EARLIER THIS YEAR, THE INQUIRER exclusively revealed that Microsoft had been quietly downloading Windows 10 onto Windows 7 and Windows 8-powered computers, shoving an unwanted 6GB file onto some users PCs.
Microsoft has yet to explain itself, but after a long time battling to get a response from the company, this week we were able to speak to Jeremy Korst, general manager of Microsoft's Windows and Devices team, about the issue, and we put some of the points that have been raised during the 'updategate' saga to him.
First off, we asked why Windows Updates for consumers and businesses had different levels of granular flexibility.
"The capabilities we're delivering in Windows update for business are really for organisations with multiple sets of devices," he said. "In Windows Update for individuals you can set you preferences as to what time of day your updates are installed, so it does give you the ability to manage."
Korst explains that Microsoft is trying to be more responsive to the everyman who wants a product that 'just works' and doesn't care about individual updates.
"You've got two sets of users, one is the average user who wants to make sure they've got the most secure and always up to date version of Windows, and the feedback we get is that people want that to be as simple and seamless as possible.
"Then there's a set of customers like you and I who want more information. We've heard that feedback and we are starting to give more information about what's coming in the latest updates so if a particular developer or IT pro or tech enthusiast needs that information then they can get it."
We then talked about the main 'updategate' itself, the issue of large downloads in the background without permission. We asked why this was being done, and what about people who either don't want the download, or didn't ask for it. The answer was surprising.
"The best place for those kinds of issues is Terry (Myerson)'s blog. User feedback we've had is that users who have come from Windows 7 or Windows 8 are 'very satisfied' with the upgrade process. We've got a lot of feedback around customers who want us to make it easier, so we're trying to facilitate that."
We pointed out that the average 70-something silver surfer was unlikely to be a regular patron of Terry Myerson's blog. He defended: "The thing is - the user is still in control. You still have to accept the upgrade when prompted to go through the process, and even then you have 31 days, your entire first month to revert back if for whatever reason you're not happy.
"We've tried to respect that with settings like those for people with low bandwidth who have a setting available so Windows does not do the automatic download."
It seems that a lot of what has happened around 'updategate' has been the result of a road to hell paved with good intentions. "The reason behind the blog is to make everything as transparent and front footed as possible. And then conversations like this help communicate it. But it is our intent to be transparent and that's why we're having this conversation now.
"We think that the idea of reserving Windows 10 and having it download in the background is good customer experience."
We're still reeling from the idea that everyone should read Terry Myerson's blog is his defence. And yet when we come to the question of user privacy, Korst mentions it again.
"I think Terry covered this in his blog as well. Any data that we do collect is purely for enabling the customer experience. But part two is putting the user in control in terms of what data is collected, so while information collected that Cortana may use, or that an auto-complete may use, is about choices over whether information is used and collected. We think we earn trust by being transparent over the data being collected. It's one of the core pillars of more personal computing.
"Our other responsibility is then to deliver a spectacular product so that when a customer does agree to allow that information to be used, it creates a great customer experience in return."
Finally, we ask how why so much of Windows 10 is not optional and even reinstalls itself if you try to uninstall it. "We hear customers asking us for a great music experience, a great mail experience or whatever, but we think the apps that we have included with Windows provide the best possible experience for that.
"Of course, users are free to use third-party apps as much as they want, we're all about choice."
Overall, we're left with the feeling that Microsoft is still massively missing the point. The company line appears to be 'if we're offering you this great product, why wouldn't you want it?' and yet a perfectly reasonable response is 'because we don't' or 'because we want it on our terms' and most importantly, 'because we don't want to plan our computing around Terry Myerson's effing blog.
We were, however, assured that our feedback would be taken to Windows HQ, where doubtless one day they will invite us to lunch and then spit in our hamburgers. Still, we tried, and we'll keep trying.
The INQUIRER first uncovered the fact that Windows 7 and 8 computers were automatically downloading Windows 10 'just in case' back in September. Later it emerged that an error, coupled with some slightly dubious auto-ticking of boxes in Windows Update, was causing the upgrade to happen, to all intents and purposes, automatically.
News of the unwanted downloads spread around the world after an INQUIRER reader, Mike Wallace, pointed out to us that, despite not having 'reserved' a copy of Windows 10, he had found that the ~BT folder, which has been the home of images of the new operating system since before rollout began, had appeared on his system. He had no plans to upgrade and had not put in a reservation request.
He told us: "The symptoms are repeated failed 'Upgrade to Windows 10' in the WU update history and a huge 3.5GB to 6GB hidden folder labelled '$Windows.~BT'. I thought Microsoft [said] this 'upgrade' was optional. If so, why is it being pushed out to so many computers where it wasn't reserved, and why does it try to install over and over again?
"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."
We asked Microsoft to comment, multiple times, on whether it was downloading Windows 10 anyway as it rushes to build on the 75 million machines with the new OS installed in its first month, putting it in fourth place behind Window 7, 8.1 and the erstwhile XP.
Microsoft told us at the time: "For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade.
"When the upgrade is ready, the customer will be prompted to install Windows 10 on the device.”
In other words, if you are patching via Patch Tuesday, as you should of course be, then you are going to get a big hefty folder on your hard drive ready so you can update to Windows 10 on demand. Or not. Your Call.
If you want to avoid this happening, an ex-HP employee has designed an app to give users of Windows 7 and 8 control over if and when they wish to upgrade to Windows 10.
Win10WiWi (Windows 10, When I Want It) reclaims storage taken up with unwanted upgrade files, removes and hides the Windows Updates causing the actions to be triggered and ensures that no telemetry data is being recorded, all with a few button clicks. What's particularly neat, however, is that designer Yves Gattegno has also ensured that the process is reversible, allowing users to update to Windows 10 in the same few clicks.
Win10WiWi is available now free of charge from the SysStreaming website.
Automatic downloads isn't the only criticism Windows 10 has faced. The operating system was also blasted after it emerged that "suggested apps" were starting to appear on the locksreen and start menus, while changing away from default programs such as Microsoft Edge produced a 'nag screen' inviting, nay begging, users to reconsider. µ
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