Windows Update — talk about shooting yourself in both feet…

Microsoft update - nonsense

For the love of Pete (who’s Pete you ask?  It’s a joke, son), who’s keeping watch over Microsoft customers’ safety and security?  For well over a year now, I’ve encountered Windows XP SP2 PC after PC, dutifully configured to automatically download and install all high-priority updates.  Some of these PCs, I’ve mothered over multiple times, hoping that I was seeing just a one-time problem that would be magically resolved the next time I arrived.

Microsoft even makes a big deal in its advertising about the fact that Windows Update (or Microsoft Update, if you’ve opted-in to this long-overdue expansion of updates across many Microsoft consumer and business products) “…helps keep your PC running smoothly — automatically”.  [And if you don’t believe me, check it out for yourself.]

Hogwash, I say.

Windows Update?  It’s more like “Rarely Update”, or “Windows Downtime”.

In almost every single case (and I suspect the rare PCs that weren’t this way, had been similarly mothered by some other poor lackey of the Beast from Redmond), I’ve found that I had to visit the Windows Update web site, download yet another update to the “Windows Genuine Validation” ActiveX control, install this piece o’ quicksand, and then subject my friend’s (or family member’s) PC to the agony of between one and three (depending on how long it’d been since I last visited) sessions of downloading and installing the very updates that they (and I) continued to falsely believe were being downloaded “automatically”.

In those cases where it’d been a year or more since the last occasion of hand-holding by me, the cycle of abuse wasn’t complete with a single session — I had to reboot after all “available” updates were installed, and re-visit Windows Update to find yet *another* batch of updates that magically appeared on this subsequent go-around.

How does this happen?  How could a service that is supposed to minimize the occurrence of unpatched PCs turn against itself so horribly?

I have to imagine that the WU (Windows Update) team doesn’t have any oversight or centralized control over the content that’s being hosted on their site.  If they did (and assuming they’re the folks who paid for the above ad), then they’d take their responsibilities more seriously, and make sure their site could deliver on the promise being advertised.

As it stands, it appears that the team responsible for Windows Genuine Validation feels it’s more important to ensure that their software is being explicitly installed by the end user, than to ensure that Microsoft’s customers are being adequately protected from the constant onslaught of Windows-targeting malware.

Each and every time I have visited the Windows/Microsoft Update site on these “under-managed” PCs (i.e. PCs owned by those folks who have left their PCs alone, as they’ve been promised to be able to by Microsoft), I’ve found that I had to perform the “Custom” scan, then accept the only-via-the-web download for the Windows Genuine Validation software, and only then is the computer capable of automatically downloading the remaining few dozen updates that have been queued up while the PC has been prevented by the requirement to download the validation control.

It seems like the Windows Genuine Validation team isn’t satisfied with their software getting onto every Windows PC in existence; they also seem bound & bent to ensure that every user is explicitly aware that they’re being surveilled by the Microsoft “licensing police”.

Why is it that Windows Update (or Microsoft Update) can update every other piece of software on my Windows PC automatically, but the license police can’t (or won’t) get its act together and make their (unwanted but unavoidable) software available automatically as well?  And don’t tell me it’s a “privacy” thing, or that it wasn’t explicitly allowed in the Windows XP SP2 EULA.  We’ve had plenty of opportunities to acknowledge updated privacy notifications or EULA addenda (hell, there’s at least one of those to acknowledge every year via WU, it seems), so that don’t fly.

So here’s my proposition: I’d love to see the Windows Genuine Validation team fall in line with the rest of the Microsoft “internal ecosystem” and figure out a way to make it so that WU/MU automatic updates actually become automatic again.  Wouldn’t it be grand if Windows systems around the world were still able to keep on top of all the emerging threats on behalf of all those individuals who’ve filled Microsoft’s coffers over the years?

Let’s get the current WGA control packaged up like any other High-Priority update and pushed down on the next Patch Tuesday (pitch it as if it’s similar to the monthly malware scanning tool).  If you have to, add in one of those EULA addenda (with or without a prominent privacy notification up front), and if you’re really worried, run a big press “push” that gets the word out that a privacy notification is coming.  C’mon Microsoft!  You’ve conquered bigger engineering problems before.  This one (at least to my naive viewpoint) can’t possibly be that hard…

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