Before You Install Windows 7 Service Pack 1

Microsoft is now offering Windows 7 users “Service Pack 1,” a bundle of security updates and minor feature improvements. If you’re thinking about installing this update, read on for a few caveats and tips that may change your mind.

First off, this service pack is mainly a bundle of previously-released security updates. If you are staying up-to-date in security patches, you are not going to gain much by installing this service pack, which contains a few uber-geeky feature improvements that are mostly a bonus for users of Windows Server 2008 R2 — not Windows 7.

My take? I’d say that the main benefit of this service pack for Windows 7 users would be if you were considering re-installing the operating system for some reason. In that case, Service Pack 1 would streamline the process quite a bit. Otherwise, I would urge Windows 7 users who are up-to-date to ignore this offering, at least for now.

If you decide to go forward with this Service Pack, there are several important considerations, particularly if your system has certain hotfixes installed (hotfixes are small patches designed to address specific — not necessarily security — issues). For example, Microsoft says that systems with hotfixes (2406705, 979350 or 983534) will block the installation of the service pack and may experience problems as a result.

Microsoft doesn’t exactly make it easy for you to figure out which hotfixes you have installed. If you mosey over to the Windows Update panel in Windows 7 (click start and type “Windows Update”), you should be able to get a list of installed updates by clicking the “View Update History” link in the left side menu. But paging through these updates and looking for obscure knowledgebase (KB) numbers is mind-numbing. There is probably an easier way to do this, but I wanted a text file listing all the updates installed, so I clicked Start, then in the text box typed “Cmd”. In the resulting command prompt, I typed “wmic qfe list full > patchlist.txt” without the quotes, and it quickly spat out a list of installed updates into a text file called “patchlist.txt”. A quick keyword search through this file (Ctrl-F) will tell you whether any of those three hotfixes is installed.

If you do have any of the above hotfixes installed, you will need to follow Microsoft’s instructions here if you want to install this service pack with a minimum of potential complications. Also, do not ignore Microsoft’s admonition to backup your system and your data before proceeding with this Service Pack. Better safe than sorry.

Microsoft’s own Technet forum post on this service pack includes a number of cautionary tales from users who have installed this update. Also, the SANS Internet Storm Center is keeping a running tally of issues and conflicts that users have reported. For example, some users are reporting that certain types of third party firewalls and disk encryption software may be affected by the service pack. If you decide to proceed with this service pack, please consider having a look at these two resources.

As always, please drop a note in the comments area below if you have any personal experience with this service pack that you’d like to share.

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