Did Microsoft (finally) fix Windows XP's SVCHOST redlining problem?

XP users have complained for months about a bug that slammed Windows update to 100% utilization. January's Black Tuesday patch might solve the problem

We won't know for sure until many more people have reported their results, but it appears Microsoft has solved the months-long problem with Windows XP update redlining systems and staying locked up for hours on end. Without official notification from Microsoft that the bug's been solved, it's hard to say for sure. But initial indications are very positive.

Last November I reported on a long-standing bug in the Windows XP update process that redlined many XP machines whenever they went out to look for updates. It was so bad that a fresh Windows XP SP3 install would bring systems to their knees twice, when the new machine started searching for Windows update. The problem affected both Automatic Updates and manual updates using the built-in Windows update service. Not everyone experienced the problem, but those who did could only sit and twiddle their fingers for many minutes or hours on end while Windows did its thing.

Once the updates were installed, the affected machines may or may not have continued their wayward ways.

There have been dozens of fixes posted online. Some of them work on some machines, some of them don't, but none of them have solved the problem for good.

In the end, Microsoft had to fix it. With XP reaching end of life in April, many people were afraid Microsoft didn't have much motivation to make its elder statesman product work properly.

The first hint I saw of a possible Microsoft-driven solution to the problem came in the Patchmanagement.org mailing list, where Susan Bradley succinctly observed that a huge number of Internet Explorer updates were "expired" off the Microsoft Windows Server Update Service list on Tuesday night -- Black Tuesday. As you may recall, the SVCHOST redlining issue has been ascribed to an enormous catalog of IE updates, many of which have been superseded, coupled with an abysmal search algorithm with exponentially increasing search times as the IE update chain gets longer. If Microsoft cropped the huge volume of unneeded IE patches from its systems, it's entirely possible that someone at the company has found a way to get the XP Windows update to behave itself.

Bradley reports success in avoiding the hours-long wait on several machines. She says:

It's good to see that Microsoft are indeed supporting XP all the way to it's final April 8th day. It showcases that our next favorite operating system of Windows 7 will get the same treatment when we get to it's end of lifecycle as well. Fixing this SVChost issue is a biggie. One that many (including the Woody) didn't think that Microsoft would spend any energy on. Kudos to Microsoft for doing so.

I'm exceedingly optimistic that the undocumented, unannounced January 2014 Black Tuesday patches fix the problem. If you have a Windows XP machine that's been plagued by the problem, could you turn on Automatic Update (I can hear the astonishment rising from the ranks) -- yes, I said turn on Windows XP Automatic Update -- and let Windows do its updating thing. Let me know in the comments below if the new fix works for you.

Bradley goes on to say:

I wouldn't take this as a sign that we need to be complacent in our actions towards XP. There's only three more patching days before it's over for good for XP and we need to either take the time to migrate off of them, or remove them from the Internet and stop using them for our day to day browsing.

While Windows XP isn't going to fall over and die on April 8 -- as Galen Gruman notes well -- Windows XP's swan song doesn't bode well for anybody, much less the 30 percent of all Windows users who are still on XP.

Perhaps we'll get a partial reprieve. Maybe Microsoft will offer a reasonably priced XP support package to go beyond April. One can always hope.

This story, "Did Microsoft (finally) fix Windows XP's SVCHOST redlining problem?," 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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