This morning, the unthinkable happened: My wife, an avowed PC user who long ago swore to never touch an Apple device, started shopping around for a Mac Mini. And it’s all thanks to Windows 10. Or rather, the nasty new way that Microsoft’s tricking Windows 7 and 8 users into automatically updating to Windows 10.
I adore Windows 10, but I’ve long been a vocal critic of the heavy-handed tactics that Microsoft’s been using to force people into the upgrade, all to hit an arbitrary goal of 1 billion users. The annoying “Get Windows 10” pop-up began using deceiving malware-like tactics months ago, but it recently received an overhaul that seems purposefully designed to confuse users who have been wearily slogging through the nagging for half a year now.
That nasty change trick resulted in my wife’s beloved Windows 10 PC being sneakily upgraded to Windows 10 this morning. Sure, she has 30 days to roll it back to Windows 7, but she feels so betrayed—like Microsoft forcibly removed her control over her own PC—that she’s strongly considering embracing the Dark Side and buying a Mac, instead.
In December, the Get Windows 10 (GWX) pop-up changed it’s verbiage in a way that mimicked malware: The only immediate options were to “Upgrade Now” or “Start download, upgrade later.” An offer you can’t refuse! The wording changed slightly since then, but the only way to decline the upgrade has been the same: By clicking the X button in the GWX pop-up’s right-hand corner and closing the window.
On a Windows 8.1 PC. Mostly full screen pop-up. No clear “No thanks” button, just download Windows 10 now or later. pic.twitter.com/RRoaFMST9r
— Brad Chacos (@BradChacos) December 11, 2015
Earlier this year, however, Microsoft pushed the Windows 10 download out as a Recommended update. That means anybody using the default Windows Update setting—as you should be!—automatically received the installation bits and a prompt to install the new OS. That’s nasty enough, and spawned a wave of complaints about unprovoked auto-upgrades, but a new change goes even further.
Last week, Microsoft altered the GWX prompt, as ZDNet covered. On the surface, it’s an improvement; the box clearly states when your PC will be upgraded, and even adds a (still small and easily skippable) line that allows you to reschedule or change the upgrade timing. So far so good!
But here's the icky part: The redesigned GWX pop-up now treats exiting the window as consent for the Windows 10 upgrade.
So after more than half a year of teaching people that the only way to say “No thanks” to Windows 10 is to exit the GWX application, and refusing to allow users to disable the pop-up in any obvious manner so they had to press that X over and over again during those six months to the point that most people probably just click it without reading by this point, Microsoft just made it so that very behavior accepts the Windows 10 upgrade instead.
Fallout and prevention
PC users are already up in arms over it, and rightfully so. By now, every existing Windows 7 and 8 user has seen and declined the Windows 10 update numerous times. By forcing out Windows 10 as a Recommended update and changing the behavior associated with exiting the GWX pop-up, Microsoft’s actively striving to push the operating system on people who actively don’t want it.
Worse, these under-handed tactics are encouraging Windows 7 and 8 users to disable Windows Updates all together, which leaves their systems more vulnerable to attackers who exploit security flaws.
Why I completely disabled all updates on my laptop, right here. https://t.co/UbMT4ckZpw
— Peter Skerritt (@PeteSkerritt) May 22, 2016
That certainly stops Microsoft's nagging, deceptive pop-ups, but I’d recommend installing the free GWX Control Panel tool instead. It lets you remove and disable the upgrade prompts all together—though it’s a shame that you have to resort to third-party tools to keep your operating system from hijacking itself.
Again: I personally use and love Windows 10. It’s great! But deploying these dirty tricks only frustrates long-time Windows users who have very valid reasons to stick with operating systems they already know and love. And thanks to the deceitful new update, there's a very high chance that my wife will be a new OS X convert by the end of the day. Which means that I might have to learn how to troubleshoot Macs.