KB 2969339 patches some -- not all -- Windows 8.1 Update 1 installer errors

Microsoft released another patch to help Windows 8.1 users get to mandated support level, but it works only part of the time

The sorry state of Windows 8.1 Update 1/KB 2919355 installation problems has turned a bit brighter with a mysterious and poorly documented fix called KB 2969339, released hours before this week's Black Tuesday patches. Fortunately, KB 2969339 solves the long-standing Error 80073712 many people encounter when trying to install Update 1. Unfortunately, it doesn't solve the problem for everyone.

Brickbats tossed in Microsoft's direction are getting even more heated as the powers that be refuse to back down on its Windows Update directive: If you want to patch your Windows 8.1 machine, you have to install Update 1 first -- even if you get errors that prohibit the installation, even if Microsoft's own tech support folks can't get Update 1 to work.

Microsoft knows all about error 80073712 -- I first wrote about it more than two months ago -- but I call KB 2969339 "mysterious" for several reasons.

According to at least one report, it was released at least six hours before the rest of the Black Tuesday patches. But if there was advanced notification about the patch, I didn't see it. Certainly any warning didn't go beyond the usual KB 894199 palaver: "Install this update to resolve issues in Windows."

There was no advanced notification about a solution to Error 80073712 posted on the Microsoft Answers forum, where the thread on Error 80073712 in Update 1 is now up to 235 posts. In fact, there is still no explanation I can find from Microsoft about KB 2969339 in the Answers Forum.

The one official description we have of the patch appears in the KB 2969339 article itself, which says that the installation of KB 2919355 may trigger an error 80073712:

This issue occurs because a new component in update 2919355 contains a file version that is later than the file version that was already installed on the computer.

If there's any other sort of explanation, I haven't seen it.

I don't claim to have any inside information about this patch, but many of us have seen "later file version" problems with patches before. The basic scenario, which looks a whole lot like an old-fashioned "DLL hell" problem, goes something like this: Microsoft releases three different versions of a program. Let's call the program A.DLL and the versions 1, 2 and 3. The versions are typically identified by time/date stamps. Problems arise when a program will work with, say, version 2, but won't work with version 3.

When patching, the patch installer looks to see if it's being asked to install an "old" version of a specific file. Rather than overwriting a newer version of the file with an older version, it skips to the next installation task.

The simplest analogous scenario calls for the KB 2919355 installer to install version 2 of A.DLL. Almost all of the systems the installer encounters are either running Version 1 or Version 2 of A.DLL. If the installer hits Version 1, it installs Version 2. If it hits Version 2, it goes on to the next installation task. But in unusual situations, the installer finds that Version 3 of A.DLL is already installed. It skips installing Version 2.

Then some program -- maybe the installer, maybe some other glue program -- works fine with Version 2, but croaks with Version 3. That's where Error 80073712 raises its ugly head.

Note that we aren't talking about some mysterious third party or an application program that's diddling in places it shouldn't. We're talking about multiple official, released, and presumably supported versions of the same file.

If that's what actually happened with Error 80073712, it raises three disconcerting questions. First, why did it take two months to find the problem? We're looking at a Patching 201-level screwup here, not rocket science. Second, why was the fix distributed so quietly, with a one-sentence explanation, and no notification at all to the people who have been complaining? Finally, why doesn't the fix work in all cases?

There's at least one post on the Answers Forum that says KB 2919355 still fails with an Error 80073712 after installing KB 2969339. Which leads to the most disconcerting question of all: If Microsoft is going to cut off support for its latest and greatest operating system unless a particular patch is applied, isn't it Microsoft's responsibility to get the patch to work?

This story, "KB 2969339 patches some -- not all -- Windows 8.1 Update 1 errors," 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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