Microsoft Working Overtime To Fix Windows XP Resource Hog Issue
Microsoft said it will be working through the holiday period to fix a Windows XP resource-hog problem that has affected some users for years.
Doug Neal of the Microsoft Update team identified the problem as being associated with the Windows Update Agent in a Dec. 13 Patchmanagement.org list-serve post. However, Windows XP users typically experience this problem as a lockdown on system resources. Users typically see excessive memory consumption by Windows XP's SVCHOST.EXE process, which checks for a list of services to load at system startup. SVCHOST will grind on and on, sometimes for 15 minutes to an hour, consuming memory, and slowing machines down to a crawl. The delay seems to be associated with SVCHOST cycling through the long update histories of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 and 7 browsers.
Neal identified the problem as being tied to "inefficiencies in the Windows Update Agent processing long lists of superseded updates." Those lists are "as long as 40+ superseded items," he added, but "due to security requirements, the Internet Explorer product was required to continue building a chain longer than what is normally permitted in Windows Update."
Microsoft tried to fix the issue by expiring the IE 6 and IE 7 supersedence lists in October's Patch Tuesday release, but "the Windows Update Agent has smarts built into it that outsmarted us," Neal explained. Microsoft tried again to address the issue in its November and December updates, but those attempts didn't work either.
Neal offered no present-day fix or workaround for the problem, but he promised that Microsoft would be "working through the holiday to provide the right fix as soon as possible."
"We're working diligently to release changes to the supersedence logic that will comprehensively solve this problem," he wrote. "It's a top priority. And the right (and smartest) people are on it. And as this problem has become more prevalent, we're working to provide a KB article that will publicly describe the issue so customers can discover it via searches and the recommended guidance."
The problem is described in Microsoft's community support pages dating back to 2010, at least, but it also got lots of discussion more recently in October and September. Many users experiencing this problem think they are dealing with malware that is hijacking their machines, according to the support pages.
In any case, Windows XP is hitting the end of its product lifecycle. Microsoft plans to end security patch support for the venerable operating system on April 8, 2014. So, if a fix arrives for this Windows Update Agent problem after the holidays, users will have a good four months of PC life, perhaps, before being subject to scaled-up security threats.
Microsoft has described Windows XP's situation after April 8 as a perpetual "zero-day" vulnerability situation. In other words, those Windows XP machines potentially will be subject to a rash of attacks for which Microsoft isn't preparing any solutions. The one exception is for those organizations paying for so-called "custom support" from Microsoft, which is an expensive option typically available only to large organizations.
Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.