2008, and there have not been such user interface changes in the OS. The UI changes in iMovie and Final Cut-Pro have been extensive. iMovie has moved more toward Final Cut's nomenclature while Final Cut moved more toward's iMovies ease of use with a single window environment.

            MS Office's movement from toolbars to ribbons with everything relocated to different parts of the ribbon structure was pretty disturbing. To this day, I still hear people complaining about not being able to find things on the ribbons in MS-Office.

            There is no real UI benefit change between toolbars and ribbons. It's the same enumeration concepts with similar visualization and user interactions. It requires more "rendering" and CPU/Graphics time, which with the ridiculously poor design of the "windows threading model", and similarly poor use of it in windows applications just means that there are going to be more "pauses" and "glitches" in the UI while navigating which will slow you down.

            It's not about drastic changes. It's about whether there is actually real value in doing it. Will user disorientation and sub-conscious navigation actions be a large enough barrier that learning a new way to do things, is just more friction than productivity improvement?

            For the toolbar vs ribbon thing, for example, do users spend more time typing in text and data, or tweaking that text with the functions on the toolbars/ribbons? If users go to the toolbars/ribbons so infrequently that they have a hard time breaking old habits, or learning about the new navigation steps needed, then all that such changes do, is inject friction and decrease productivity.

            When Apple added the "iOS-like" Launchpad, it was, and still is, and option navigation aid, not the primary user interface. It's that decision and design concern, that separates Apple from Microsoft. The Apple windowing system makes it easy for them to do such things, without having to introduce all kinds of new navigation controls and buttons and knobs. Instead, the user interface system already supported conditional elements and hot-corners and that made it easy to let users decide whether it was easier for them or not, to use that navigation aid.

            People who already have iOS devices, can arrange the launchpad to look like their iOS screen layout, and get to their core applications quickly and easily. But, they can also get to the Dock if they are already wired to use it, and completely ignore the LaunchPad.

            Look around at Mac's in public spaces. How many of them do you see with the LaunchPad up and visible? Guess what, it didn't turn out to be a great improvement for most existing Mac owners, and thus it being optional was a benefit.
            greggwon@...
        • Actually, no

          HenselM is really just a guy who tries to segue anything to "Buy a Blackberry phone".
          Michael Alan Goff
      • But Microsoft wants Windows 8 behind them

        But in his defense, Microsoft has unofficially abandoned Windows 8, the overall feeling is update it only if need be and move on to Windows 9.
        KarterJK
        • Fleet of foot

          Can somebody please tell me how to virtualize Windows for Workgroups 3.11? Huh? They renamed it to Windows 8.1? Why? =P

          Seriously though, you have to try the sushi.

          Oh and no OS version is a bypass - Microsoft wants to do well with each one. Unfortunately the bigger agenda is to make the next OS momre cloud than on-prem. So methinks you won't even get to pick what updates get installed in Win 9 or 10, just like you can't now with say, Office 365.

          Ahoy, and they said WfW was dead. Them's crazy talk.
          viProCon
        • I agree, we're on to Windows 9.

          I don't see where things are any better with Windows security.

          I'm seeing a lot of infected Windows 7 computers that are getting replaced by Linux Mint.

          There's no training required and people aren't looking back.
          Joe.Smetona
      • I think he was summarizing his opinion of Win8 and

        discussing alternatives that he believes are better.

        In some cases, the alternatives can be better. But not all.

        Updates are not the same as inferior. It means products are being maintained - who here wants a product that is not maintained? I don't. Without going into too much detail in 50 directions, the phones that get more frequent updates are more likely going to be secure. And some of those phones get updates directly from the OS maker. Others are tethered to the phone service provider, which may or may not be as concerned about customer care when it comes to fair updates, especially when security is involved because - in reality - no platform is secure.
        HypnoToad72
        • So you equate frequency and quantity with quality?

          Okee then.
          j4w4