A few days after Microsoft released Windows 10 to the public last year, Teri Goldstein’s computer started trying to download and install the new operating system.
The update, which she says she didn’t authorize, failed. Instead, the computer she uses to run her Sausalito, Calif., travel-agency business slowed to a crawl. It would crash, she says, and be unusable for days at a time.
“I had never heard of Windows 10,” Goldstein said. “Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to update.”
How to get, or avoid, Windows 10
Microsoft is offering Windows 10 as a free update to nonbusiness users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 or 8.1 until July 29. After that, the software will cost $119.
To get it
Go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-10-upgrade and follow the prompts.
To avoid it
A Microsoft support article on the update process, at http://www.support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/3095675 includes instructions on how to decline the updates and turn off Windows 10-related notifications.
Separately, a free application called Never10 is designed to run in the background and block attempts to prompt you to update to Windows 10. The program is available for download at http://www.grc.com/never10
When outreach to Microsoft’s customer support didn’t fix the issue, Goldstein took the software giant to court, seeking compensation for lost wages and the cost of a new computer.
She won. Last month, Microsoft dropped an appeal and Goldstein collected a $10,000 judgment from the company.
The company denies wrongdoing, and a spokeswoman said Microsoft halted its appeal to avoid the expense of further litigation.
Goldstein’s experience is an extreme example of the consequences of Microsoft’s aggressive campaign to get people to use Windows 10, the newest version of the ubiquitous personal-computer operating system.
Released in July 2015, Windows 10 is free to most users of older Microsoft operating systems. That offer expires July 29.
Generally well reviewed by technology critics, the new operating system has nevertheless come under fire from people who say Microsoft is pushing too hard to get users of older editions to update. Some people say Windows 10 is loading onto their computers without their consent.
Microsoft says it offers users a choice to update, not a requirement. People have to acknowledge a dialogue box before the installation, and agree to a license agreement afterward, to receive Windows 10, the company says.
Those who don’t like the new software have 31 days afterward to roll back to their previous version, the company says, and free customer support is available to those who run into trouble.
“We’re continuing to listen to customer feedback and evolve the upgrade experience based on their feedback,” Microsoft said in a statement.
Microsoft says most users would be better served by Windows 10, which is more secure than its predecessors, including the 6-year-old Windows 7. Security experts tend to agree.
But some Microsoft watchers say the company isn’t offering users a transparent or easy choice in the matter. Absent from Microsoft’s series of upgrade prompts is an obvious “no thanks” or “never update” button.
Mary Jo Foley, a journalist who has closely followed Microsoft for decades, wrote recently that the company has made saying no to Windows 10, particularly for non-tech-savvy people, “nearly impossible to implement.”
Paul Thurrott, another longtime Microsoft follower, criticized a recent pop-up asking users if they were ready to get Windows 10. In the prompt, the X in the upper-right corner — long known to Windows users as a way to exit a software program or abort a process — is interpreted by the update tool as an agreement to go ahead with Windows 10.
“The violation of trust here is almost indescribable,” Thurrott wrote.
Push to centralize
Analysts say part of Microsoft’s push with the Windows 10 comes from a desire to centralize users onto one operating system. Fewer versions of Windows to support limits the amount of upkeep Microsoft engineers have to give to old systems and leaves them better able to patch and improve Windows 10.
Microsoft has said it hopes to get 1 billion devices running the software by mid-2018. There were 300 million at last count.
A giant audience for Windows 10 would give Microsoft a leg up in its fight to remain relevant among software developers, some of whom would rather target the larger mobile audiences reached by Google or Apple software.
A big audience for the operating system also increases the audience Microsoft can display advertisements to and can prod to use the Bing search engine or buy items from the Windows store.
Complaints about the Windows update process grew louder after Microsoft made Windows 10 a “recommended update” earlier this year, placing the download of the new operating system alongside the company’s regular security patches for users who have the automatic Windows Update feature turned on. (People still have to approve the software after its download, Microsoft says.)
“They tell you it’s optional, that you have to opt in, but they just do it anyway,” said Jane Dunkin, a human-resources assistant in Astoria, Ore.
She decided to give Windows 10 a try last month when it loaded onto her desktop computer without her consent.
When the new software didn’t meet her expectations, she tried to roll back to Windows 7, but found the 30-day period had lapsed, leaving her stuck on Windows 10.
“I’ve been using Windows forever,” she said. “And when I can’t find what I need [in Windows 10] to get done what I need to do, there’s a problem with it.”
Wes Miller, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said some Windows users were pre-emptively turning off all updates in an effort to avoid Windows 10. For Miller, once a Microsoft worker who knew the team that helped build Windows Update into a trusted portal for security updates and necessary fixes, that’s a step backward.
“My worry with this is that they are fundamentally manipulating the trust Windows consumers will have in Windows Update from this point going forward,” Miller said. “You can’t perform an action for a user without their explicit permission, it’s just not acceptable.”
As software evolves in the internet era from an out-of-the-box product to services updated via the internet, it’s increasingly the norm that programs may change without much input from the customer, and sometimes without their noticing. That includes updates to Facebook’s news feed or Gmail’s home screen, or updates mandated by the apps on a smartphone.
For some, though, a similarly insistent effort to change a personal-computer operating system — the foundational program that makes other software tick — is going too far.
Griffin Tyndall, a lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., had dismissed prompts to get Windows 10 for months. Still, one day last month he woke up to find both his home and business computers welcoming him to Windows 10, updates he says he didn’t authorize.
He rolled back both computers to Windows 7 without incident.
“I can’t afford to have anything happen to my computers. I guess I’m fortunate that nothing did,” he said. “I appreciate the ability to have automatic (security) updates, but changing the whole operating system? No, I did not want that done.”
“It’s kind of bold for them to just automatically do that as part of their updates,” he added.
Sitting in his office a few weeks later, he says the “Get Windows 10” icon still appears in the bottom right corner of his desktop.