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Microsoft's plan for Windows 10 world domination

Gregg Keizer | Jan. 12, 2016
Unparalleled distribution strategy is the story.

Although the pre-loading of the upgrade was supposed to take place while the PC was not being used or was hard at work, some users reported symptoms ranging from a slow-down in accessing the Web to stuttering video or audio streams as their usable bandwidth unexpectedly shrunk.

In itself, pre-loading the upgrade was not that dissimilar to how any automatic update, including patches for Windows or a new version of Chrome, are downloaded to a user's device. But the timing of the Windows 10 pre-fetching -- before availability -- was unusual. When software makers wrap up development and release the product, they release it: It makes no sense to withhold it from customers when it's finished, but instead push it to their devices to await an installation date and time.

September 2015: You get Windows 10, even if you didn't ask for it

At some point after the July release -- exactly when is unclear -- Microsoft began pushing the Windows 10 upgrade files to some PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, even though those customers had never requested an upgrade using the GSX app.

The practice went public in September, when users on metered-and-capped Internet plans began reporting that they had gone over their limits. It turned out that their PCs had downloaded the large Windows 10 upgrade without their consent.

Initially, Microsoft said it was simply following "an industry practice" in placing the Windows 10 upgrade on eligible devices. It later disowned that claim, however, but maintained that it would continue to automatically download the files to PCs that had automatic updates enabled in Windows Update -- the recommended and default setting -- and the one that the vast bulk of consumers leave as is.

In point of fact, Microsoft was right about industry practices, at least to some extent. (And Computerworld was wrong in an earlier story that claimed different.)

No other desktop OS does this. By default, Apple's OS X, for instance, does not download the now-annual upgrade in the background without some explicit user action, even though the upgrades are, like Windows 10, free for the taking. Users can flip a switch in the Mac App Store's preferences to change this behavior, though.

But some operating systems do behave similarly: Apple's iOS will eventually download an upgrade onto an iPhone if the user has previously declined to retrieve it after seeing several nag notices. iOS will not initiate the actually upgrade process, however, without approval.

Still, Microsoft's move was jarring to those who had no interest in changing to Windows 10, and who were upset that Microsoft chewed up bandwidth and hijacked several gigabytes of storage to download and store the upgrade. The disconnect between Microsoft's behavior and user expectations had several sources. Two are paramount: This is the first time Windows users have faced a free upgrade, first of all -- Microsoft is in uncharted waters on a whole host of issues that have never been raised in the Windows world -- and secondly, desktop PC owners in general view upgrades as riskier and less compelling than do mobile device owners. That's particularly the case in the Windows ecosystem, where a seemingly-unlimited number of combinations of hardware configurations and peripherals, drivers for all that, and software make for a witch's brew of problems that can stymie an upgrade or cripple a computer.


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