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Microsoft changes rules of Windows 10 upgrade game

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 15, 2016
Expands notifications and automatic upgrades to domain-joined small business PCs.

"Most small businesses don't have [Windows] Enterprise licenses and many also don't use Windows domains," he said.

Mayfield accidentally became an expert in Microsoft's upgrade caper, creating GWX Control Panel to give to his mother. But as he offered it to the public, he was forced to dissect Microsoft's undocumented maneuvers in order to keep pace with the company's attempts to put its notifications on upgrade-eligible PCs, keep them there, and regularly update them with changed content.

Mayfield last updated GWX Control Panel in late December to version 1.7. The utility is free to download, although Mayfield does accept donations via PayPal to cover his site hosting fees.

Along with the news that the Windows 10 upgrade prompts would shortly start to appear on more PCs, Microsoft also revised a support document that offers instructions to administrators wanting to block the appearance of the notifications and more importantly, bar the PC from receiving the upgrade and initiating the installation process. The instructions include guidelines for crafting a Group Policy that can remotely change the Windows Registry, adding a new subkey with a value assigned to DisableOSUpgrade.

Unlike some other work-arounds that have circulated in the last several months, the DisableOSUpgrade method seems to work, said Mayfield, who maintains a suite of test systems to monitor what Microsoft's GWX app does.

"DisableOSUpgrade, when set, does seem to block the Windows 10 Upgrade via Windows Update behavior," said Mayfield. "We did see cases where the [DisableOSUpgrade] registry value was deleted as a result of [updates to the] Windows Update [client] over the summer, but I haven't spotted that particular behavior in the last couple of months."

Microsoft's Barlow characterized the notification change for business PCs as driven by customers who wanted a simpler way to upgrade than downloading the bits and using external media like a USB flash drive to install the OS. "Because of ongoing customer requests from many small businesses and other small organizations to easily take advantage of the free upgrade, we will soon make the Get Windows 10 app available to them as well," he said.

There's no way for outsiders to verify Barlow's claim that small businesses have been clamoring for the on-screen notifications. Cynics will likely wonder where the customer requests stop and Microsoft's marketing begins: The firm regularly cites the former when decisions it makes are in its own business interests.

Mayfield was skeptical that small businesses will universally approve of the intrusion. "I imagine it will cause another wave of panicked users, because small businesses obviously want to spend their computer time making a living, not wasting time looking for updated firmware, drivers, and applications to support an operating system they don't need," he said.


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