Microsoft Expanding Windows 10 Push to Small Businesses

Microsoft's Windows 10 upgrade push will soon expand to organizations, the company said on Wednesday.

Starting in the United States "later this month" and other markets "shortly thereafter," Microsoft will deliver its Get Windows 10 (GWX) application to domain-joined PCs. The GWX app produces a "nagware"-like notice that pops up on PC desktops, prompting individual users to upgrade their machines to Windows 10.

The move will affect organizations running Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro editions. In addition, only PCs configured to receive updates automatically from Microsoft's Windows Update service will get the GWX app, Microsoft indicated. If the organization uses System Center Configuration Manager or Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) to manage its devices (which is an unlikely scenario for small organizations), then this GWX push won't happen, according to Microsoft.

Users of Enterprise editions or embedded editions of Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 aren't affected by this policy change.

Prior to Windows 10's release, Microsoft MVP Andre Da Costa had explained that domain-joined users of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1 PCs wouldn't get the GWX notice. However, with this week's announcement from Microsoft, that approach is changing. Small businesses and organizations that want to control their PC environments, and not potentially have individual users upgrading to Windows 10, will need to take action very soon if they want to block Microsoft's upgrade push.

Microsoft is claiming that small businesses have been asking for the GWX app as an easy way to upgrade. It's being delivered because of "ongoing customer requests from many small businesses and other small organizations," the announcement stated. However, Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn has noted that most small businesses likely won't know about this policy change. In addition, they likely are least prepared to deal with potential compatibility issues.

"Microsoft opting to force change and uncertainty on those businesses that are least ready is down right dumb," Finn commented in a blog post.

The Windows 10 upgrade process can take a couple of hours to complete, which could disrupt small business operations if individuals accept the GWX app's invitation to "upgrade now." The process involves a potential download of files of up to 3GB to carry out the upgrade.

It's likely that users will instigate the upgrade process if they see the GWX notice. Late last year, it was noticed that the GWX notice just showed an "upgrade now" and "upgrade later" message. The ability to decline the upgrade was hidden.

Smaller organizations running Windows Server Essentials, formerly known as Windows Small Business Server, apparently have special problems applying Windows 10 upgrades. Microsoft released a Client Connector upgrade for Windows Server Essentials that added support for Windows 10 clients back in November. However, a Windows 10 upgrade allegedly can "break" the connector. Microsoft MVP Susan Bradley has outlined some of the nuances involved in adding Windows 10 to computing environments with Windows Server Essentials in her blog. Her recommendations also are summarized here.

Blocking GWX
Microsoft has published Knowledge Base article 3080351 with information on how to block the Windows 10 automatic upgrade process. Organizations can add a Group Policy Object and configure it to "turn off the upgrade to the latest version of Windows through Windows Update." Alternatively, they can alter the Windows registry using the edits described in the Knowledge Base article.

However, there's another step to carry out, namely, blocking the GWX pop-up notice. To do that requires carrying out another edit of the Windows registry, as described in the Knowledge Base article.

Of course, organizations bear the risks with registry edits. Microsoft recommends backing up the Windows registry before making the changes.

If those changes get made, will that secure organizations against automatic upgrades to Windows 10? Maybe, but investigations by InfoWorld author Woody Leonhard indicated that the GWX upgrade push has been a part of various patches released by Microsoft for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs. He cited Microsoft's patch KB 3035583 as having the effect of undoing "DisableGWX and DisableOSUpgrade registry settings."

A free GWX Control Panel tool, which is designed to block Microsoft's Windows 10 upgrade push, has to be regularly updated to keep pace with Microsoft's attempts to push down upgrades.

1 Billion Goal
This week's announcement, in a Microsoft "Windows for IT Pros" blog post, is the second time that Microsoft has announced a policy shift to push Windows 10 upgrades. In October, Microsoft explained that it planned to bump up the Windows 10 upgrade from an "optional update" in Windows Update to a "recommended update" sometime early this year. Potentially, depending on Windows Update settings, that change meant that Windows 10 could automatically install.

Microsoft also did away with its reservation system for Window 10 upgrades that it earlier had in place. Presently, Windows 10 upgrades can happen when the bits and the machine are deemed ready. There's no waiting period, which was the earlier practice.

Microsoft has a corporate goal to get Windows 10 on 1 billion devices by its fiscal-year 2018, which happens around October 2017. In January of this year, Microsoft reported that 200 million machines now run Windows 10.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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