Microsoft Streamlines Its Model for Windows Servicing Stack Updates
To avoid issues that have affected some Windows 7 users, Microsoft will start releasing Windows servicing stack updates (SSUs) as part of its monthly update rollups starting next month.
Specifically, this change will take effect on Oct. 9, Microsoft's next planned "update Tuesday" patch release, according to an announcement by John Wilcox, a contributor to the Microsoft Tech Community. Update Tuesdays typically occur on the second Tuesdays of each month.
Wilcox explained the problem that led Microsoft to make this change. Some Windows 7 users were just installing security-only updates each month, instead of update rollups, which contain both security and quality updates. It's an option they've had ever since Microsoft switched Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users to the monthly cumulative update patch model used by Windows 10. Cumulative updates contain new updates, as well as past ones.
Microsoft, though, was packaging its SSUs as part of its monthly update rollups -- that is, they were included in the updates that contained both security and quality patches. These SSUs were marked "critical" to apply, but some Windows 7 users skipped them anyway because they just were applying the security-only patches, which didn't include the SSUs.
However, without the SSUs in place, these Windows 7 users later found that they weren't able to install subsequent monthly rollups. Instead, they received "error 0x8000FFFF," Wilcox noted.
It turns out that SSUs are needed for the update process itself to work properly. Here's how Wilcox described them:
Servicing stack updates, or SSUs, are periodic updates released to specifically service or update the software stack for Windows platforms. These are fixes to the code that process and manage updates that need separate servicing periodically to improve the reliability of the update process, or address issue(s) that prevent patching some other part of the OS with the monthly latest cumulative update (LCU). Servicing stack updates ensure that you have a robust and reliable servicing stack so that your devices receive and install Microsoft security fixes.
A very clear explanation of SSUs can be had from this TechNet article by the Microsoft Japan Windows technology support group. Per a translation, the support team explained that SSUs are used to update the Component Based Servicing stack itself, "which is responsible for the OS installation process."
Wilcox traced the problems resulting from noninstalled SSUs back to October of 2016, when Microsoft first released KB 3177467, which was an SSU for Windows 7 Service Pack 1. The lack of this SSU caused Windows 7 users to get blocked more recently, in 2018. For instance, they were "unable to install the August 30th Monthly Rollup Preview (KB 4343894), the September 11th Monthly Rollup (KB 4457144), or the September 11th Security-only update (KB 4457145) -- and received 'error 0x8000FFFF'," Wilcox indicated.
Consequently, future SSU releases, from October onward, will get marked "security" and "critical," Wilcox noted, and they'll arrive with security patches. Microsoft also plans to reissue KB 3177467 next month for Windows 7 users.
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.