The Windows Server Update Service That Doesn’t

One of the great things about being a technology pessimist is that you don't suffer that sinking feeling when something doesn't work as expected. And, of course, you get to experience a nice ripple of surprised elation when stuff actually does work as it's supposed to. This week I've experienced a roughly equal mixture of both.

I've rambled on in the past about the rather nice Dell Latitude E4300 that's been my main portable technology plaything over the last four years or so. It's got 4 gig of memory, a reasonably fast CPU, plenty of ports for my legacy peripherals, a superb matte screen with LED backlight, and all of this lives in a rather attractive metallic red case. And it's amazingly light and compact as well – easily the best laptop I've ever owned.

However, a constant stream of bleeding-edge pre-release software and myriad updates to the underlying Vista O/S (yes, I'm still a satisfied Vista user on some old kit) has taken its toll. Several things don't work very well, and it seems to spend the first half an hour of every day trying to collect all the wayward ones and zeros into some semblance of order - instead of doing anything useful such as opening my email inbox.

So I decided to experiment with the shiny new Windows 8 to see if I can live with it on a non-touch screen. I've been using it on the Surface RT that arrived a couple of weeks ago and I actually quite like it. In fact I'm writing this post on it right now. I'm also due to receive a super-duper touchy-feely ASUS laptop from work any day now, which will be great for collecting greasy fingerprints - and even for connecting to the corporate big iron when I need to do some internally-connected stuff.

So why not see if I can frighten the old Dell back to life by installing a scary new O/S? Or, even better, see if I can give it a whole new lease of life, like I did by upgrading an old XPS laptop to Windows 7 some while back. Mind you, there seemed no point in putting all this effort into it when the hard drive was probably one of the root causes of the arthritic performance, so before anything else I ordered a 128 gig SSD to replace it. The nice people at Crucial even do a proper upgrade kit for the E4300, so the hardware installation bit was only a ten minute job – including blowing the dust out of the innards after I took all the wrong panels off before I read the instructions.

After that installing Windows 8 was a breeze, and the change in performance is startling. It boots in less than ten seconds, and loads applications like they were already running in another window. Amazing. I've always been a bit reticent about SSDs after reading reports about doubtful reliability with the early ones, but it seems that even some parts of Windows Azure datacenters use them to maximize performance, so I guess they figured out how to make them more reliable.

It wasn't long before I'd got Office 2013, Visual Studio 2012, and all the other bits and pieces I use for my daily bread-winning tasks installed as well, and by now I was almost in ecstasy as the constant ripples of surprised elation overwhelmed my technological pessimism. Until I remembered why I'd never upgraded this machine to Windows 7 before – anything later than Vista must have BitLocker turned on to be allowed onto the corporate network.

But after some firkling in the BIOS I discovered a previously undiscovered TPM chip, and figured that maybe I could get BitLocker to work on this machine. It turned on OK, and quite happily encrypted my drive. However, every third reboot produced an error that "a compatible TPM module was not found” and I had to enter the recovery key (which is 48 characters long) to get it working. By teatime I'd decided that enough was enough, and turned BitLocker off again. It only took three hours to unencrypt the drive, but at least I still had a working setup.

So it seems that this machine is destined to never see CorpNet again, even if its memory will live long in the Active Directory Users and Computers list as a tribute to many years' faithful service. I just hope the new laptop arrives before I need to get access again, though I suppose I can just drop the old hard disk with Vista on it into the Dell if needs be.

And because I won't be joining it back to the corporate domain, I decided I might as well join it to my own domain here in my remote home/office. That way it will pick up all the domain rules and configuration settings, including using my own Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) server instead of going out to Windows Update each time.

And, just to balance out the pessimism-based elation/disappointment ratio, all I got from the Windows Update dialog was the incredibly useful "Error 800b0001” message. A brief Binging revealed that the WSUS server needed an application of the KB 2720211 patch, which several people reckoned would fix the problem. Oh no, it doesn't. You also need the KB 2734608 patch, which openly advertises that it fixes the problem with talking to the new "hardened” Windows Update client in Windows 8.

So at last I have what feels and looks like a new laptop, and all I need to do now is learn the keyboard equivalents of the proddy-finger actions. I quickly figured that Windows key + Q gets you to the nearest thing to a Start menu - the Search box where you can find and start all your regular programs. And I pinned the Control Panel widget to my Start (Home?) screen, along with all the applications I use most of the time, just to make life easier.

You even get a new game in Windows 8 - shuffling the start screen tiles around to get them in the order you want is just like playing one of those old picture tile slider puzzles. You have to plan four or five moves ahead or they all shuffle around randomly when you come to move the last one, and you have to start all over again.

And I guess that, if by some remote chance you're still here, you'll now be wondering about the title of this post. What I can't figure is why, when it's to set to automatically install updates, my WSUS server didn't automatically install the updates that make it to work with Windows 8. It turns out that they aren't actually on Windows Update. They are optional service updates that can prevent WSUS from distributing any custom updates you might have created. But it would have been nice to have been warned about it. Seems you only find out when you have the same problem as me, and search the web for an answer. Or if you are interested enough in WSUS to sign up to some mailing list.

But perhaps it's a good thing that everything didn't go right at the first attempt. I'm not sure my constitution could cope with an excess of surprised elation ripples at my time of life...

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