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Microsoft releases a new version of Windows (be it a complete revision or a service pack) every couple years, but the space between these major releases is far from barren. In fact the company serves up a constant stream of minor updates that address bugs, security problems or minor functionality issues.
Updates that impact all versions of Windows are always released through the Windows Update service, but less important fixes are not. Searching for a hotfix is one of the first things you should do when your Windows PC has a problem.
What’s A Hotfix?
The word “hotfix” was originally coined to describe a patch that was applied to a computer without interrupting its function. Applying an update without shutting down a computer completely used to be rare, and indeed Windows Update still requires a system restart to apply downloads.
Microsoft, however, tends to use the term differently. Updates labeled as a “hotfix” are optional updates, and they may or may not work best after a system reboot. They can cover a wide variety of issues, but usually fix very specific bugs that only impact a small number of users.
Unlike Windows Updates, which are recommended for installation on all Windows PCs, a hotfix is recommended only in response to an issue. Users who haven’t noticed the problem the hotfix combats are not advised to install the fix because Microsoft does not test these solutions as thoroughly as other updates.
Finding A Hotfix
Hotfix files won’t appear in Windows Update. Sometimes a hotfix will be bundled into an optional or even mandatory update if it becomes broadly applicable, but many never receive this treatment.
The best way to find a solution is to search Microsoft’s support page. Each fix is associated with a specific article on the support page which has a unique article ID in a format such as “Article ID: 2964487.” If you know the ID you can enter it to find the fix page, which will include a download at the top. In my experience, these articles don’t always appear unless you search “All Microsoft” instead of “Support” alone. Searching for the article ID via Google Web Search or Bing can work, too.
If you don’t have a specific fix in mind, but you would like to find one, then you can use the Windows support page to troubleshoot your issue. If there is a fix available, the troubleshooter will eventually direct you to it. However, since a hotfix is only meant for systems with a specific issue, Microsoft forces you to jump through a lot of hoops before it’ll cough up the file.
While Microsoft does not have any single page where every download can be found, it does have a few pages that provide shortcuts to common fixes. Here are three you should know about.
- OEM Partner Center Windows 8.1 / Server 2012 R2 Updates – Only applies to the latest versions of Windows, those being Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2.
- Microsoft Security Bulletin – This is where the company posts its latest information on security issues. Most are not related to a hotfix, but some are. At the least, these bulletins will advise you on the settings you need to change to avoid a specific vulnerability.
- Microsoft Popular Downloads – Again, this isn’t devoted to hotfix items, but some can be found. You’ll also find useful downloads you may need when troubleshooting, such as the DirectX installer.
Finally, you may be able to find a fix by searching or posting on the Microsoft Technet forums. This official website is full of experienced Windows users and IT veterans with a wealth of knowledge, who may know an obscure solution.
Windows Hotfix Downloader
Another way to obtain a fix is WHDownloader, a third-party tool that catalogs every update released from Microsoft, period. Using it is simple. Just download, install the program and then select the version of Windows (or Office) you’d like to view updates for from the drop-down menu next to the refresh button. You can view what a hotfix (or any update) does by double-clicking it. This will open the relevant Microsoft support page in your default browser.
While this tool is easy to use, I’m not sure it encourages the best habits. WHDownloader makes it easy to grab every hotfix ever published for your operating system, which is not how Microsoft meant for them to be used. The software also lacks update summaries, making it useless for finding a fix to a specific problem.
How To Install A Hotfix (From Microsoft)
The manner in which you install a fix obtained from Microsoft’s website can vary a bit depending on your operating system and the age of the fix itself. If you’re using Windows 7, 8 or 8.1, however, this is how it usually goes down.
First, you’ll find the hotfix article. At the top is a blue download button just below the title of the article, which also had a blue background. When you click the button, you’ll be taken to a new page that asks for your email address. Microsoft will only send you the file by emailing it to you, and the file will appear as download link rather than an attachment.
Downloading and running the file will open the Microsoft Self-Extractor, a self-contained compression utility.This will unzip the executable to the directory of your choice. Now open the directory you un-zipped to and run the executable. Follow the wizard’s instructions to complete the install.
How To Uninstall A Hotfix
Any hotfix you install can be viewed by doing a Windows Search for “uninstall” and opening the Uninstall Programs and Features window. Click the “view installed updates” link on the left hand side. This will show you all the updates you installed on your computer, including Windows Updates and hotfix files. To uninstall, select the hotfix in the list and then click “Uninstall” at the top of the window.
Most users will never need to install a Windows hotfix. They are an absolute must-have for only a small subset of users impacted by a specific issue, but everyone else can safely ignore them. With that said, knowing how to find and install a fix can save you hours of troubleshooting when something goes wrong.
Have you ever installed a hotfix, and if so, did it actually resolve your problem? Let us know in the comments!
Image credit: Stephanie-Inlove via DeviantArt, Mathieu Plurde via Flickr