Patching delays raise red flags for Microsoft as a service

This month's Office 2013 Click-to-Run bug underscores an analogous problem for Windows 10 and its cumulative updates and forced patches

Patching delays raise red flags for Microsoft-as-a-Service
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On February's Patch Tuesday, Microsoft released a buggy Office 2013 patch called KB 3114717. As I reported at the time, the patch caused some PCs to lock up when working on Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents. The problems that Office 2013 Click-to-Run customers encountered due to that bad patch don't bode well for Windows 10 users.

It took Microsoft four days to pull KB 3114717. In the interim, a knowledgeable Office 2013 user might have uninstalled the bad patch and relieved the problem -- but a typical Office 2013 user would've been up a redlined creek.

On the same day, Feb. 9, Microsoft released an update to Office 2013 Click-to-Run, the SaaS version of Office 2013. Dubbed version 15.0.4797.1002, that particular flavor of Office 2013 Click-to-Run exhibited the same symptoms as the KB 3114717-infested systems: Some PCs running 4797.1002 would freeze tight when opening Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents. It took Microsoft eight days to fix the Office 2013 Click-to-Run bug.

On Feb. 17, Microsoft announced on the Office Updates blog:

A new version of Office 2013 Click-to-Run -- 15.0.4797.1003 -- is now available. This version fixes a problem that may cause Office apps, such as Word, Excel, or Outlook to freeze or perform very slowly when you scroll the window or copy/paste text.

For eight days, some Office 2013 Click-to-Run customers couldn't use Office at all. Reverting the latest version of Office 2013 Click-to-Run to an older version (for example, January's 4787.1002) involves a complex series of steps that are far beyond the ken of most mortals. Outlook guru Dianne Poremsky lists one approach on her Slipstick site.

Posting on the Microsoft Answers forum, tovodeverett says:

I can confirm that I had horrendous problems with Word 2013 32-bit Click-to-Run 15.0.4797.1002.  It was pretty much unusable on a quad-core system… After rolling back to 15.0.4787.1002, everything worked as normal.

When Microsoft has a bad patch, sooner or later it pulls the patch -- the KB article gets taken down from the Windows Update site, and it's no longer fed through Windows Update, WSUS, or any of the corporate patching products. Looking at Windows and Office together, that happens at least once a month on average, as best I can tell.

Things aren't so simple with Click-to-Run. Microsoft has to fix, recompile, and test the whole shooting match. Instead of yanking one bad patch (and sometimes sending out another patch to kill off the original, bad patch), Microsoft has to re-issue all of Office 2013 -- and that takes time.

In this case, a sufficiently motivated individual (with the tech savvy to scout the Microsoft Answers Forum) could've fixed the problem on a traditional copy of Office 2013 in a day. Someone who delayed installing Microsoft Update patches would've been in the clear in four days. But anybody running the Click-to-Run version of Office 2013 would've been up a creek starting Feb. 9, and stayed that way without a paddle for more than a week.

There's an analogous situation for Windows 10 and its combination of cumulative updates and forced patches. As long as the patches are good, Windows as a service works fine. The minute something turns shiny side up, though, there will be hell to pay. Going eight days without Office 2013 Click-to-Run is one thing. Going eight days without Windows will be quite another.

t/h tovodeverett

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