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Microsoft's New Windows 10 Upgrade Tactic Irks Users

Microsoft's new method for upgrading users to Windows 10 has been met with largely negative reviews.

The company recently redesigned the Get Windows 10 pop-up screen, also known as the "GWX app," that notifies Windows 7/8.1 users of their eligibility for a free Windows 10 upgrade. The new screen, unlike previous ones, actually has a link in the fourth line (in small type) that offers the ability to decline the upgrade. It reads, "Click here to change upgrade schedule or cancel scheduled upgrade," even though it's very likely that these users had never scheduled an upgrade in the first place.

This new GWX screen was praised last week by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley as being somewhat less dastardly than previous ones, since it at least offers a way for users to decline the update. That option was missing with earlier GWX apps. For instance, press accounts back in December had noted that the only way to decline the GWX upgrade offer was to click the close window ("x") control, which is located in the top right corner of the GWX app.

The Old Switcheroo
It turns out that Microsoft swapped out that behavior this past week. Closing the GWX app window now has the effect of accepting the Windows 10 upgrade offer, according to press reports. Consequently, some users this weekend found themselves in the Windows 10 upgrade zone. They were getting an upgrade that they thought they had declined or refused. They were not in control of their PC, as this writer for The Guardian noted to her dismay. Other reports described the unexpected upgrade as "a nasty change trick."

The feeling perhaps was disorienting, like an episode of The Twilight Zone, or the opening credits of The Outer Limits TV series:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set.

By changing the behavior of the software, user behavior can be steered, it seems. The free upgrade push is part of Microsoft's general corporate goal to get 1 billion users on Windows 10 by its fiscal year 2018 (around October 2017). However, Microsoft has needed to ramp things up since there are only about 300 million Windows 10 activations so far.

Microsoft's progress on the upgrade front has come about, in part, because it has readjusted its promises. For instance, the GWX app originally wasn't supposed to arrive for domain-join machines in organizations, but Microsoft dropped that stipulation back in January. In February, Microsoft changed the Windows 10 upgrade offer to "recommended update" status, which increased the chances that more PCs would get upgraded, depending on their Windows Update settings.

Potential MVP Revolt
This past week's GWX app tactic, though, seems to have touched a nerve, even among potential allies like Microsoft's Most Valuable Professionals. MVPs are non-Microsoft employees honored for their knowledge of Microsoft technologies, but some weren't happy with the new tactics.

For instance, Microsoft MVP Aidan Finn noted in January that many small-to-medium enterprises likely aren't prepared for Windows 10 and need to control the upgrade pace. Microsoft MVP Susan Bradley, who specializes in small-to-medium business IT concerns, called Microsoft "a big bully" last week, and questioned her association with a company that would install software updates and patches without permission.

She noted that people "have old stuff" that may not work with Windows 10. Bradley used strong words, too, asking Microsoft to review its latest Windows 10 push policy:

The technology world in which we live in is not a dictatorship. And these actions that Microsoft is taking is damaging the brand of Microsoft in all of the IT pro communities I am in and in all the patching communities I am in. There is no more Windows loyalty, no more trust that Microsoft doesn't have an ulterior motive in its actions.

Bradley also expressed worries that people would turn off Windows Update to avoid the Windows 10 upgrade, which would be a bad security practice.

Microsoft MVP Woody Leonhard described this weekend's push by Microsoft as "changing the rules" associated with the Windows 10 upgrade. While he noted it's still possible to roll back to Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 within 30 days, "the rollback can take many minutes or even hours," he wrote. Moreover, new files might not be kept after the rollback, he noted.

Microsoft plans to end its free Windows 10 upgrade offer on July 29. It's also promising to remove the GWX app sometime after that time. Many organizations likely have the white GWX icon sitting in the system trays of their end users, and possibly this icon will go away around that time. Organizations that had wanted to block the GWX app from arriving had to perform a Group Policy change, as well as a registry fix, to block it. Microsoft had explained those details back in January in this Knowledge Base article.

Various technology writers have recommended the use of third-party software apps to block Microsoft's GWX app. For instance, this PCWorld article suggested using the GWX Control Panel or Never 10.

Windows 10 may not be a bad operating system, say the MVPs, but users at least should have control over when it arrives.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.