Server Solver

Updates Gone Wild

Admin wants to know why one server keeps wanting to install latest update over and over again.

Zubair: I'm having some weird problems with Automatic Updates on my Windows Server 2003 computer and could use your help. When I try to install an update using Windows Update, it keeps offering me the same update over and over again. I’ve also noticed that Automatic Updates repeatedly downloads and installs the same update. Rebooting doesn’t help. Short of doing a clean install do you have any other solutions?
— Traci

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Traci, I can give you a few suggestions that will hopefully help because I have experienced similar problems on at least one of my computers. The problems I experienced were on a Windows XP computer, but the information in this column applies to all Windows computers that support automatic updates.

First, let’s clarify the difference between Windows Updates and Automatic Updates. Windows Updates is a Microsoft Web site that offers updates for Windows operating system software and Windows-based hardware. It provides fixes for security-related issues as well as patches for bugs in the operating system. Automatic Updates is a feature of Windows Updates that delivers what Microsoft refers to as “high priority” updates. It includes critical and security-related updates that can protect your system by automating the delivery process.

Now that we're clear on the difference, let’s see how we can approach your problem. The first thing you need to do is to figure out whether the update was installed or not. Based on whether the update took place, we will use different methods to solve the problem.

You can confirm whether the update installed by going to Windows Update (Start, All Programs, Windows Update) and then click on Review your update history under Options on the left column. Look at the most recent entry for the update in question. The Status column will show three choices: Succeeded, Canceled, or Failed (see Figure 1). The green check mark indicates a success, while a red cross indicates a failure. If an update fails, you’ll see a red cross with a yellow question mark next to it. Click on the icon to find out more and to learn how to solve the problem.

Automatic Updates Status
Figure 1. Look in the status column to see which updates made it onto your computer. (Click image to view larger version.)

For example, if you click on a failure icon, it'll pop up a separate window that offers you several self-help options, including the error code that can be helpful in solving the problem (see Figure 2). I especially find the Find Solutions option very helpful because it lists dozens of Microsoft Knowledge Base articles related to the updates. The last time I checked there were 43 articles posted there.

Click to find out
Figure 2. Clicking on a status icon gets you more information regarding the status of the update.

If you get “The page cannot be displayed” error when you click on one of the links in Internet Explorer, such as Windows Update Newsgroup, try pasting the URL in a different browser such as Mozilla’s Firefox and it will open just fine. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot use browsers other than Internet Explorer 5.0 and later for Windows Updates. I encourage you to use the newsgroups because you can find some really good information there.

Another method to confirm whether the update was installed or not is to look at the installation log files, as described in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 910339, "How to troubleshoot Windows Update or Microsoft Update when you are repeatedly offered an update." However, this method only applies to updates for Windows as updates for Office don’t create these log files.

Let’s assume that after reviewing your update history you discovered that the update was not installed. In that case, check out KB 906602, "How to troubleshoot Windows Update, Microsoft Update, and Windows Server Update Services installation issues."

If you determined that the update was installed then you can try a few options to solve the problem. First, try to install the update in Safe Mode. Because Safe Mode doesn’t allow you to run the Windows Update Service, you’ll need to download the update from Microsoft, boot to Safe Mode and install the update. If the update installation is successfully it will tell you whether a process or an application was interfering with your update.

As an alternate solution, you can also try to install Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool. Reboot the computer and then try to install the update again after any potential malicious software has been removed from your computer. In addition, try scanning your computer for viruses using an anti-virus software.

Tip: To prevent problems with Windows Update, you may want to consider adding the Windows Update Web site to your list of trusted sites in Internet Explorer.

If none of the solutions listed above help, you still have some other options. Here are links that you may find useful in troubleshooting Windows Updates problems:

About the Author

Zubair Alexander, MCSE, MCT, MCSA and Microsoft MVP is the founder of SeattlePro Enterprises, an IT training and consulting business. His experience covers a wide range of spectrum: trainer, consultant, systems administrator, security architect, network engineer, author, technical editor, college instructor and public speaker. Zubair holds more than 25 technical certifications and Bachelor of Science degrees in Aeronautics & Astronautics Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Information Systems. His Web site, www.techgalaxy.net, is dedicated to technical resources for IT professionals. Zubair may be reached at alexander@techgalaxy.net.

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