Microsoft patch puts up stop sign for some IE users

Microsoft Corp. acknowledged on Dec. 18 that a software patch issued earlier in the month for Internet Explorer had crippled the Web browser for some users.

After initially suggesting a work-around that required changes to the Windows registry on PCs, the company released an automated fix for the problem. But it didn't reissue the patch with the fix included.

Kieron Shorrock, IE program manager at the Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC), said the problem affects IE6 users whose PCs are running Windows XP with the Service Pack 2 update installed. On such systems, the browser "may stop responding when you try to a visit a Web site," Shorrock said.

But Shorrock downplayed the problem in a posting on the MSRC's blog. He wrote there that the bug occurred only in what he described as "a customised installation" and that just "a small number of customers" had reported having problems after deploying the patch.

Despite those soothing words, the snafu generated a buzz on some Microsoft support newsgroups. Almost immediately after the patch was issued on Dec. 11 as part of Microsoft's monthly release of software updates, users began posting messages saying that their browsers couldn't reach Web sites or wouldn't open at all.

Harold Decker, operations manager at Gold Peak Industries NA Inc. in San Diego, said he started fielding calls from IE users first thing in the morning after Microsoft released the patch. After five of the first 13 users who deployed the patch encountered problems with IE, Decker, who manages 35 PCs running Windows XP SP2, stopped everyone else from installing the update.

The registry-edit work-around that Microsoft at first suggested didn't placate some users. One, identified only as "Phil", asked whether the suggestion was a joke, in a comment attached to a posting by another Microsoft official on the vendor's IE blog.

"With hundreds of users here running XP SP2 with IE6", Phil wrote, "how can Microsoft be serious that the solution is to edit each registry? It would be easier to have each user install Mozilla Firefox and stop using IE completely".

Decker applauded Microsoft's subsequent release of the automated fix, which can be downloaded manually or installed via Windows Update. But he added that Microsoft should take the next step and reissue the entire IE patch.

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