The end-of-the-year patching all-clear

As 2020 slips away and '21 comes into view, it's time to get Microsoft's latest patches installed, and maybe do a little DIY upgrades on your hardware.

A digital hub marked with crossed wrench and screwdriver branches circuits through a system.
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It’s that time of the month to give the final 2020 all-clear for installing updates.

Microsoft has already fixed the issue with KB4592438 for Windows 10 20H2 and 2004, where if you were lucky, or rather, unlucky enough to perform a chkdsk c: /f on your system after installing the December updates you might have been forced to rebuild your system — not exactly the greatest holiday present from Microsoft.  As I noted last week, this issue was fixed with a cryptic behind-the-scenes update for those who get their updates from Windows update. 

If you patch via Windows Software Update Services (WSUS), SCCM or any other third-party program, the fix installs a group policy that sets the following registry key:  HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Policies\Microsoft\
FeatureManagement\Overrides, with a Dword “2372249226” = 0".  I still am not clear about what this registry key triggers, other than perhaps blocking a feature enablement. (Remember, instead of using the chkdsk c: /f option, you should use the chkdsk /scan command.  This is a much safer command to use on an SSD drive.)

KB4529964 can be installed on Windows 10 1909 and on 1903; I’m not tracking any major issues with these releases. If you are still running Windows 10 1903, remember that as of this release it will no longer receive security updates.  You will need to make sure that you have moved on to a later version (such as 1909) to maintain security by January 2021.

meet now Microsoft

Microsoft added in a new feature to the task bar called “Meet now.”

In the December Windows 10 updates, Microsoft slipped in a new feature in the task bar called “Meet now.” Many users questioned why they the icon was installed in the first place, what it was and how to get rid of it. It allows users to host and attend meetings remotely using Skype. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to remove the Meet now icon in your task bar — especially if you don’t plan to use it. 

Microsoft did not release optional updates this month in a nod to the holiday season. Typically, there is a preview release during the third week of the month but Microsoft traditionally skips these in December. As Ed Tittel explains, optional updates in Windows 10 now also include driver updates. I usually skip both the optional preview updates and the driver updates offered to my system.

As we count down to 2021, we also begin the countdown to the end of life of Windows 10 1909 for Home, Pro, Pro Education, and Pro for Workstations editions. The final releases for our trusty friend 1909 will be on May 11. Users on the Education and Enterprise versions will have another year after that, until May 10, 2022, to continue to receive updates. I am still seeing users with certain Conexant audio drivers unable to update to either 2004 or 20H,2 even though the Windows Health release dashboard indicates that these machines should be now unblocked and able to receive the update. 

I’ve seen several users get around the issue by typing in the search box on Windows 10 device manager.  Scroll down to sound, video and game controllers. Find the Conexant audio driver and remove it from your system.  Now install the 2004 (or 20H2) release. After rebooting, your system will “find” the Conexant driver again and should work as usual. Several users in the answers forum indicated this process has worked for them.

Of course, before attempting to obtain the 2004 or 20H2 release, be sure you have a working backup of your system and know how to boot into the recovery or restore process. Every computer can be slightly different in how it triggers the device to boot from a flash drive or recovery drive. I recently had to dig up instructions for an Acer laptop in order to get it to boot from a flash drive; that required me to boot into the bios to turn on its ability to do so, as it wasn’t default on the system.

Each computer vendor’s instructions for booting from a flash drive differ and I spend the majority of my time getting a system ready to do just that when preparing to repair or recover a system. Once I have flash drive booting set up, I leave it that way to save me time in the future. Now is a good time to learn how to boot from a flash drive, or recover from a backup, when you don’t have a need to do so.  When you do need to recover, you’ll know what to do.  On my home laptop, I have the Macrium reflect backup set to offer a boot menu making it easy to launch the restore process or boot into Windows 10 should I need to do so.

Users of Windows 8.1 or Server 2012 R2 should now install (if you haven’t already) the monthly rollup in the form of KB4592484. If you are using WSUS or a third-party patching tool, or manually installing updates from the Catalog site, you can install the security-only update of KB4592495.

Windows 7 patchers will need to determine whether they plan to again purchase Extended Security Update (ESU) patches in order to maintain patching on that platform. On Jan. 5, Microsoft will place the ESU SKU on its price list, and they’re expected to double in price. (If you purchased the Windows 7 ESU keys from consultants, they plan to email you to ask about purchasing them again.) You will need the second-year Windows 7 ESU key to receive updates in February 2021 and it again means going through a rather cumbersome process to install the keys.

We end 2020 by starting the final countdown for Adobe Flash. When Microsoft originally bundled Flash in Internet Explorer and the operating system I thought it a bad idea. I now get to say to Microsoft: “I told you so!” The number of Flash vulnerabilities and zero-days that have left systems open to attacks over the years means I am very glad to see Flash removed. Most sites have moved to HTML5 or other ways to stream video, so I don’t anticipate missing Flash at all. If you are using the new Chrome-based Edge browser it already blocks Flash. An “Update for Removal of Adobe Flash Player” will be made available via the Microsoft Update Catalog, Windows Update and WSUS; it will be offered up as optional in early 2021 and permanently removes Flash as a component of Windows OS devices. Later in the year, it will be made a mandatory update.

As we close out 2020, it’s good to remember how technology allowed some of us to continue to work, to learn, to communicate. It’s also been used to inform, and (unfortunately) to disinform. Here’s hoping that 2021 brings us fewer patching issues, fewer blocks of feature releases and more dependable Windows machines. I do hope Microsoft will slow the feature release process and offer major updates only once a year. If you have a desktop or a laptop that is easy to open, take the end of the year to review whether your machines need more RAM, a larger hard drive, or an SSD drive (if you don’t have one already). Also gift yourself some third-party backup software, along with either a large enough flash drive or external USB-based hard drive to store the images. As always, if you need how-to advice or guidance, you can reach out to the folks at Askwoody.com

Have a wonderful 2021! I know I’m looking forward to it. And it can’t come soon enough.

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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