Get Microsoft's October patches installed — and seriously consider Win10 2004

Odd ancillary patches have their problems, but the mainstream October patches look pretty reliable. The big question: Is Win10 version 2004 up to your stability standards. I’m skeptical -- especially because it has few worthwhile improvements. (And, yes, Microsoft is pulling the old “damn the torpedoes” stunt with version 20H2.)

A hand flicks on an update switch. [ software update / fix / patch ]
Stadtratte / Getty Images

It was yet another patch roller coaster ride this month with the usual crop of one-off bugs, a  Malwarebytes-associated assault on networking, a promised Flash killer that doesn’t — and that announced Dynamics 365 Commerce patch, CVE-2020-16943, still isn’t out. 

As best I can tell, though, the mainstream Windows cumulative updates and Office updates are behaving themselves.

Are you ready for Windows 10 version 2004?

For folks who are careful about patching, the big question this month is whether Win10 2004 is ready for prime time on your machine. It looks like about half of all Win10 users are on 2004, so it's getting a good workout.

Patch Lady Susan Bradley has made the leap to 2004. Call me a Luddite, but I’m still sitting on a fence.

In a nutshell, version 2004 offers me exactly nothing that I want, compared to version 1909. Preston Gralla’s analysis of the new features “Windows 10 May 2020 Update delivers little tweaks that add up to... well, not a lot" tells the whole story.

On the downside, we’re still getting sporadic reports of problems — from installation bugs to networking problems — none of which seem to be replicated to a great extent. Many of the problems appear to be related to the third-party driver scan 'Windows can’t verify the publisher of this driver software' blocks. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, that’s a feature, not a bug (honest!), but it may feel like you’ve been bit.

2004 or not? You get to decide.

Here’s how to get caught up.

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 is 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

Install the latest Win10 October Cumulative Update

These instructions should work for Win10 version 1909 (still my personal poison), version 2004 (which Susan Bradley recommends), or version 20H2 (which is great for folks who like to beta test — I salute you!).

To get the latest October Cumulative Update installed, click Start > Settings > Update & Security. If you see a Resume updates box (screenshot), click on it.

Windows 10 1909 updates paused 2020 Microsoft

That’s all you need to do. Windows, in its infinite wisdom, will install the October Cumulative Update at its own pace. If you don’t see a Resume updates box, you already have the September Cumulative update and you’re good to go.

If you see an offer to Download and install the “Feature update to Windows 10, version 20H2,” which you can see in the preceding screenshot, ignore it. Let’s give version 20H2 at least another six months to stew. 

If you see a link to View optional updates or Download and install optional updates, ignore it, too. There are no optional updates available at this point that you want to wrangle with.

If you’re still on Win10 version 1909 and want to move to version 2004, there are two easy ways to get to 2004 and avoid 20H2. First, if you saved a clean copy of 2004 using the instructions I published in September, follow the instructions on the Windows Installation Tool site to either upgrade your system in-place, or perform a fresh install from scratch. If you didn’t squirrel away a copy, follow Susan Bradley’s step-by-step instructions — My new favorite Windows update setting — to get to 2004.  

Win10 problems you may hit, and how to handle them

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. That's just the “temporary profile” bug we’ve known about — and complained about — for months. Try restarting your machine four or five times; it may go away. 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.)

You may get hit with a stealthy installation of KB 4023057, the “blast a way to the next version” patch. If that patch goes in (check the Installed Updates list), don’t bother trying to uninstall it — just go back and check that all of your “feature update” (i.e., version change) blocks are still in effect.

While you’re mucking about with 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 December. With a little luck that’ll be long enough for Microsoft to fix any bugs it introduces in November, so you can skip the angst

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 an article called Troubleshoot issues in Extended Security Updates that may be of help. We’re also fielding questions on AskWoody. 

If you’ve paid Microsoft for Extended Security Updates and can’t get them to install, make sure you follow all of the steps at the bottom of KB 4580345, the October Monthly Rollup Knowledge Base article. In particular, you need to install all outstanding updates, then get the Servicing Stack Update installed (expect a new Servicing Stack every month), before the October patch will appear. 

Windows 8.1 continues to be the most stable version of Windows around. To get this month’s Monthly Rollup installed, follow AKB 2000004: How to apply the Win7 and 8.1 Monthly Rollups. You should have one Windows patch, dated Oct. 13 (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 AskWoody who contribute mightily, especially @sb, @PKCano, @abbodi86 and many others.

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

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