Patch for masses swats Windows bug

Microsoft uses Windows Update to fix a problem that caused PCs to show the "blue screen of death."

Microsoft has pushed out a patch for a software bug responsible for crashing some Windows systems that had third-party antivirus and firewalls installed.

The fix, which was sent out through the automatic Windows Update system this week, deals with a problem that only affects Windows XP computers with Service Pack 2 installed alongside Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 and Windows Server 2003. The bug causes those PCs to crash and display the "blue screen of death" and an error message.

The issue occurs "if certain firewall or antivirus programs are installed," Microsoft said in an advisory. The company did not say which particular software was involved.

Microsoft released a patch to customers who had encountered the problem in November, after the Windows Error Reporting team noticed an increase in specific failure reports, the company said in a statement. The company then felt that the issue was widespread enough and felt confident enough in the downloadable fix to distribute it en masse through its Windows Update system.

"As we continued to get more data through the error-reporting system, we felt that it was becoming a significant enough reliability issue to provide the fix more broadly," Microsoft said in a statement sent to CNET News.com. "As such, it met the bar for a priority reliability improvement for Windows XP SP2 users, and we made the decision to push the fix out via Automatic Update."

The software giant stressed that while it considered the update important enough to distribute to all its users, the patch does not fix any security problem. Microsoft is in the process of streamlining its update services to offer a single service to each of three classes of customers.

"This is why we encourage our customers to enable automatic updates within Windows--so that they can receive not just security updates, but also nonsecurity-related improvements or enhancements," Microsoft said.

The company recommends that people use Windows Update to download the fix or set their system to automatically update.

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