Microsoft pushes another botched automatic update

If you've encountered blue screens while running Internet Explorer in 64-bit Windows 7, there may be an easy solution

If you had Windows set for automatic updates last Tuesday, Feb. 26, and run 64-bit Windows 7, you may have been hit by the latest bad patch. KB 2670838 -- known officially as a "Platform Update for Windows 7 x64-Edition" -- appears to be the source of a blue-screen problem, where Internet Explorer 9, in particular, stops working and throws a "PAGE_FAULT_IN_NONPAGED_AREA" error identifying the video driver (the reports I've seen cite igdpmd64.sys) as the source of the BSOD.

I say "appears to be" the source because as of this writing, almost a week after the bad patch rolled down the Automatic Update chute, Microsoft has not acknowledged the problem (at least not in the Knowledge Base article), hasn't pulled the patch (although its status was changed from Important to Optional on Thursday), and has shed basically no light on the cause of or solution to the problem.

There is, however, a lengthy Microsoft Answers forum entry for the bug that started on Feb. 28. Reports of the problem come from a wide variety of hardware: HP, Dell, Sony, Compaq, Gateway, and Lenovo computers running GeForce, Radeon, Intel, and AMD graphics chips, among others. The most detailed descriptions note a black bar appearing on the right side of the Internet Explorer 9 screen. Click on the bar, and your PC gets the blues.

Microsoft MVPs are trying to fill in the gaps, but they're working in an information vacuum -- par for the course for buggy Microsoft automatic updates. An Answers forum poster who identifies himself as Wuzzle(2) -- and brandishes a Microsoft emblem on his profile -- said on Saturday:

Microsoft is aware of an issue some customers are experiencing when installing KB2670838 on certain laptop systems with hybrid graphics. We are looking into the situation and are considering blocking the update for systems that could be affected. Customers who are experiencing issues on systems that already have installed the update should consider uninstalling KB2670838.

It's important to realize that KB 2670838 isn't a security patch. Microsoft traditionally releases security patches on the second Tuesday of the month -- most of you know Black Tuesday well. This buggy patch was part of the non-security-related patches typically released on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Since Microsoft switched the patch over to Optional on Thursday, it won't be offered automatically to those with Automatic Update turned on. But if you've already downloaded it, Windows may try to install it over and over again.

If you've been bit by this bad patch, fortunately the solution is easy -- if you know where the problem came from and how to get rid of it.

From a blue screen, restart your PC. Click Start (yes, this is Windows 7) > Control Panel > Uninstall a Program. On the left, click the link to View Installed Updates. Scroll way down to KB 2670838, which should be at or near the top of the section marked Microsoft Windows. Double-click on the patch to uninstall it. Reboot.

Next, just to make sure your system doesn't pick up the patch again, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the link to Check for Updates. Click the link that says "XX optional updates are available." Right-click KB 2670383 and choose Hide.

While you're at it, make sure Automatic Update is turned off. Last year, Microsoft pushed five different bad patches through Automatic Update. So far this year,the company is running at its usual rate of one really buggy patch every two or three months.

As I've been saying in print for almost a decade, Automatic Update is for chumps. Yes, if your Aunt Martha is afraid of hurting her PC by playing a round of Mahjong, she should have Automatic Update turned on. If you have PCs sitting somewhere that you don't get to very often, turn Auto Updates on for them, too. But if you're sophisticated enough to be reading this missive, you're more than smart enough to wait and apply updates after we've heard back from the real beta testers -- hundreds of millions of them. Let the other guys get the arrows in their backs.

Set Automatic Update to Notify, but don't Download, and watch.

This story, "Microsoft pushes another botched automatic update," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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