J003-Content-How-Hard-Will-Microsoft-Push-You-to-Install-Windows-10_SQIt’s always in the best interest of a software vendor for users to install their latest and greatest version. Even when the upgrade is free, having more of the customer base using the newest iteration makes it easier for the vendor to provide support, and allows them to show off new features and functionalities. It’s often in the best interest of users, as well, since the newest version will likely have the most modern and best security mechanisms. But there are also good reasons that users sometimes prefer not to upgrade.

In the past, Microsoft hasn’t really forced users to upgrade until the software was a decade old (or more), and this was done only indirectly by withdrawing patch support. With Windows 10, the company seems to be getting a little more aggressive about pushing the upgrade on people using Windows 8.1, which is only a little over two years old. They first offered it as an optional update on Windows Update, then moved it to “Recommended” status, which means by default it will be downloaded and installed unless you change your settings. Some people aren’t happy about it.

This represents a big change in the way operating system versions are distributed. Traditionally, when a new version of Windows came out, you had to buy it and install it if you wanted to run it on an existing computer. If you were happy with the OS that came with the system (or a version you had installed later), you did nothing and kept running that. Eventually support would run out and it would stop getting security updates, but until then you weren’t forced to switch to the newer OS. The new OS was purchased and installed as an operating system upgrade, not as an update through the mechanism that delivers patches to fix security vulnerabilities and improve performance and reliability issues.

Despite the outcry in the tech press recently, Microsoft still isn’t exactly forcing you to go to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.x – but they are definitely putting on the pressure. They call this “making it easier to upgrade to Windows 10.” What about all those headlines that say users are “getting Windows 10 even if they declined the offer?” Well, that’s true – sort of. What they’re getting are the installation files for Windows 10, which are automatically being downloaded to their hard drives. However, the operating is not being installed without their permission; you still have to accept the EULA to start the installation. That’s not to say that some users haven’t clicked that button by mistake or without realizing what they’re doing, and ended up with a brand new operating system.

Here’s the real story, without the overreactive dramatization and without defending Microsoft’s overly enthusiastic tactics to drive users into upgrading: As of February 1, the company moved the Windows 10 update (upgrade) from the “optional” to the “recommended” category in Windows Update. What does that mean, exactly? If your Windows Update settings are running at the default, recommended updates are downloaded and installed “automagically.” The idea is to make it easy for users to keep their computers fully patched without having to bother with the process.

If you’re running Windows 7 or 8.x and you want to keep doing so, you can prevent this by changing the Windows Update settings:

  • Go to the Control Panel,
  • Choose Windows Update,
  • Uncheck the box that says “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates,”
  • Click OK to apply the new setting.

Afraid the Win10 upgrade will now get moved from “Recommended” to “Important” if everyone follows this advice? There’s no indication that will happen, but there is a way to regain control over those “Important” updates, too. Select Change Settings in the left pane and under “Important Updates,” change the selection from “Install updates automatically (recommended)” to “Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.” If you’re using a metered Internet connection whereby you get charged by the megabyte or minute for downloads, you might want to go one step further and select “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them.”  There’s no point in paying to download large files that you aren’t going to use.

If you do this, remember to check frequently to see what updates are available and install the important security updates that will patch vulnerabilities. Otherwise you will be exposing your computer to risk of attack. Changing your settings to manually control the updating can save you from those occasional disasters when an update turns out to cause horrible problems or even renders a machine unbootable – but it also puts the responsibility on you to see that needed security fixes get applied.

Even if you forget to change the settings and the Windows 10 files download and the installation process begins, you can still “just say no.” And should you have a senior moment and click the wrong button, allowing Windows 10 to install, you have an option to revert back to your former operating system – but you need to do it within 31 days after installation.

You might think, after reading this far, that I’m not a fan of Windows 10. Actually, I am running it on several of my computers and I like it. It works like a charm (but ironically, minus the Charms bar that you may love or hate in Windows 8) on my Surface 4.  It works fine on several of the other computers scattered around our house.

That said, I want to choose when and whether to make the move to Windows 10 for each of my systems. I have a couple of computers that I want to stay on Windows 8.1 and I have good reasons for that. In one case, it’s a computer that I use to do graphics work with a particular older version of a graphics program and that software won’t run properly on Windows 10 (I tried). I don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars for the newest version when what I have does exactly what I want it to do. So I need that computer to keep running 8.1.

The other computer that I don’t want to upgrade is our Media Center PC. It’s especially important that this one sticks with Windows 8.1 since you can’t run Windows Media Center on 10 (which, in my opinion, is the very worst change that was made in the new OS). We use WMC to record the TV programs we enjoy and time shift them. We don’t want to pay a monthly fee for TiVO or rent a cable company DVR. It’s not just the cost, either; we love the WMC interface and features. We’ve been using it ever since it made its debut in Windows XP Media Center Edition and we’ll give it up when they pry it from our cold, dead hands – or when we find an alternative that works for us as well as this does, whichever comes first. The folks over at Silicon Dust (makers of the HD Homerun that we use to distribute the cable signal to all our PCs over IP) is reportedly working on a DVR solution of their own and that might be “the one,” but for now, we need WMC and that means we need Windows 8.1.

Luckily, we can have it.  The Windows 8.1 support lifecycle runs through 1/10/2023. This is the usual ten years of support that Microsoft has provided for its operating systems (they extended that for Windows XP).  But that’s assuming that the hardware on which it’s running doesn’t die. What if it does, and I have to buy a new computer to replace our current Media Center PC? Then things get a little more complicated, because Microsoft has announced that Windows 7 and 8.1 won’t be supported on all of the newest processors (Intel’s Skylake and above) and will be supported on some specific Skylake devices – but only for 18 months.

All of these changes are causing a good bit of consternation among the tech community. While Microsoft’s desire to get everybody onto Windows 10 may be based on (mostly) good intentions – it is more secure and it will undoubtedly work better on new hardware than the old operating systems will. But the company is going about it in a way that’s upsetting a large chunk of its customer base. The media isn’t helping by overstating the situation and leading readers to believe they’re going to just wake up one morning to find their current versions of Windows replaced by Windows 10 overnight. And along with making it easier for those who want it to upgrade to their latest and greatest (and free) OS, they should also make it easier for those who have reason to opt out – regardless of what that reason might be – to permanently defer the offer.