Apr 27 2011

Avoid Those Windows 7 SP1 ‘Gotchas’

Follow these tips to prevent common issues with Windows 7 SP1 installs.

Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 includes about a thousand hotfixes and other software updates that have been made available on Windows Update since these two products were released. SP1 also includes an exciting new feature for Windows Server 2008 R2 called Microsoft RemoteFX, which enables delivery of the full Microsoft Windows user experience to a wide variety of different client devices using Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

While updating a computer with a service pack is usually a straightforward task, administrators should still exercise caution and deploy SP1 in a test environment before rolling it out on their production network. This is especially true for mission-critical servers because a failed service pack install on a server can impact productivity for a large numbers of users. Here are three issues that have been reported with SP1 installs and the lessons that can be learned for future service pack installs.

Problem 1: Installing SP1 together with other updates

Some users who tried deploying SP1 using Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) have reported their computers freezing or displaying a black screen with a 0xc0000034 error message after updating them with SP1. This has been documented in a Knowledge Base article (see KB975484).

What are the lessons to be learned from this? First, always install a service pack separately from any other software updates. That includes any pending updates that have already been downloaded to your computer and are waiting to be installed on the next restart — you can make sure that you have no pending updates by restarting your computer before you apply the service pack.

Second, immediately restart your computer when the SP1 install routine tells you to do so. Don't do anything else on the computer (like install more updates) before restarting the computer.

Third, when something goes wrong with a service pack install, don't look to "unofficial" sources such as third-party blogs for help. Instead, immediately call Microsoft Support and work with them directly to try to resolve the issue.

This last point is important, as sometimes news groups, blogs and other Internet forums describe solutions or workarounds that have not been adequately tested, and some admins who tried that route with this particular issue ended up putting their Windows installations into a broken, unsupportable state, called a "torn state," that they could only recover from by restoring their Windows installation from backup media.

Problem 2: Installing RSAT on Windows 7 SP1

Some administrators who forged ahead aggressively and rolled out all new computers with Windows 7 SP1 installed as soon as integrated installation media became available on the Microsoft Volume Licensing website were in for a nasty surprise — they couldn't install the Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) for Windows 7 on the new computers.

Since RSAT is used for remotely administering Windows servers, this means they had to go into the server room or data center and log on interactively to a server to manage it. Either that or they had to install a fresh copy of Windows 7 RTM on a machine, install RSAT for Windows 7, and then apply SP1 to the system. This issue was documented in several places, including the Microsoft Reduce Customer Effort Center blog. Fortunately, updated RSAT tools for Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 have now been released on the Microsoft Download Center.

What's the lesson to be learned here? After a service pack has been released and even if you've tested it, don't update all your computers at once. Leave some Windows installations running at the RTM or previous service pack level just in case some of your mission-critical management tools don't work properly on updated systems.

Problem 3: Installing SP1 on computers with beta software installed

Some admins have reported that they received an 0x800f081f error when they tried to install SP1 on certain computers. It turns out this was caused by their having previously installed a beta, or pre-release version of RSAT for Windows 7 on these computers. I've also heard of similar issues happening with computers on which beta versions of Forefront Endpoint Security had previously been installed.

What's the moral here? Install beta software on test machines, not on your production systems. And if you do need to install beta software on a production system, be sure to completely uninstall the application before you install the final RTM version of the app.

The bottom line: Always test thoroughly before you roll out something to your production network. In addition, be sure to read any documentation that Microsoft provides with software it releases.

In this case, there is a detailed SP1 Deployment Guide on TechNet, and if you administer the network for your business you should read through this guide carefully before deploying SP1. Be sure to follow all the advice provided in this guide, test everything thoroughly, make sure you know the phone number for Microsoft Support, and keep your fingers crossed on both hands.