Windows 7 update fixes

I dusted off the old Bootcamp partition to run Windows to play Civilization VI, impatient for the Mac release. Every time I do this I’m reminded how bad Windows is. This time around it was 90 minutes spent trying to install and run the game and failing. I gave up and went to bed, then fixed it in the morning.

The symptom was the installer would hang while installing the Microsoft VC 2015 redist. Cancelling the installer didn’t help. Manually killing the wuas.exe process that was hung did allow the install to complete. But then the game wouldn’t run; you’d launch it and it’d quit immediately with no error. Launching the program manually (bypassing Steam) revealed the error, “api-ms-win-crt-runtime-l1-1-0.dll is missing”.

So then begins the cargo cult debugging. Googling for answers and trying various incantations to fix the mysterious problem.

The first thing I tried was manually installing the VC redists. These installers have always sucked. The end result is it’s copying 20MB worth of shared DLLs into a system directory. Why does it take five minutes? Why does it hang entirely? Running by hand (as opposed to via the game installer) sometimes helps. It didn’t this time, it kept hanging.

So the second thing I tried was fixing that error about the crt-runtime. There’s a consensus in the cargo cult about how to fix this; run Windows Update. But Windows Update wasn’t working for me. This is the moment I confess my copy of Windows 7 isn’t registered with a valid license, I’ve been using the grace period for the very rare times I want to run Windows. My bad. So is it the lack of activation that’s causing the problem? Windows is popping up a nag when I try to run the installers. But there’s no explicit error, the installer just hangs. Trying to install it manually didn’t work either, same hanging on Windows Update stuff.

And then the scales fell from my eyes. Windows Update is broken. A fix was released in April 2015; or maybe not until July 2016. Not sure. Anyway the first step in installing that fix is to stop the Windows Update service. Once I did that the crt-runtime installer worked, copying it’s 800kb file successfully without hanging. Congratulations, l’il fella! And that was enough to fix the problem.

So let me rant and describe all the failure-by-design, from top down:

  • The game crashes on startup with no message.
  • The game installer hangs with no explanation. You can quit the install, but then it’s broken.
  • The underlying VC distributable installers hang with no explanation. Its job is to copy 20MB of files, but it can’t do this.
  • The underlying underlying CRT runtime installer is hanging with no explanation. Its job is to copy 800KB of files, but it can’t do this.
  • The root cause is Microsoft screwed up Windows Update somehow and fixing it is awkward, because it requires Windows Update to install the Windows Update update.
  • And worming its tendrils through all this is Windows Activation DRM, which may or may not be interfering and causing problems. With no explanation.

It really is an awful system.