Signs point to Microsoft's imminent release of Windows 7 'Service Pack 3'

For the second month in a row, Win7 and 8.1 have no Preview of the Monthly Rollup. Here’s what that means and what it portends for Win7 'Service Pack 3'

Signs point to Microsoft's imminent release of Windows 7 'Service Pack 3'

October's major overhaul of Windows 7 and 8.1 patching – I call it the patchocalypse – brought a new grouping of patches and a new cadence to patching. The methods have changed a bit since October, with the latest change announced a week ago. At this point, here's what you should expect:

First Tuesday: All Office patches (typically there are many), both security and nonsecurity, appear on the first Tuesday of each month. The patches are for Office 2010, 2013, 2016, and their various components, plus the Office Viewers. Folks using Office Click-to-Run usually get updated on the first Tuesday as well, although the channels and build numbers can get confusing.

Second Tuesday: All of the current versions of Windows 10 (right now that's "1507," 1511, and 1607) get cumulative updates, which include both security and nonsecurity patches. Windows 7 and 8.1 each get two patches: the Security-only update, and the Monthly Rollup. Those of you who want to stay current with all of Microsoft's patches (I call that Group A) should install the Monthly Rollup. Those of you who want to avoid everything except the security patches (Group B) should install the Security-only update. The Monthly Rollup is cumulative through October 2016 and includes the Security-only patches.

If you aren't confused, you aren't following along.

In addition to the Security-only and Monthly Rollup patches for Win 7 and 8.1 (that's four different patches), the second Tuesday brings separate patches for the .Net Framework (supposedly with Security-only and Monthly Rollup flavors, but in practice that hasn't happened) for .Net Framework 3.5 SP1, 4.5.2, 4.6.1, and 4.6.2, as well as various odd patches for various odd versions of .Net, on Vista, Win7, Win8.1, and the Servers. You can guess how many different patches that might entail. In addition, there's always a new Malicious Software Removal Tool.

Starting in February 2017, the Internet Explorer patch(es) will be pulled out of the Security-only Update and offered up separately. In other words, those who want to limit themselves to Security patches only (Group B) will have to manually install both the Security-only Update and the Internet Explorer Cumulative Security update.

Third Tuesday: Microsoft releases a preview of the next month's Monthly Rollup. This preview is an odd bird, and most people are well advised to avoid it. It contains two components:

  • The current month's Monthly Rollup (which means it includes the current month's Security-only patch and the current month's Internet Explorer Cumulative Security update)
  • A preview/test version of the nonsecurity portion of the next month's Monthly Rollup

For example, on the third Tuesday of January 2017 – yesterday, Jan. 17 – we should've received a Preview of the February Monthly Rollup. But we didn't. Instead, the official release pages for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 say:

There are no new quality improvements or fixes available to preview in January 2017. As such, there is no Preview of Monthly Rollup release for this month.

This means, as best I can tell, that Microsoft has no new nonsecurity patches coming in February.

The same thing happened last month. In December we saw:

There are no new quality improvements or fixes available to preview in December 2016. As such, there is no Preview of Monthly Rollup release for this month.

Sure enough, there were no new nonsecurity patches released in January.

You can look at that one of two ways. On the one hand, it's proof positive that Microsoft isn't too interested in making nonsecurity changes to Win 7 and Win 8.1 – a fact that many will accept with a sigh of relief.

On the other hand, it's likely that Microsoft is building toward a massive Monthly Rollup, which stretches back further than October 2016. We've been promised a Monthly Rollup that incorporates changes dating back to Service Pack 1 (released March 2011), but we'll likely see a series of Monthly Rollups, gradually stretching further back in time.

That in itself is welcome news. It sounds like we'll finally get the "Service Pack 3" for Windows 7 that's been sorely needed. (Microsoft won't call it a "Service Pack" because Service Packs generally trigger longer end of support dates, and Microsoft's insistent on discontinuing Windows 7 support on Jan. 14, 2020.)

Still, there's no reason to raise a glass to the ol' 7 and break out your party suit. There are at least four major, open questions about "Service Pack 3":

  • Can Microsoft avoid the problems and bugs that showed up in "Service Pack 2," the so-called Convenience Rollup, KB 3125574? My Digital Life gurus Abbodi, PointZero and Komm posted a scathing report about the problems with "Service Pack 2" – and it took Microsoft many months to address the issues. Some of them persist to this day. Clearly, the quality level for "Service Pack 2" was nowhere near that of Service Pack 1.
  • How much telemetry will we get? Microsoft has done a very poor job of documenting the telemetry it collects in Windows 10. How much worse will it be in Win7 "SP3"?
  • Will "Service Pack 3" include .Net rollups? They're sorely needed, but they tend to stomp all over each other.
  • Will "SP3" include patches for Internet Explorer 11? Microsoft has gone back and forth on the topic of bundling IE changes with other Win7 and 8.1 changes. Will the new cumulative update settle us all into IE11 bliss?

There are twice as many Win7 users as Win10 users. It's time for Microsoft to get its older systems brought up to speed.

The discussion continues on

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