Microsoft fails its customers after a bad patch

On the whole, Windows Update seems to work very well. Although I don't use Linux much, my experiences with Windows and Microsoft Update have been much more positive than those with equivalent software on Linux.

The last time I had significant problems with Windows Update, which occurred with multiple PCs, I used Microsoft's free tech support. Their problem submission system uploaded relevant files to them, a person looked them over and I was soon given a workaround for the problem. All for free.

I say this as background, I have no axe to grind with Microsoft.

No doubt you've heard by now that a recent Patch Tuesday "update" (a nicer term than bug fix)  rendered many Windows XP machines un-bootable. The system crashes during startup with a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD).

Personally, I would never find myself in such a pickle. As you might expect of Defensive Computing oriented techie, I make a full image backup before running Windows/Microsoft update.  I also wait a couple days before installing newly released patches (another nicer term than bug fix). This weeks patches just reinforced this approach.

The day after Patch Tuesday I tried to help someone with their un-bootable XP system and the overall experience offered up by Microsoft was quite poor.

Stuff happens. I realize this. I was a programmer for years, and have no gripe with Microsoft that a patch broke something. This is to be expected.

But that's my gripe, that's what I find inexcusable - this is to be expected. It needs to be accounted for. It needs to be dealt with. Windows users need backout procedures.

Billions of people use Windows and Microsoft makes millions in profit daily. But when it comes to designing software systems, the fact is they often seem to be, well, amateurs.

The issue is simple, back out a problematic patch. This should be no big deal, just move some files around and get on with your life. But few things from Microsoft are simple. 

Safe Mode, as many techies know, often fails to boot. This was the case with the XP computer I tried to rescue from the this weeks deadly patches. Even Safe Mode with command prompt wouldn't boot.

If Safe Mode had worked, System Restore could have been used to restore a previous Restore Point. In theory at least, System Restore has shown itself to be flaky. For example, under XP, System Restore will, at times, turn itself off and not indicate to the end user that there is a problem. 

Without Safe Mode, most XP users are just screwed. Microsoft's next solution, for those without  image backups, is the Recovery Console.

In practical terms, this is no solution at all.

The obvious first strike against the Recovery Console is that you need a Windows OS CD, which eliminates most people from the game immediately. Then you need an optical drive, which eliminates netbook users and those with ultra compact laptops.

But, in my case, I had both a CD and an optical drive so I gave the Recovery Console a try. It failed to detect a hard drive in the computer.

The hard drive was fine. A Linux Live CD was able to copy files off the drive, and the broken copy of XP at least starts to run before the BSOD. In this case, it was the Recovery Console itself that needed to be recovered.

To insure my CD was working, I tried it on another XP machine. This time the Recovery Console found the hard drive but, as its supposed to do, it wouldn't run without the administrator password. I know the password for every userid on the box and tried them all. They were administrator level users, but not the administrator. So, no go.

In the time of greatest need, when someone is forced to resort to the Recovery Console, Microsoft puts yet another hurdle in the way.

And if you fight through all this, you get rewarded with a command prompt. Ugh.

The most likely recovery solution is to restore the system to factory fresh state. In the case of a problematic patch, this is like using a steamroller to squash a fly. Not to mention the loss of data.   

Windows users need a rescue CD/USB flash drive from Microsoft. This bootable media should have a GUI that lists the installed patches, most recent first, and lets you uninstall them with a couple mouse clicks. Shouldn't be a big deal.

It should also be able to list the available Restore Points and let you restore one of them. Again, we're just moving a few files around. No big woop.

Why does such a thing not exist?  

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