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  (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Microsoft says it's aware of the problem, but insists it appears to be relatively rare

The second Tuesday of August -- Aug. 12 -- brought Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) monthly day of patching.  But the security patch rolled out has caused an infamous Windows crash -- the dreaded blue screen of death (BSOD) -- to take ahold of some Windows 8.1 PCs.

I. A Patch of Trouble

The error (known more technically as Stop 0x50) reportedly occurred for a small number of users with the following updates: The '897 and '791 patches modify Win32k.sys/Gdi32.dll, so copying those from a working machine of the same version of Windows will negate the effects of those patches (according to Redditors).  Patch '228 creates a troubled temporary file called fntcache.dat -- which can simply be deleted to apparently fix that part of the problem.  

BSOD on Windows 8
A Blue Screen of Death on Windows 8.x [Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Or you can go into your system restore console with a recovery disc and try to remove the problem patches (see this Reddit thread for helpful details).  But double check -- some users have reportedly only had a single erroneous reboot, while for others the problems are continuous.

Microsoft has pulled the patches responsible.  It is reportedly working on a fix and repost of these updates.

II. How Many is Not Many?

The latest wrinkle comes from a Microsoft Community thread on the issues.  Microsoft graphics team engineer/program manager Kurt Phillips writes:

We're working as hard as we can to fix [these issues] and release that fix as quickly as possible, so stay tuned for the re-release announcement soon.

Everyone else - please be aware that the reason we pulled this patch was that IF you ran into the problem specified, it's a horrible user experience.  We made a fairly invasive change in font handling as part of a security patch and thought we had it tested properly, but there are definitely problems in our test coverage and design process that we need to address.  We definitely have lssons to learn from this and we will.

One thing to keep in perspective here - the actual numbers we get through telemetry (clearly not exhaustive, but definitely representative) are that the failures are only happening in ~0.01% of the overall population.  So, about 1 in 10000 machines are crashing. We have an obligation to fix that, and we will because we take that obligation very seriously.  If you installed and haven't seen a Stop 0x50, there's no guarantee you won't see one before we fix it, but look at the odds.  I think it would irresponsible to say in the security bulletin to not uninstall due to the severity of the problem IF you hit it, but I'm not uninstalling.  You need to make your own decision on that course.

Again - sorry to put you through this.

Just wanted to clear up some hyperbole - Microsoft isn't crumbling, all our testers weren't fired, etc.  99.99% success is pretty good in most jobs in this world, but clearly we need to strive for higher.

Lastly, I am not the official Microsoft spokesperson on this, just an engineer on a very busy graphics team trying to fix our problem.

WinBeta
Microsoft's latest Patch Tuesday has caused a lot of trouble for some users. [Image Source: WinBeta.org]

Note, he's not an official spokesperson.  Neowin reported:

You can read his full post below but it has since been pulled from the forums for unknown reasons; likely do to the fact that he is not an authorized spokesperson.

...and Myce.com writes...

The original thread has been removed but we made a screenshot in time.

...but that's inaccurate, or no longer accurate, at least.  The post is readily available for viewing as of 8/24.

III. No, But Really, How Many Users is That?

So, assuming the numbers checked out enough that Microsoft left the post intact despite the coverage (and did not openly contradict it), how many users are affected if 0.01 percent are effected?

Well, at a Goldman Sachs (GS) conference in February, Microsoft executive Tami Reller revealed that in 15 months Windows 8 (and its free upgrade Windows 8.1) had moved 200 million licenses (100 million was hit after roughly 6 months).  

As noted by The Next Web that's 100 million less licenses than the popular Windows 7 moved in its first fie quarters (~300 million), but then again it's 40 million more than the troubled Windows Vista moved in its first 15 months (~160 million based on Microsoft's announced 12 and 19 month totals for Vista).  

Another fun fact -- according to Gartner, Inc. (IT) and the Interactive Data Corp. (IDC), PC sales in July-March were around 240 million [IDC: 13Q3, 13Q4, 14Q1 / Gartner: 13Q3, 13Q4, 14Q1], of which about 10 million were Chromebooks or Macbooks according to various sources (Apple, Inc. (AAPL) earnings, UBS AG (VTX:UBSN) analyst report).  That means less than 1 in 2 Windows licenses sold in this period were new Windows 8 licenses (like a portion of the remaining 120 million came from OEMs using unsold licenses from the original 100 million Windows 8 licenses).

Anyhow, this indicates a license sell through rate of 11.1 million licenses per month.  Given Q2 2014 sales came in at 74.4 million (IDC) and 75.8 million (Gartner) PCs (of which ~ 1.7 million were Macbooks ; 2 million were Chromebooks) in Q2 2014 -- almost the same as Q1, we can assume this sales rate more or less continued.  So in March-July Microsoft likely moved between 9-13 million Windows 8 licenses a month.  That would add up to 45-65 million additional Windows 8 licenses sold in the last five months.
ASUS T100TA
An ASUSTek Computer Inc. (TPE:2357) Transformer Book T100TA 10.1-inch convertible tablet is seen running Windows 8.1.

That gives us an estimate of current Windows 8.x license sales levels -- 245 to 265 million units.  So 0.01 percent of Windows 8.x licenses -- assuming 90 percent of licenses sold are active -- is around 22,000 to 24,000 users.  We're not saying that many users are affected by the most severe problems, but that gives you a roughly idea of how few -- or how many Windows 8.x users are seeing the dreaded BSODs, according to official estimates from Microsoft.

Oct. 2013 was the decade anniversary of Microsoft's first Patch Tuesday, a program launched two years in to the XP era to try to improve adoption rates of security patches.  As Softpedia's tribute piece from last October hints at, this is hardly Microsoft's first Patch Tuesday faux pas -- and definitely far from its worse.

Sources: Microsoft Community, Reddit [1], [2], Myce





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