Microsoft Offers Manual Fix to 'Stealth' Windows Update Bug

It turned out to be an insignificant problem after all, rather than something on the order of a rootkit: the discovery that Microsoft's Windows Update feature updates itself even when users turn off "automatic updates" - a fact that Microsoft had actually documented quite well, but which few had apparently read. But now, a claim that the self-updating update subsequently unregistered Microsoft's Windows Update drivers in XP-based systems forced its own drivers to become unregistered.

The claim comes from Windows Secrets writer Scott Dunn, who wrote the initial article about what he called a "stealth update." After using an XP install disk to roll the operating system back to a previous state, he discovered the system's capability to install updates retrieved from the Internet would fail.

The solution, Dunn discovered, was to re-register the drivers replaced by the self-updating update feature manually, using the regsvr32 utility from the command line.

BetaNews experienced similar behavior on two occasions in August, on separate XP-based systems where upgrades to our hard drives triggered failures in our system activation - this on fully-licensed, separately purchased copies of XP Professional SP1. Both times, I found myself rolling back Windows to the original SP1 state, then upgrading Windows Update to "Microsoft Update" - the new version that (supposedly) works well in Firefox. Then I downloaded once again several security rollups and patches, only to find they would not install.

While the discovery gave me headaches, I declined to write a story about it...since, to tell you the truth, if I did stories every time I had something foul up for us in Windows XP, I'd never get anything else published. In any event, with the aid of available MSDN documentation, I was able to solve the problem in about 90 minutes' time, having been inspired to unregister and re-register drivers - which I'd done before in similar circumstances. It worked, and I put away my aspirin bottle.

Early this morning, Microsoft Windows Update program manager Nate Clinton stated on his team blog that he had found the culprit: Naturally when re-installing an older version of the operating system on top of the newer version, the newer updates driver (WUPS2.DLL) remains behind. After the program that's supposed to use the newer updates driver ("Microsoft Update," as opposed to "Windows Update") is re-installed, it sees the newer driver and leaves it alone...not realizing that its registry entries are missing.

Clinton's solution was simple - even more so than the one I was satisfied with: First stop the Windows Update service (WUAUSERV), which you can do either from the command line (net stop wuauserv) or from the Computer Management window. Then from the command line, re-register the newer updates driver with one instruction: regsvr32 wups2.dll. Restart the Update Service, and it's done.

It's not the type of solution that a novice or even general Windows user would be comfortable with doing by himself, so Microsoft will have to work out a better method. Still, with as many everyday glitches as XP is known to have - and with Vista even more so - astonishingly few have been traced back to evidence of conspiracies. More often, it's someone having overlooked an instruction in an installation script, which appears to have been the case here.

Now if Microsoft can solve the problem of its keyboard driver insisting on uninstalling Logitech mouse drivers in mid-session, I could cut down on my first aid expenses, and maybe lower my blood pressure.

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