In theory, Windows Update is a great timesaving tool. With it, you can check with Microsoft to see if there are any updates for your system and, if necessary, download and install those updates. Windows Update not only provides critical and general updates for Windows, it also can inform you when there are driver updates to your system. The problem is, sometimes those driver updates don’t install correctly when you try to install them. Fortunately, with a quick from Microsoft, you can quickly fix Windows Update.

Author’s Note

As a general rule, I don’t like to use Windows Update to update drivers on my systems. I’ve had mixed results from the drivers that Microsoft recommends through Windows Update. Sometimes, the “updated” drivers caused more problems than they fixed. For that reason, I suggest that you usually check directly with a hardware vendor before blindly accepting Microsoft-suggested driver updates.

What causes the problem?
Windows Update is supposed to check to see what drivers are currently installed on your system and then compare that list against what’s available. According to Microsoft, if there are “a large number” of .INF files in the INF folder in your system directory, Windows Update may incorrectly guess which drivers to install.

Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t give any indication about what it thinks a large number is. You can check to see how many files are in your INF folder from either Explorer or a system prompt. When I checked mine, I found over 600 files, so it’s hard to say whether this doesn’t fit the definition of a large number or I’ve just been lucky. Whatever the definition, if you’re having the problem, that’s the reason why.

Fixing the problem
You can quickly fix the problem by downloading a patch from Microsoft. There are two versions of the patch available—one for Windows 2000 and one for Windows XP. Don’t get them mixed up. If you install the wrong patch on the wrong operating system, you’ll cause yourself more problems. The Windows 2000 patch covers all versions of Windows 2000, including the server products. The XP patch covers all versions of Windows XP, including Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

No matter which version you choose, they’ll both download very quickly. Neither file is bigger than 500 KB. Save the files to a temporary location on your workstation. Before you install the files, make sure you have a recent copy of your system recovery disk and a recent back up.

Once you’ve done that, you can start the installation process. To install the patch, you’ll run the following executables:

  • ·        Q814033_WXP_SP2_x86_ENU.exe on Windows XP
  • ·        Q814033_W2K_SP4_X86_EN.exe on Windows 2000

Doing so starts a familiar Windows wizard, which will walk you through the installation process. Just follow the on-screen prompts. There aren’t any gotchas along the way to look out for. When the wizard completes, you’re done. You don’t need to reboot or anything else.

A temporary solution
As annoying as the driver update problem is, you won’t have to worry about dealing with it forever. After you’ve applied this patch, you shouldn’t face it again. Microsoft plans to roll this patch into Service Pack 4 for Windows 2000 and Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, so even if you don’t apply this patch right away, you’ll be covered when those service packs ship.