If, as an analyst suggested Tuesday, Microsoft plans to begin patching more than its own software, its first effort got off to a rocky start. By Wednesday, Windows users were complaining of glitches in updating Adobe's Flash Player through the Windows Update service.
Microsoft took the unusual step Tuesday of feeding an updated edition of Flash Player to Windows XP, Windows 98, and Windows Millennium users. It was the first time the Redmond, Wash. developer took an active role in pushing a third-party product update to users.
Even a member of Microsoft's Security Response Center's team noted the shift. "I've been in the MSRC now for a while, seen a lot of 'interesting' things happen around here and it is a bit of a trip to look at our list of bulletins we shipped today and see the words Flash, Adobe, and Macromedia in the titles," said Craig Gehre, the release manager for MSRC. "Different to say the least."
That was the reaction of users on a Microsoft support newsgroup, but not in a good way.
Problems with the MS06-020 update -- the one tagged as "critical" that patched flawed Flash Players -- drove many to mark complaints on the Windows Update newsgroup.
Threads with titles such as "Security Update for Flash Player," "flash player cannot be updated," and "Flash Player" contain a slew of grievances, most of them remarking about repeated failures of the patch to install.
Microsoft is aware of the problem, which it dubbed a "known issue" in a support document posted Wednesday. The document offers a workaround that requires users to delete a pair of Flash-related files, then manually download and install the Player update.
The problem, Microsoft said, involves a PC's specific history with Flash. If, for instance, a user had installed Flash Player 7 or 8 on a machine that previously had version 6, then later uninstalled version 7 or 8, Windows Update will repeatedly offer the update, and display the error "The version of Macromedia Flash you have installed does not match the update you are trying to install."
To confuse users even more, Microsoft's update process for Windows 98 and Windows Millennium users required that they know the version of Flash Player installed on their PCs, rather than Windows Update sniffing it out for them.
Buried in the FAQ section of MS06-020 is a paragraph that spells it out for Windows 98 and Millennium users.
"The security updates for Flash Player 5.x and 6.x are available for download only from the Windows Update Web site. Visit the Adobe website for updates to Flash Player 7 and higher," the bulletin read.
Microsoft recommended that users steer to a page on Adobe's Web site to find out what version of Flash is installed.
Even some users who followed the rules, however, were nonplussed.
"I had already gotten [updated Flash Player version] 8.0.r24 from [Adobe's] site a while ago, but Windows Update still tried to patch me up," wrote Kevin Hobbs in an e-mail to TechWeb. "Go figure..."
Last month, Adobe warned users of Flash Player bugs that could put users at risk from drive-by downloads, and told them to update; Microsoft in turn issued a security advisory recommending that users upgrade.