Win 7/8.1 'patchocalypse' springs a few surprises

Most of the changes to Windows 7 and 8.1 patching happened as expected yesterday, but a few unexpected twists deserve attention

Win 7/8.1 'patchocalypse' springs a few surprises

If you followed my suggestions on how to prepare for the Windows 7/8.1 "patchocalypse," you should be in good shape this morning. Windows Automatic Update is turned off, and you have time now to take a look at what patches are being offered.

If you didn't follow my suggestions and have Automatic Update turned on, your Windows 7 or 8.1 PC was patched last night with an assortment of security, nonsecurity, and .Net patches, as well as at least one updated snooper.

Several people have already approached me, panic stricken that their Win7/8.1 systems rebooted overnight. There's no reason to be overly alarmed. If you don't mind Microsoft installing all of its patches, including those that improve/increase snooping -- in other words, if you're in Group A as defined in my patchocalypse article -- then nature has taken its course and you've been updated. As long as the telemetry doesn't bother you and there are no bugs in the patches, you'll be fine.

Of course, if you find a snooping patch and want to uninstall it -- or if it turns out there's a bug in one of the patches this month -- you will have to uninstall everything all at once, in baby-and-the-bathwater fashion.

Many of you are waking up today to the reality of Microsoft's new patching method for the large majority of Windows machines. Most of the changes happened as expected and as anticipated in the patchocalypse article. But there were a few twists.

For one, the terminology that was so clearly explained in Nathan Mercer's original article about the new patching approach has been mangled. Instead of having a security-only update for Win 7 and another for Win 8.1, we now have "Security Only Quality Updates." Instead of monthly rollups for Win7/8.1, we have "Security Monthly Quality Rollups."

This is typical Microsoft marketing obfuscation -- but many folks find it confusing, especially because Microsoft's documentation flips back and forth between the various terminologies.

Another unexpected twist: While we were told that the security-only updates would have to be retrieved from the Microsoft Update Catalog, requiring the use of Internet Explorer or a bizarre workaround with other browsers, Microsoft has posted direct download links. The Win7 (and Server 2008 R2) security-only update download links are listed in KB 3192391, and the Win8.1 (and Server 2012 R2) security-only download links are in KB 3192392. Thanks to whomever at Microsoft made that big change!

I have no idea if the download links are a one-off concession to the sorry state of the Microsoft Update Catalog or if this is the wave of the future.

For Vista users, the security patches are available as one-off downloads through the Microsoft Download Center. If you don't want to install this month's entire security-only update, Vista (and Server 2008) users can pluck off each individual patch and install it by going to the relevant TechNet article and clicking on the download link. For example, MS16-124/KB 3193227, the Security Update for Windows Registry, can be downloaded and installed all by itself. (Thanks,shopper55.) 

October's monthly rollups incorporate last month's nonsecurity rollups. I talked about September's nonsecurity rollup KB 3185278 for Win7 and KB 3185279 for Win 8.1 last month. As anticipated, those were the nonsecurity precursors to October's monthly rollups, KB 3185330 for Win7 and KB 3185331 for Win8.1.

What I didn't realize at the time is that those September rollups came out in cadence with the anticipated new patching process. In the future, we've been advised, a batch of nonsecurity patches will come out on the third Tuesday of every month. Presumably they'll all appear as one update, and I bet they'll be optional and unchecked. If all goes well, we can expect them to be rolled into the next monthly rollup, along with that month's security patches.

Think of it as an Insider Preview ring of next month's nonsecurity patches.

In addition to the monthly rollup for Windows, we also saw the new "Security and Quality Rollup for .Net Frameworks" and "Security Only Updates for .Net Frameworks" of many kinds, on both Win7 and 8.1. Note that the terminology for .Net is different from the terminology for Windows itself. "Quality" means different things to different groups, I guess.

Running through the list, there is KB 3188730 for .Net 3.5.1 on Win7; KB 3188731 for .Net 3.5 on Win8; KB 3188732 for .Net 3.5 on Win 8.1; KB 3188736 for .Net  3 and 4.5.2 on Server 2008 and Vista; and on and on.

Confusingly, the .Net security-only packages are only available on the Microsoft Update Catalog or for admins using WSUS. There are no links to the security-only packages in the individual KB articles. Even more confusing, the .Net patches aren't identified as such in the Windows Update list. For example, the "Security and Quality Rollup for the .Net Framework 3.5.1" for Win7 appears in the Windows Update list as "Update for Microsoft Windows (KB3188740)." If you go to the list of installed updates, KB 3188740 doesn't appear under the .Net Framework patches. It's down in the dungeon with all of the other Windows patches.

To make matters worse, the old .Net Framework 4.5.2 security patch KB 3135994 changed from optional to recommended. It isn't one of the fancy, new "Security and Quality Rolllups;" it's the re-re-released botched patch from March. I dread to think how that kind of problem will be handled in the new patching regime.

Internet Explorer patches have been integrated into the security-only updates and the monthly rollups. You don't need to hassle with them separately.

Six old-fashioned, individual patches were re-released, this time as recommended patches -- which means they're checked for installation if you have selected the box marked "Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates."

  • KB 2952664 rears its snooping head again, along with its Win 8.1 doppelganger. KB 2976978 -- there's a debate currently raging on AskWoody about the relative merits of the patches.
  • KB 3177467 is the servicing stack update for Win7 -- essentially a maintenance run for Windows Update.
  • KB 3181988 fixes a bug in the Win7 "convenience rollup."
  • KB 3184143 gets rid of the "Get Windows 10" nagware subsystem.
  • KB 3063109 fixes a bug in Hyper-V integration.

All six patches were part of September's third-Tuesday bunch. I have no idea why they weren't included in October's monthly rollup.

It's still too early to tell if any of the patches are causing problems. Keep Automatic Update turned off, and watch here for news.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect that the capability to select and install individual security-only patches is only available for Vista and Server 2008. 

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