Windows Update finds no updates, but it’s only a matter of time

By Brian Livingston

Reader Jeremy Rosenblatt blows the whistle on a situation in which Microsoft’s widely used Windows Update routine finds no updates to install – even when there are clearly many patches needed by a machine.

“The behavior would not cause a typical user to suspect a problem,” Rosenblatt writes, “as Microsoft provides no hint that an error has occurred.” I’ll let him tell the rest of the story:

  • “The cause of the issue is that if a machine has its date set to something outside of the valid range of the SSL certificate on MS’s WinUpdate site, WinUpdate will get an SSL error. Instead of reporting it in some intelligible manner, WinUpdate simply reports, ‘There are no updates available for your computer. Please check back later’ (with no error message at all).

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    “Only if you then click on the ‘See Also/Windows Update Catalog’ do you get a clue that there might be an error involved. And even then it isn’t obvious what’s going on. You get an error page, but the only troubleshooting tip is a mailto tag that formats an e-mail to MS with ‘ERROR 0x800A138F’ in the subject line.

    “It’s easy to try for yourself. Just change your machine’s date to 2001, open a fresh instance of IE and go to Windows Update.

    “It should also occur if you use the WinUpdate Start menu icon, although there’s some possibility you may need to reboot after the date change.”

This scenario would most likely occur when someone was setting up a PC for the first time and its internal clock hadn’t yet been configured. But it can also happen to many longtime users who aren’t too fastidious about their computer’s date and time settings.

After Rosenblatt wrote in about this, the problem was quickly added to the WinUpdate troubleshooting page. But since a clear error message is never displayed to affected users, they might go quite a long time without critical updates – and never think to look for a troubleshooting note.

So watch those system clocks. The time may be later than you think.

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