How to prepare for the Windows 7/8.1 ‘patchocalypse’

Microsoft is changing the way it patches Windows 7 and 8.1. Here’s what we know -- and what to do to keep having Windows your way

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The next step

The actual process of updating is going to get a bit complicated over the next few months, not only because of the Group A/Group B distinction, but also because other patches -- .Net, IE, Flash -- will dribble out at undefined times.

Those in Group A who submit to automatic updating will have an easy time of it: Windows Update will kick in, like it always has, and install all the patches. If there’s a bad patch that kills something -- we seem to have those almost every month -- then the fix will likely arrive in the next month’s patches.

Those in Group A who want to wait to see if anything blows up before they install updates will have a slightly more difficult task. They need to wait until they’re comfortable applying the latest updates (watch the news on Woody on Windows and on, then simply run Windows Update manually:

Step 1. Click Start > Control Panel > System and Security; under Windows Update, click Check for Updates.

Step 2. Don’t change anything -- don’t check or uncheck any particular update, don’t change any of your settings.

Step 3. Click Install updates. Windows will probably restart, so roll with the tide.

Those in Group B will have to check for new updates from time to time (again, look on Woody on Windows or on, and when the Security-only Update has been tested by Group A, they’ll have to download the Update from the Windows Update Catalog.

At the moment, the Windows Update Catalog is a 1990s-vintage mess. With its dependence on Microsoft-proprietary ActiveX controls, it’s hard to get anything out of the Update Catalog unless you’re using Internet Explorer. Microsoft promises it’ll be fixed soon. Once Microsoft has straightened it out, I’ll update this post with step-by-step instructions. In the interim, you can get into the Windows Update Catalog using any browser, but the method’s convoluted -- and it isn’t clear what you should search for.

Until we get further guidance from Microsoft, you should choose between Group A and Group B, follow the steps above, making sure you turn off Automatic Update.

As it stands, we’re all headed down the cumulative update path. Win10 is already there; Win7 and 8.1 are about to follow. If you want one patch, you have to take them all -- and if one of them breaks something, you can only uninstall the whole kit ’n’ caboodle.

As long as all of the patches work right, everything’s fine. What could possibly go wrong?

Many thanks to ch100, aboddi86, Canadian Tech, and many other folks who helped formulate and flesh out this approach.

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