In spite of the disappearing Windows desktop bug, now’s a good time to install the February patches

It doesn’t look as if Microsoft is going to fix the 'temporary profile' bug in the February Win10 cumulative update that causes random users to lose their desktops and files, but we have a pretty good handle on how to recover. Get patched now.

Broken window with band-aid patch

It’s frustrating when Microsoft refuses to acknowledge a widespread bug in one of its mainstream patches. This month we're looking at a major bug that's drawn a tiny mention on a Microsoft Answers Forum post — and that's it. Such is the state of Windows transparency these days.

On the plus side, though, we have enough experience with the bug to be able to recognize and fix it should you be so unlucky as to encounter it.

Other than that one glaring (if infrequent) bug, there are some minor problems, but, on the whole, now would be a good time to get your system updated. Here’s how.

Make a full backup

Make a full system image backup before you install the latest patches.

There’s a non-zero chance that the patches — even the latest, greatest patches of patches of patches — will hose your machine. Best to have a backup that you can reinstall even if your machine refuses to boot. This, in addition to the usual need for System Restore points.

There are plenty of full-image backup products, including at least two good free ones: Macrium Reflect Free and EaseUS Todo Backup

Running Win10? I’m moving to version 1909 and suggest you do, too.

If you’re running Win10 version 1803, 1809, Server 1809, Server 2019 or any earlier version of Windows 10, I urge you to upgrade to Win10 version 1903 or 1909. (You can find your version by typing winver in the Search box in the lower left corner and pressing Enter.) There are detailed instructions for making the move in the article "Why — and how — I’m moving Win10 production machines to version 1903."

Win10 1903 is far from perfect, but it seems to be relatively stable at this point. The one huge advantage to version 1903: It lets everybody pause updates with a few simple clicks. That feature has my vote for the most important (perhaps the only important) upgrade to Win10 in the past four years. 

It looks like Microsoft has finally fixed the glaring bug in Win10 version 1909 — the one that made File Explorer’s Search box completely useless. We saw a minor improvement in the January cumulative update, but the February cumulative update, KB 4532693, seems to fix the problem completely. Of course, there’s been no acknowledgment or even a description from Microsoft, but as best I can tell File Explorer Search is working now. Yes, the bug’s been in there since 1909 shipped.

At any rate, I’m moving my production machines to 1909. Moving from Win10 version 1903 to 1909 is quite easy. After making a full backup, click Start > Settings (the gear icon) > Update & Security. If you don’t see the Download and install link shown in the screenshot, click Check for updates and it should appear.

1909 download and install now updated Woody Leonhard/IDG

Click on the link marked Download and install and wait. When you reboot, Win10 will be on version 1909, build 18363.657. That’s the build of 1909 that corresponds to the February cumulative update. It does not include the “optional, non-security, C/D Week” patch KB 4535996, which you don’t want.  

Install the Win10 February Cumulative Update

If you just moved to Win10 version 1909, per the preceding section, you already have the February Cumulative Update, KB 4532693. Breathe easy.

If you’re staying with Win10 version 1903, I certainly sympathize. If you were already running Win10 version 1909, I admire your bravery. To get the February Cumulative Update installed, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. If you see a Resume updates box (screenshot), click on it.

1903 updates paused Woody Leonhard/IDG

That’s all you need to do. Windows, in its infinite wisdom, will install the February Cumulative Update at its own pace. If you don’t see a Resume updates box, you already have the February Cumulative update and all is right in this, the best of all possible worlds.

When your machine comes back up for air, don’t panic if your desktop doesn’t look right, or you can’t log in to your usual account. You got bit by the “temporary profile” bug, which we’ve known about — and complained about — for weeks. We have three separate threads on AskWoody about solving the problem [1, 2, 3] and if you need additional help, you can always post a question. (Thx, @PKCano.)

Note: According to a report on the site,the "optional, non-security, C/D Week" patch for Win10 version 1903 and 1909, KB 4535996, has the same profile-eating bug as its predecessor. Caveat updator.

If you see an offer that says “Optional updates available,” just ignore it. You aren’t being paid enough to beta test Microsoft’s next set of patches.

While you’re mucking about in Windows Update, it wouldn’t hurt to Pause updates, to take you out of the direct line of fire the next time Microsoft releases a buggy bunch of patches. Click Start > Settings > Update & Security. Click “Pause updates for 7 days.” Next, click on the newly revealed link, which says “Pause updates for 7 more days,” four more times. That pauses all updates for 35 days, until early April. With a little luck that’ll be long enough for Microsoft to fix any bugs it introduces in March.

We'll have new observations and suggestions as the month winds on.

Patch Win7, Win8.1, or associated servers

If you’ve paid for Win7 Extended Security Updates and you’re having trouble getting them installed, Microsoft has a new article called Troubleshoot issues in Extended Security Updates that may be of help. We’re also fielding questions on AskWoody.

If you haven't paid for Extended Security Updates but want to keep WIn7 protected, 0patch has started publishing patches that cover some of the security holes plugged by the paid Extended Security Updates.

Windows 8.1 continues to be the most stable version of Windows around. To get this month’s puny Monthly Rollup installed, follow AKB 2000004: How to apply the Win7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollups. You should have one Windows patch, dated Feb. 11 (the Patch Tuesday patch). 

After you’ve installed the latest Monthly Rollup, if you’re intent on minimizing Microsoft’s snooping, run through the steps in AKB 2000007: Turning off the worst Win7 and 8.1 snooping. If you want to thoroughly cut out the telemetry, see @abbodi86’s detailed instructions in AKB 2000012: How To Neutralize Telemetry and Sustain Windows 7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollup Model.

Thanks to the dozens of volunteers on who contribute mightily, especially @sb, @PKCano, @abbodi86 and many others.

We’ve moved to MS-DEFCON 3 on the AskWoody Lounge.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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