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Microsoft sets stage for massive Windows 10 upgrade strategy

Gregg Keizer | Dec. 8, 2015
Uses updates to enable -- and re-enable -- Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs for next move: auto-downloads of Windows 10 upgrade bits.

There's more to those updates than that, Mayfield argued. "They're telling [the PC's] Windows Update client that this computer can be upgraded to Windows 10," Mayfield said. "[The Windows Update client] is constantly checking settings several times an hour. It's fully aware of the Windows 10 upgrade."

The Get GWX updates and the more recent refreshes to Windows Update on Windows 7 and 8.1 are running in tandem, Mayfield said. "They're working together," he argued. "They're laying the groundwork for something."

That "something" is likely the next step in an unprecedented scheme by Microsoft to boost adoption of Windows 10.

In late October, Terry Myerson, the Microsoft executive who runs the Windows and devices teams -- dubbed the "More Personal Computing" group -- outlined how Microsoft would try to convince users of Windows 7 and 8.1 to upgrade to Windows 10. Rather than wait for customers running the older editions to request a copy of the new OS -- the original idea from the summer -- Microsoft will instead begin to automatically send the upgrade to PCs via Windows Update, the default security maintenance service.

The new push will be a two-step process, with the first kicking in this year, the second in early 2016. First, Microsoft will add the Windows 10 upgrade to the Windows Update list on Windows 7 and 8.1 systems as an "optional" item. That list can be examined by users, letting them choose -- or not -- each optional update.

Sometime next year, Microsoft will shift the Windows 10 upgrade from optional to the "recommended" list. Updates on that list are automatically downloaded and installed on most PCs.

While the Windows 10 upgrade delivered as a recommended update will automatically begin the installation process, the user will be able to refuse the OS change early in the process. "Before the upgrade changes the OS of your device, you will be clearly prompted to choose whether or not to continue," Myerson promised in October.

Microsoft is counting on a large portion of users to allow that upgrade to proceed.

Many Windows users, however, are not yet ready to upgrade to Windows 10, and are tired of being bombarded with the nagging messages to change operating systems. That includes Mayfield, who wants to remain on Windows 7, a desire that prompted him to create GWX Control Panel.

Because he's been closely monitoring how Microsoft force-feeds the upgrade to Windows 7 and 8.1 devices -- necessary to keep his app in step with Microsoft's changes -- he's become an expert on what the company has been doing, often surreptitiously, to prepare PCs for Windows 10 and execute its "get-Windows-10" game plan.

 

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