This past week, Microsoft released the Windows 7 Convenience Rollup, providing its biggest user base with what is essentially a long-overdue second service pack. The promise of this rollup is that it will dramatically speed the process of clean installing and then updating a Windows 7 PC. And it does. But Windows 7 updating is still very much broken.
The Convenience Rollup, or CR as I’ll now call it, can be used in a variety of ways. Here, I’ll focus on what I believe to be the most common usage, where you simply clean install Windows 7 as you always would, apply the CR (and its two prerequisites) manually, and then use Windows Update to go the final mile and get the OS completely up-to-date. But if you are supporting multiple PCs, or are regularly reinstalling Windows 7 for whatever reason, you can also slipstream—or, in Microsoft’s terminology, inject—the CR into your Windows 7 install media so that it is applied immediately at the time of initial setup.
Either way, the goal is simple: To dramatically speed and simplify the process of installing and then fully updating Windows 7.
Windows 7 users—and by the most accurate count available today, there are almost 750 million of them—know that clean installing this OS can be terribly time-consuming. So for comparison’s sake, I pulled out an old Windows 7-based Ultrabook—a five-year-old ASUS Zenbook UX31E—and set about to clean install and then fully update the OS the old-fashioned way, using only Windows Update.
It did not go well.
After the initial install was over, there were a number of missing drivers, including any form of networking. So I installed the Intel chipset drivers and then those for networking (I had previously copied them to a USB stick), rebooted, and got connected to my wireless network. Then I fired up Windows Update. After an initial update to the Windows Update software, I then proceeded to stare at a “Checking for updates…” window that was clearly doing absolutely nothing.
With a bit of research—Google, plus feedback from the good folks on Twitter, I discovered that Windows 7 has degenerated over time and that waiting on Windows Update for hours are now customary. This was … disappointing, obviously. But doubly disappointing since this issue exacerbates the central problem with fully updating Windows 7 today: You have several hundred updates to get through as it is, and having to wait to install them is untenable.
I was told via Twitter that two software updates—KB3102810 and KB3083710–should get Windows Update unstuck. (One reader also told me that Ed Bott had experienced this same issue a few months back, though that was before the CR was available.) So I installed those, rebooted, checked Windows Update and …voila … There were 226 pending important updates to install, plus 10 optional updates. Time elapsed so far: 1 hour.
I let Windows Update do its thing. And for a while, it seemed that all was well. One hour later—two hours since the clean install completed—Windows Update had installed 106 of the 226 important updates. But after 20 minutes of no further progress, I rebooted the PC in the hopes of getting it “unstuck.” During the offline update installer experience, I noted that it was installing 160 updates, which seemed like a good sign.
But when the PC finally rebooted into the desktop and I checked Windows Update again, it hung on that “Checking for updates…” window yet again. And though time just keeping plodding forward, Windows Update refused to do a thing. After about two more hours—about fours total—I had to leave the house for a family function. Windows Update had defeated me.
When I arrived home later last night, I woke up the PC and saw that Windows Update was now “installing update 1 of 101,” so I decided to nurse it to completion. 40 minutes later, it was ready to reboot and install the updates offline, and a few minutes later, it was back up on the desktop. A quick check of Windows Update revealed that there were just 7 optional installs left. After another reboot and another check, there were 8 important updates and 1 optional updates. Install, reboot, and it was 11 pm, and there was just 1 important update. At 11:10 pm—about 9 and a half hours since the initial Windows 7 clean install completed—it was done. Windows 7, I was told, was up to date.
So. How does using the CR compare?
Looking over Microsoft’s announcement about this release, I discovered that you need to install a few prerequisites before you can install the CR: Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1), which is already integrated into my Windows 7 install media, and something called the April 2015 servicing stack update.
Microsoft makes Convenience rollup update available via something called the Windows Update Catalog, but that site inexcusably requires Internet Explorer because it uses an ActiveX control. Yes, in 2016. So you can fire up IE and get the CR, or just use these download links, helpfully supplied to me by Tero Alhonen via Twitter:
My plan was to see how long it took to install these updates, and how much easier the process was.
So after the initial Windows 7 install completed, I installed the Intel chipset and networking drivers (and rebooted) installed the KB3102810 and KB3083710 updates, and rebooted, and then installed the April 2015 servicing stack update (with no reboot) and then the CR, and rebooted, with a short (~5 minutes) offline installation. Total elapsed time was just 40 minutes.
Then I checked Windows Update to see what was left. I figured the CR would get us pretty much up-to-date since it was just released, but there’s always more to do, and I knew there were a few USB-related drivers still missing in Device Manager. But goddamn this thing, Windows Update just hung on that “Checking for updates…” windows yet again.
Based on the feedback I received on Twitter yesterday, this issue–where Windows Update just sits there saying “Checking for updates…” but not actually doing anything—is common in Windows 7. Naturally, I’ve been largely unaware of this since I long since moved in turn to Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and now Windows 10. But for the subset of those several hundred million people who do in fact use Windows 7 every single day and need to reinstall the OS from time to time, this is obviously a problem. For those who need to update the OS on multiple machines, it’s a freaking nightmare.
As I noted on Twitter yesterday, this issue is almost reason enough to consider the (free) Windows 10 upgrade, which suffers from none of these updating issues. Indeed, it’s hilariously the opposite, where the problem is that it almost updates toomuch.
I won’t kick this thing to the curb until I actually do get those additional updates, whatever they are. So I’ll have a short update when that happens. But I will be happy to never revisit Windows 7 again if possible. What a mess it’s become.
UPDATE: Over two hours after Windows Update got stuck on that “Checking for updates…” window, updates finally appeared: 55 important updates and 11 optional updates. I’m installing those now, but I’m a bit surprised there are that many left after the CR install. –Paul