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Microsoft's decision to pre-load Windows 10 upgrade sans consent is ill-advised

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 16, 2015
Dispenses with 'industry practice' claim about downloading upgrade to PCs whose owners didn't ask for bits

Because Wi-Fi networks are set as non-metered by default, anyone tethering their Windows 8.1 PC to a smartphone, which turns the handset into a Wi-Fi hotspot, can exhaust their mobile data cap without as much as a by-your-leave. The same applies when the ISP's connection is plugged into a Wi-Fi router -- a common practice in homes and businesses both -- or when the connection comes through an Ethernet cable jacked into the PC, which can't be set as metered at all.

Cable companies that also provide Internet service, like Comcast in the U.S., typically use Ethernet to run from the modem to the personal computer. Coincidentally, Comcast last month began experimenting with data caps in several U.S. markets.

Others were unhappy that the 3.5GB to 6GB Windows 10 upgrade invaded what to them was their (storage) space, especially when space was limited because of the device or was nearly filled with their content. Microsoft's own entry-level Surface Pro 3, for example, comes with just 64GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage: The Windows 8.1-to-10 upgrade could represent as much as 10% of its capacity.

Some users groused that they had also wasted time trying to figure out why their already-slow Internet connections had recently been even slower, going so far as to accuse others in the house of hogging bandwidth, only to realize after the fact that the slow-down had been generated by Microsoft's download. On a 1.5Mbps (megabits-per-second) DSL connection -- not uncommon outside city limits in the U.S. -- for instance, a 3.5GB download would take nearly 6 hours, a 5GB download 8.5 hours, when slurping up the whole capacity.

Not everyone running Windows 7 or 8.1 has received the unannounced Windows 10 upgrade. When asked whether it was downloading the gigabytes to all eligible devices or just some -- and if the latter, what criteria was used -- Microsoft did not directly answer. Instead, the revised statement included the word "may," as in "For those who have chosen to reserve their upgrade of Windows 10 and those that have Windows Update automatic updates enabled, we may help customers prepare their devices," Microsoft said [emphasis added].

But the pool is certainly large: Most consumers and small businesses that rely on Windows Update have left the service's automatic updates enabled -- the default setting recommended by Microsoft, which downloads and installs updates without further approval -- and so may see the upgrade land on their drives.

Microsoft risks damaging Windows 10's reputation with moves like this. Alone, it may not amount to more than a small hill of beans, but reputation is a mysterious, fragile thing. Miscues -- whether in communication, policy or practice -- are often cumulative. And since Microsoft has repeatedly told customers that Windows 10 will be its last major upgrade -- from here on out, updates and upgrades will morph the OS into a service model -- it cannot simply skip a numeral, as it did from Windows 8 to 10, to put the past behind it without looking foolish.


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