Windows Update Controversy Takes Another Bizarre Turn

Windows Update

In the latest snafu, several Microsoft customers earlier this week said their machines running Windows Server Update Service were automatically downloading and installing an update package for Windows Desktop Search (WDS) without their consent, and subsequently rebooting.

On Thursday, Bobbie Harder, program manager for Windows Server Update Service (WSUS) group, offered a long and somewhat perplexing explanation.

According to Harder, the original WDS update, which Microsoft released in February, required WDS to be installed, while the recent one did not. This rule change caused the approval of automatic updates to be carried over from the one in February.

"With the expanded applicability rules, and the WSUS default setting to auto-approve new revisions, it may have appeared as if this update was deployed without approval," Harder wrote.

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Regardless of the cause, the Windows Update issues puts partners in a difficult position with customers who rely on their patch management abilities, says Susan Bradley, a Microsoft Small Business Specialist partner in Fresno, Calif.

"If a solution provider sets up their customer's network for WSUS to automatically approve patches, but later has to go back and change this because it's slowing down their network, does the partner bill the client?" said Bradley.

Microsoft is aware of these issues and plans to clarify its policies governing automatic updates. "We will be tightening the criteria for revisions so that auto-approval of revision behaviors [is] more predictable and of similar scope as the original approved update, as we appreciate the confusion this behavior caused," wrote Harder.

But late Thursday, a new wrinkle emerged in the Windows Update saga. In an entry on Microsoft's Windows OneCare Weblog, team members said they've tried to be as clear as possible that the security service is set up to automatically download and install "important updates".

"In the first OneCare boot experience we have gone to great lengths to disclose that OneCare may automatically effect changes to user settings in order to help best protect the user," the team members wrote.

Windows users began reporting the Windows Update issue earlier this month, but after investigating, Microsoft said it was likely due to users and administrators unwittingly changing the automatic update setting.

In September, Microsoft came under fire over a different Windows Update issue, this one pertaining to updates the vendor silently pushed out to users' PCs this summer which interfered with the repair function of Windows XP and created headaches for users trying to install the latest patches.