Offering Windows 10 as a free upgrade to non-enterprise users of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 was a sensible move on Microsoft’s part. Microsoft wants developers to create applications for theUniversal Windows Platform and to do that, it has to ensure that there are many people using this platform. The company has told the developer community that it expects 1 billion Windows 10 systems within the first two-to-three years, putting an end to the usual chicken-and-egg situation surrounding new Windows releases: developers never use the latest and greatest features, because there’s nobody using the latest-and-greatest operating system; there’s no reason to use the latest-and-greatest operating system, because software runs just fine on the current one.
Knowing that few people will actively seek out a new operating system to upgrade their computers, Microsoft offered the Windows 10 upgrade through Windows Update. It also distributed updates that advertised the existence of the Windows 10 update to Windows 7 and 8.1 users. Initially, this merely allowed people to “reserve” their Windows 10 upgrade, but Microsoft has become progressively more aggressive. In the early days, this upgrade was found to be downloading the new operating system even before users opted in, and it was then accused of installing automatically.
In past weeks, the complaints have stepped up. Microsoft has been accused of changing the dialogs advertising the availability of the upgrade. Initially, pressing the X in the corner of the window canceled the upgrade; however, this was changed so that pressing the X merely delayed the upgrade.
The system works
On the one hand, this has undoubtedly been effective. A month ago Microsoft reported more than 300 million Windows 10 users. Steam’s hardware survey says that 41 percent of Steam-using PC gamers use Windows 10, with Windows 7 in second place at 39 percent. Net Market Share estimates that some 17 percent of Internet users is Windows 10. That’s still a long way behind Windows 7, at 49 percent, but it’s an unusually strong performance for a Microsoft operating system that’s less than a year old.
On the other hand, this update strategy has angered many. Reports continue to appear stating that the operating system installed itself unprompted and unwanted. Some of these reports have been hard to verify. Recent screenshots suggested that Microsoft had done away with any ability to cancel the upgrade at all, but Microsoft claims that those screens are only shown after users have accepted the upgrade and clicked through several other on-screen messages. These continued stories—along with claims that people have turned off Windows Update entirely to avoid being given Windows 10 when they don’t want it—show that the entire upgrade scheme has caused considerable ill will toward Redmond (plus a great loss of trust).
Again, even if not actually being installed, there are still complaints about the new operating system being downloaded. An African anti-poaching organization recently complained of a substantial download bill incurred when Windows 10 downloaded over its metered satellite Internet connection, for instance.
Making this worse, there are reports (though again, hard to verify) that the upgrade is offered to systems that have some form of software or driver incompatibility with Windows 10 and hence should not be considered eligible. This kind of mistake just further erodes trust: even when people want to upgrade, Microsoft gets it wrong. And if unwanted or automated upgrades are occurring, those upgrades may actually be breaking people’s systems and leaving those systems less functional. That would be inexcusable.
Microsoft has provided clear and effective ways to prevent systems from installing Windows 10, and these do appear to work. Anyone who knows they don’t want Windows 10 can permanently prevent the Windows Update-provided upgrade. While straightforward for technical users, the need for registry changes or group policies means that this option is out of reach of mainstream Windows users. It also presumes that users know what Windows 10 is and that they want to block it in the first place.
With Microsoft still insisting the upgrade offer will expire one year after Windows 10’s introduction, this issue should be resolved one way or another within a couple of months. But that’s still many more weeks of unwanted installations and complaints (and again, more eroded trust). The loss of trust has harmed Windows 10’s reputation (undeservedly), and some Windows users have responded with drastic, and undesirable, action—disabling Windows Update entirely. This leaves users at much greater risk of attack, but they regard this as an acceptable trade-off if it protects them from an unwanted copy of Windows 10.
Windows 10 really is an upgrade
The sticking point is that in some ways, Microsoft has a point. Windows 10 is, in almost every regard, a better operating system than Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. There are some annoying corner cases, such as people using the (discontinued) Windows Media Center, but aside from these, Windows 10 is more stable, offers better security features, is for the most part more efficient in its use of hardware, has much better support for certain newer technology such as USB 3, and is an all-around better platform. Microsoft’s “Windows-as-a-Service” model means that it should also retain these advantages long-term.
There really are very few sound reasons to stick with the older operating systems, and most Windows users, both at home or at work, are better off on the new platform. These advantages, particularly around security, are especially important for the less technically inclined users. Those users tend to be some of the most vulnerable to running unpatched systems, running malicious e-mail attachments, installing awful codec packs, and doing all the other things that undermine system security and stability. An operating system that is better by default is especially important to people who never change those defaults.
That’s likely why Microsoft has been so aggressive in the first place. Given a user demographic that rarely deviates from the default configuration, making Windows 10 anything other than an update that, by default, asks to be installed means that it won’t be adopted. This is why Windows 7 and 8.1 systems were shown the “Get Windows 10” advertisements and why the upgrade was promoted from an “optional” update to a “recommended” one. Doing this meant that users would at least be asked if they wanted to upgrade.
Microsoft may have been a little more in-your-face with this, but it’s not unprecedented. Smartphone operating systems will similarly prompt when upgrades are available, and even OS X posts small notifications when a major new version has been released. Given the scale of Windows 10’s changes and the unusual nature of Microsoft offering such an upgrade for free, the size of the in-Windows promotion is arguably warranted.
But automatic installs, if this is indeed what has happened, push things too far. Switching to Windows 10 is too significant and too error-prone for this to be acceptable. Changing the behavior of the X button is borderline malicious. This is the kind of stunt that you would expect of a spyware installer, not an operating system from a company that should know better. Windows 10, or at least its installer, has become little better than malware, and that’s something that Microsoft needs to very publicly apologize for and fix.