WHEN WE REVEALED last Thursday that Microsoft has started downloading Windows 10 indiscriminately to anyone who qualifies for an upgrade, whether they want one or not, we knew it was kind of a big deal.
We're proud to be recognised as a credible news source and our articles are often cited and quoted. What we didn't expect was that this would be picked up first by the tech press, then the national press, then the world press in droves. To say that it struck a nerve is an understatement. It's like the keylogger story last year, but much, much, much bigger.
There are several factors here. At a basic level, there's the privacy and intrusion aspect. After all, it's one thing to agree to receive updates to your operating system automatically, especially given that many of them relate to keeping the system locked down, but this isn't an update, it's a whole new operating system.
Then there's the sneakiness. Microsoft offers an opt-in scheme to Windows 10. Remember all that stuff about reserving your copy? If you didn't reserve a copy and it just goes ahead and downloads it anyway, it's going directly against your wishes. And let's remember, it's going into a hidden folder that you actually have to change settings to be able to see. That says a lot.
As one reader put it to us: "Microsoft is doing no different in this regard than a salesman who might enter my house and place something in it without my permission, which in that case is a violation of law."
Then there's the aggression. Windows Update repeatedly tries to install itself and marks it as a failed attempt if it realises you haven't said 'yes' yet. It's all a bit disrespectful. I keep getting reminded of the cybermen in Doctor Who who want to 'upgrade' the human race and can't understand (or care) why humans don't want to have their brain put into a baked bean tin.
But what's really struck us is the consequences that go far beyond annoyance, to actual loss.
Our original contributor, Mike, said: "I know of two instances where people on metered connections went over their data cap for August because of this unwanted download. My own internet (slow DSL) was crawling for a week or so until I discovered this problem.
"In fact, that's what led me to it. Not only does it download, it tries to install every time the computer is booted. It appears to download more data each time the install fails. It's a huge problem. What if the install partially succeeds? What if it continues to eat hard drive space?"
One user pointed out that, if someone was on a 500MB data plan for a tablet and didn't connect to WiFi, this could eat up the better part of a year's worth of data.
A few days before we broke the story, we discovered that a group of My Digital Life users had already spotted what was going on and went so far as to discuss the legal standpoint. After all, can Microsoft say you agreed to something when you didn't know what you were agreeing to?
Some are talking of class action lawsuits against Microsoft. This is not uncommon, and may or may not come to fruition, but the level of frustration it has brought people to this is overwhelming.
One user told us that he had specifically unticked this option in his father's monthly updates list before last Patch Tuesday, but this month, it had apparently been re-enabled, downloaded and nearly brought a capped connection to its knees.
Another system administrator took hours working out why his systems were reporting mysterious 'errors'. It turned out that they were failures to install Windows 10.
Of course, not everyone took the news the same way. SuperSite For Windows took a rather scathing and elitist rant standpoint, echoed by its readers that we didn't have a clue what we were talking about and that if you read Windows KB Article 3080351 it gives full instructions on how to disable the download.
Fine if you're a nerd living in your mother's basement eating Wotsits out of your own belly button, but for the man in the street this simply isn't good enough. The argument that this is 'old news' isn't true.
Being part of a self-appointed technical Illuminati doesn't make you right, and it doesn't help the vast majority of users for whom the simple thing to do would have been to supply an off switch to the service.
The fact that there isn't such a switch rather confirms Microsoft's intentions and nullifies any of the 'well, you should know' argument. If your 85-year-old grandmother has a Surface tablet which she uses to Skype her grandkids, she has a right to be able to turn this off easily.
Then there was seasoned and respected tech writer Woody Leonhard who wrote a column in Infoworld entitled 'It's unlikely that Microsoft's pushing files onto Windows 7 machines.'
It had a sideswipe at The INQUIRER for a dose of "Tinfoil Hat-ism", which we loved because we're forever levelling that one at others. But fair play to Leonhard. Further down in the comments field among the stories from readers about how they'd found the files too, he was man enough to say: "I said I was sceptical. I'm not any longer." He tells us he is doing his own 'honeytrap' research into this, and we're looking forward to his findings. Keep us posted, Woody."
Back with the 'victims'. A writer with a small travel company told us that he wasted 40 hours on the phone to Microsoft tech support because they didn't know why his company's computers had all slowed to a crawl. It turns out that it was the download. Surely Microsoft's support staff should have guessed that one?
He told us he is considering a small claim, but doesn't know where to issue a writ as Microsoft is not responding to his requests for information.
When you add up the man-hours, reset computers, calls to tech support, computers borked by being overloaded with hidden system files (a particular problem if you're a Surface or other Windows tablet user with a small flash drive) it all adds up to a serious error of judgement on Microsoft's part.
We've asked Microsoft to comment. In fact, we asked Microsoft for an interview to try to put some of these points across and clear the air. What we got in return was a statement. It was the statement issued to us last Thursday. Which we now discover was the same statement that it gave to SuperSite for Windows a few months back.
It doesn't explain the sneaking around, the not thinking it through, the cost, the damage or the privacy. So come on Microsoft. Sort this out. We were just beginning to think you were our friend, and then you do something like this and clam up when we call you out on it.
We're waiting by the phone. µ
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