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Windows Update glitches wider, deeper?

Redmond DNS probs a-go-go...

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Microsoft's problems with the Windows Update site, reported here yesterday, are more complex and widespread than first appeared, according to sources within the company. Users have been having sporadic problems accessing Windows Update for some days now, but according to one Microsoft support engineer "internal DNS server problems" have meant that Microsoft staff haven't been able to get to numerous sites from the company's internal network.

People who couldn't get far enough into Microsoft sites to get updates can maybe take some satisfaction from Microsoft people not being able to get out. It's still not clear what the problem is/was; a Reuters report yesterday quoted a Microsoft spokeswoman as saying it would be fixed by today, and indeed The Register has successfully downloaded this week's security patches from Windows Update today. But she also said the problem was discovered last Thursday (true), and that it had arisen when engineers had attempted to update software on a server (too vague to be very informative, but difficult to credit if the internal network has had DNS trouble for two weeks).

Several Register readers have pointed out that at least part of the Windows Update problem was that the page http://www.download.windowsupdate.com, didn't exist, and that a workaround was to go for http://download.windowsupdate.com (no "www") instead. Both of these pages now do exist, but somewhat weirdly kick up "Under Construction" notices - what on earth do they think they're doing?

There are several other workarounds in addition to the one involving changing your DNS settings we detailed yesterday. Changing your hosts file (...\system32\drivers\etc\hosts) by adding 207.68.131.20 www.download.windowsupdate.com is a common one, but we particularly liked this 'hit it with a big hammer' solution:

"I ended up grabbing the names of the updates (i.e. the 'Security update, December 4th 2001' or whatever) and chucking that into Google, which then gets you the actual security bulletin or Q page with a link to the patch from the MS download center... they all downloaded fine without a hitch."

But problems with download.windowsupdate.com wouldn't explain Microsoft's internal troubles, and wouldn't explain the "no web site configured at this address" message one reader was getting from http://corporate.windowsupdate.microsoft.com for two days. Or indeed this:

"...other times [it would] tell me I didn't have the ActiveX installed, other times it would tell me that v4 of windowsupdate was only for WinXP (I'm running WinNT and hadn't even gone near v4.windowsupdate.com...) It looks like they've been doing some major reworking in the background and broken it."

Aside from its own networking problems, the major hoops people have had to go through in order to get updates constitute a severe reverse for Microsoft's plans to make things 'easier' for Windows users. Once upon a time if you wanted an update you'd click on a link, download it (or for the heavy metal community, even get it by FTP), then install it offline. You'd have to figure out for yourself whether you wanted or needed it, of course, but the process did kind of the work.

Now, your computer can check regularly to see if there are updates for you, and if you've let it set itself up that way, decide for itself whether you need them and install them without bothering you. This is basically the full-on, 100 per cent Microsoft vision for Windows Update, and XP will do that for you if you're daft enough to let it. Of course if the places it's looking are a rat's nest of misconfigured DNS,* it's not going to be able to do that anyway, is it? ®

* a purist reader writes:
"Microsoft has cleverly (note the sarcasm) set up both their primary and secondary DNS servers in the same netblock. This means that if for any reason one of those servers is unavailable, there is an extremely high probability that the other one will likewise be unavailable, thus making microsoft.com essentially invisible to anyone whose local DNS cache does not contain current records."

And finally, a big hello to the Microsoft Certifiable Professional (we think that's what MCP stands for) who wrote telling us there was nothing wrong because it worked for him all weekend, and that therefore "the Register writers obviously have no idea on how to configure their own systems". Well fella, look who's talking...

Related links:
MS Windows Update suffers multi-day outage

SANS - Survey on application security programs

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