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Users seethe as Windows 10 arrives while their backs are turned

Gregg Keizer | March 16, 2016
People report that they weren't given a chance to decline, that their PCs were crippled, that they can't use their systems until they submit to Windows 10.

Last October, Microsoft announced that it would push the free Windows 10 upgrade to eligible PCs automatically, a practice that actually began six weeks ago. The company has repeatedly said -- including yesterday -- that users could decline the Windows 10 upgrade at some point during installation, but has refused to say whether the upgrade starts in all cases, document how the user authorization process plays out, and spell out whether it appears again later when a user snubs the offer.

Thus, the fact that machines have tried to upgrade without user action wasn't new: Microsoft has acknowledged that that is its intent. Instead, it's the fact that some users have been unable to abort the installation, restore the older OS after 10 arrived or have received the upgrade when they've ticked the don't-upgrade-automatically settings for Windows Update, that are at issue.

One user, a small business owner in Eugene, Ore., told Computerworld last week that his PC -- which he uses primarily to run QuickBooks -- displayed the same two-option message that scifixtion described. Clicking "Decline" did no good: The display returned.

In order to retake control of his PC and access QuickBooks to draft invoices, Jeff -- he asked that his last name not be used -- was forced to let Windows 10 install.

"I'll be looking at a Mac for my next computer," Jeff said.

There are ways to block the Windows 10 upgrade from installing on an eligible PC. Microsoft has published instructions for editing the Windows Registry -- a dangerous chore for inexperienced users -- that will do the job. And Josh Mayfield, a software engineer and developer, has created a tool dubbed GWX Control Panel that keeps track of incoming updates, detects those that are designed to force-feed Windows 10, and thwarts them.

On Monday, Mayfield did not have an explanation for the flood of complaints about the Windows 10 upgrade -- his multiple-PC test pool, as well as the bulk of the users of his GWX Control Panel, run the application, and so shouldn't see such conduct. But he did reveal that traffic to his website and the number of downloads had tripled in the four days prior. "I am still not completely sure why," Mayfield said in an email replay to questions.

However, Mayfield has seen traffic and download spikes before, notably in the fall of 2015 when users noticed "Upgrade to Windows 10 Home" or "Upgrade to Windows 10 Pro," in Windows Update, Microsoft's updating service for consumers and small businesses. At the time, those items appeared in the Optional section of Windows Update's listing of available patches and fixes, but Microsoft had pre-selected the upgrade (even though that was counter to convention). Users with Windows Update set to automatically retrieve and install updates -- the default setting -- or who did not examine the optional update list, were then served with the Windows 10 upgrade, whether they wanted it or not.

 

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