Windows Update on Windows 7 is fast again

Windows 7

We're back. Windows 7 users can finally return to the normal world, where operating system bug fixes are installed in a reasonable amount of time.

A few days ago, Woody Leonhard wrote about an improved version of Windows Update for Windows 7, one that installs bug fixes in mere minutes rather than hours or days. I have tried it on three Windows 7 machines, and it works fine, bug fixes install faster than a speeding bullet.

This updated Windows Update is only for those in the know, but reading this blog makes you one of the privileged few. Spread the word. 

The procedure for installing the fast version of Windows Update, as Woody describes it, is a bit intimidating at first. The biggest complication involves Bluetooth running on Intel hardware.

What does installing a new Windows Update have to do with Bluetooth? Only Microsoft knows. Suffice it to say (Woody has the gory details) that the new Windows Update may break Bluetooth. So, the Defensive Computing thing to do is to make either a Restore Point or an image backup before doing anything else.

INTEL DRIVER UPDATES

Woody suggests first updating your Bluetooth driver using the Intel driver update utility. I was not impressed with the software. 

For one thing, it installs the .NET framework version 4.5, without any up-front notice or warning. Then, it asks you to join the Intel product improvement program. Then, you have to reboot after installing it. And, when I first ran the software (version 2.6.1.4) it was so slow to start up that I thought something had gone wrong.

Worse still, were the results; it wanted me to install two different versions of a graphics driver. Why two versions? It didn't say.

Still not convinced? The version of the .NET framework 4.5 that Intel installed, needed about a dozen patches. Nothing inspires confidence like installing software with known bugs.

The final indignity is that when you un-install the Intel driver update software, the buggy .NET framework remains.

And, sad to say, any software from Intel now has to be considered suspect. Back in April, the company announced they were laying off 12,000 employees. There is no way to know which Intel software is still being maintained and which has been abandoned, especially since the company is shifting its focus away from PCs

So, maybe skip the Bluetooth driver update and hope for the best.

PRE-REQ

The new Windows Update has a pre-requisite bug fix (KB3020369). Or, maybe two (KB3177467 supersedes KB3020369), it's a bit confusing.

The three PCs that I tested all had the necessary pre-req software, so this was a rabbit hole that I didn't have to go down. One of the PCs was last updated at the end of August 2016, another at the end of September and the third in early October.

According to Woody, if the pre-req software is missing, you simply get an error message, nothing breaks.

DOING THE DEED

To install the fast edition Windows Update, download either the 32 bit or 64 bit version of  KB3172605 (the links are in Woody's article). Then, I would reboot. Woody doesn't suggest this, but it's always safer to install bug fixes on a newly booted system rather than one that has been running for a while.

Then, Woody says to go off-line, without saying why. My guess is that it insures that Windows Update is not running, something that Woody specifically says to check for.

windowsupdate.speedupptf.start

Step 1 of installing the fast Windows Update on Windows 7

To install the software, run the downloaded .msu file. As shown above, it starts off asking if you want to install KB3172605. The installation took about 30 seconds on my computers, expect it to look like the screen shot below.

winupdate.speedup.ptf

Step 2 of installing the fast version of Windows Update on Windows 7

After it installs, you have to reboot. Go back on-line, and Windows Update should be zippy again. The installation of KB3172605 creates its own Restore Point.

MY 3 TEST COMPUTERS

As noted earlier, I have tested this on three Windows 7 machines. None had Microsoft Office installed. The speeds that I refer to below are all in the first phase of Windows Update, where it detects the missing bug fixes. The downloading and installing phases have never been slow (if they are, that's a different issue).

The first computer I tried was a desktop machine without Bluetooth (bullet dodged). The last time bug fixes were installed on this PC was September 28th.

Earlier in the day, Windows Update ran for so many hours on this machine that I lost track and turned the machine off to put it out of its misery. Then, after installing the fast version, it took only three minutes (give or take) to find the missing patches. This was how I learned that the just-installed .NET framework v4.5, that the Intel driver utility had installed, was so buggy.

I un-installed the .NET framework 4.5, rebooted and ran Windows Update again. This time it took about 20 seconds. Yes, that's seconds not hours.

As expected, it found groups (a.k.a. rollups) of Windows ("October 2016 Security Monthly Quality Rollup ...") and .NET framework ("October 2016 Security and Quality Rollup for .NET Framework 3.5.1 ..." ) fixes. It also found a Definition Update for Windows Defender and the October edition of the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool. Nothing remarkable here, other than the timing.

Next, I tested a laptop that never uses Bluetooth (bullet dodged again) and had last been updated August 28th. The new and improved Windows Update took about 5 minutes to find 8 missing patches. There were individual patches from September 13th and 20th along with the same updates as the first machine.

The third machine was another desktop (yet again, no Bluetooth issue to deal with) where the last bug fixes were installed October 2nd.

The wrinkle here was that I couldn't take the machine off-line. It was being remotely controlled and had no keyboard, mouse or monitor connected to it.

Gambling that the point of being off-line was to insure that Windows Update wasn't running, I stopped the Windows Update service before running the .msu file. All went well, and the new improved Windows Update took about a minute and a half to find 5 missing patches.

Initially however, the just-installed Windows Update failed on this machine with a 80244019 error. A minute later, it worked fine. My guess is that this was due to the delayed startup for the Windows Update service. I was over-anxious to play with my new toy.

VIEW FROM A THOUSAND FEET

Taking a step back from the trenches, it's important to note that Apple and Google have no problems installing bug fixes to their operating systems. Users of iOS, OS X, macOS, Android and Chrome OS don't have to deal with anything remotely like the situation described above.

Yes, I know that most Android devices don't get bug fixes at all, but that's a different issue altogether. When there are bug fixes available for Android, the installation process is reasonably straightforward.

Windows 7 users, like myself, have endured slow patch installations for months. There is an available fix, but we have to learn about it on our own, and potentially deal with the fix breaking Bluetooth. Then, if the necessary pre-req software is missing, we have to decide whether to install KB3177467 or KB3020369. And, what's the deal with missing patches that are not checked by default? If the fix is missing, why not install it?

That Windows 7 users have to deal with things at this level is archaic in this day and age. An operating system should just work.

Google is leading the way here as Chromebook users can attest. And, the latest Android, running on the latest hardware, is going to update the operating system just as seamlessly as Chrome OS does. That, is the future.

I like Windows 7, but it's a dinosaur.

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