KB973879: Or, How Microsoft “Inadvertantly” Pushed SP2 To All Vista Machines.

Anyone in the computer repair industry knows, when an update comes along that just doesn’t work properly, whether it be an operating system patch, application patch, or a new version of a driver, that singular bad update becomes the bane of all technicians for anywhere from a few weeks to months, depending on the app it’s patching and the conditions required to recreate the issue.

This was one such instance. On Tuesday August 25, 2009, Microsoft released the KB973879 update to the Microsoft Update service. Since many Windows-based computers run with automatic updates enabled, this update was installed, which was released to correct an infrequently-noticed error that only occurs during the installation of Vista Service Pack 2. However, it appears to have been tested incompletely as on many computers (most of them, from our informal observations, appear to be HP notebooks for some reason), the installation of this patch will cause a severe bluescreen issue (0x7E). This will only occur on 64-bit editions of Windows Vista SP1 however.

This issue highlights a few good points I try to follow as a part of my updating regimen:

  • Install service packs when available.

I usually have the latest and greatest service pack downloaded and installed within 24 hours of its release. In this instance I was spared anyway since I an running the RTM version of Windows 7 currently, but when I did have Vista installed on these machines they were updated to SP2 the night of the service pack release. Since this particular patch wasn’t offered to machines running SP2 (who needs to fix a SP2 installation issue when it’s already installed?), this would have insulated my Vista installs from problems.

  • Check to make sure all updates installed properly.

Example: Every time my Ubuntu machines go out for updates, they will never attempt to install new kernels. These updates are usually fairly important, since everything depends upon the kernel, so every once in a while I make sure they are not missing new kernels manually. This also goes along with the #1 point above, to install service packs (as they are pushed as updates…).

  • If all else fails, subscribe to Windows Secrets or another patch-monitoring newsletter

This is a fantastic idea even if you follow the above advice. That way you’ll be more secure, learn new tricks, and in the twice-monthly patch column you are given advice about each patch and whether it is safe to install them. Note that only paid subscribers get this column – but payment is whatever you want, whenever you want. A win-win!

If you have been hit by this problem, here’s the step-by-step to fix you back up:

  1. Start Windows in Safe Mode (Safe Mode with Networking will work for this as well)
  2. Open Control Panel
  3. Open Programs and Features
  4. Click “View Installed Updates” on the left side
  5. Double-click the entry for KB973879
  6. Restart when prompted. Allow boot to normal mode.
  7. ???
  8. Profit!

If you have your own thoughts on the subject, please leave them in the comments as we would love to hear from you! Note that harsh spam controls and denial of certain IP addresses may mean your comment will not appear for 24 hours. Do not be alarmed or resubmit comments – legit comments will be shown in due course.