Wandering Thoughts archives


My views of Windows 10 (from the outside)

This sort of starts with my tweet:

It's funny; I have a great deal of anger for what Microsoft has done with Windows 10, even though none of it affects me directly.

Since I was asked, I'm going to change my mind and write enough here to explain myself.

Based on information casually available to an outsider to the Windows ecosystem, Microsoft has done two things with Windows 10. First, they have significantly to drastically increased the amount of privacy invasive 'telemetry' that Windows 10 installs send to Microsoft and have also added all sorts of advertising to it. The normal versions of Windows 10 will pitch you in the Start menu, on lock screens, in included Windows applications like Solitaire, and so on.

Second, as everyone has heard by now, Microsoft has been aggressively pushing the upgrade to Windows 10 on people (or more accurately Windows machines). At this point it seems to be almost impossible to escape the upgrade; certainly it requires so many contortions that many people will be upgraded even if they don't want to be. Stories abound about important PCs in various places basically being hijacked by these forced upgrades.

All by themselves, either of these things would be bad and obnoxious; no one wants ads, invasive telemetry, or forced upgrades. Together they ascend to an entirely new level of nastiness, as Microsoft is forcing you to upgrade to an intrusive, ad-laden new operating system (and they've made it clear that the amount of ads will be increasing over time). The whole thing also comes at what could politely be called a bad time for both ads and privacy intrusion; people are becoming more and more sensitized and angry about both, as we see with the popularity of adblockers and so on.

In my view, what Microsoft has done is to reveal that as long as you use a Microsoft operating system, your computer really belongs to Microsoft instead of you. By forcing this upgrade to an OS with very different behavior for advertising and privacy intrusion, Microsoft has now demonstrated that they are willing to drastically change the terms on which they let you use your computer, as they see fit. Your computer and OS does not exist to benefit you, it exists to benefit Microsoft. If it is not doing enough for them, they will change things until it does and you do not get a vote in the matter.

(Microsoft could try to sell more telemetry as better for you, but that is absolutely impossible with ads. Ads universally make your experience worse. By including and then increasing ads in Windows 10, Microsoft is clearly prioritizing themselves over you in the operating system.)

In my view, by doing this Microsoft has shown that they are not particularly different from the big OEMs who have for years been loading down Windows laptops and desktops with pre-installed crapware. Dell, HP, Lenovo, et al have all been more than willing to ruin the experience for people buying their hardware in order to make some additional money from other channels; now Microsoft has joined the crowd. As a result, Microsoft is just as un-trustworthy as the big OEMs are.

(More fundamentally, Microsoft is showing that they do not care about people's experience of using their operating systems, or at least that they don't consider it a priority. Microsoft will happily make your time using Windows 10 less pleasant in order to deliver some ads. And as you know, when you are clearly not the customer, you are the product. It is especially offensive to be the product when you are paying for the privilege, but apparently that is life in Microsoft's world.)

I very much hope that this winds up causing Microsoft massive problems down the road. There certainly should be consequences to changing your product from a premium thing that was the best solution to a downmarket option used by people who don't have the money to avoid the annoyances it inflicts on them. However, I cynically doubt that it will, and it may be that Microsoft Windows has already become the downmarket product that Windows 10 positions it as.

In the mean time the whole situation makes me angry every time I consider it, especially when I think of the various relatives and people I know who will have no choice but to use Windows 10 and be subjected to all of this. If Microsoft goes down in flames someday, this move of theirs has made sure that I will applaud the fires.

Sidebar: The danger of intrusive telemetry

The ever more intrusive (default) telemetry makes me especially angry because if there is one thing we have learned over the past three, five, or ten years, it is that collecting and retaining data is inherently dangerous. Once that data exists it becomes a magnet for people who want a look at it, whether that is with subpoenas in civil lawsuits, warrants in criminal cases, or NSLs from three letter agencies. Today, the only safe thing to do with data is not collect it at all or at the very least, totally minimize your collection. That Microsoft has chosen to do otherwise basically amounts to them shrugging their shoulders over the fundamental privacy of people using their operating system.

(Now we know how much Microsoft really cares about the privacy of people using their systems, as opposed to things that cause inconvenience or bad PR for Microsoft.)

tech/Windows10MyViews written at 23:19:58; Add Comment

I work in what is increasingly a pretty different sysadmin environment

I've written before about what our sysadmin environment is like but that description doesn't really convey how and why our environment is increasingly different from what the rest of the world seems to be moving to, with the resulting very different needs. Today I'm going to describe our environment from another perspective.

In our environment, we broadly do three different things as far as computing goes. First off, we provide a number of standard services to people in the department, things like Samba file service, printing, email with IMAP (and webmail), DNS, and so on. This sort of internal service provision is probably still quite common in reasonable sized organizations (trendy ones have no doubt outsourced it to GMail, Dropbox, et al). Users are not exposed to the backend details of what software stacks power these services, and although our current stacks are stable we have shuffled them around in the past and could in the future. We definitely feel no need to run the latest and greatest software stacks and versions, and generally prefer to leave these services alone for as long as possible (this too is probably common in organizations doing this).

Second, we provide general multiuser computing to our users in several forms (general login service, compute login service, and various forms of web service ranging from plain HTML pages through completely custom web servers that they run). Naturally, how people use these services and what they run varies widely; we frequently get requests to install various bits of open source software that people want, for example. Our users obviously are pretty exposed to what OS and software we're running, and we couldn't make significant changes in it without serious disruption (even mild changes like Ubuntu version upgrades can be disruptive). Our users also care a fair bit about having current or relatively current software in this environment (for a wide variety of open source software). My impression is that we are one of the few environments left that provides this sort of computing.

Finally, the large collective we run a certain amount of custom services and applications, both for people inside the department and for people outside it. Some of these services are developed by the same sysadmins who run the hosts they're on, but others are increasingly going to have separate developers and sysadmin people (these are generally the complicated applications). Users of these systems aren't exposed to the backend details, but obviously the developers are since they have to write code for some deployment environment. The developers probably care (to some extent) about working with commonly chosen environments (eg Linux and Apache) and with current or reasonably current versions of things like databases, web servers, and so on. This sort of thing is closest to ordinary 'operations' or 'devops' work in the outside world but is generally less demanding for various reasons (there is very little here that could be described as 'business critical', for example).

(I wouldn't be surprised if some day we wind up with developers who want to deliver their applications as Docker containers or the like, rather than dancing around with asking us to set up a database this way and an Apache/PHP web environment that way and so on.)

So far, nothing in our environment faces high load or high demand, neither in our standard services nor our custom services. When unusual surge demand descends, so far it is not really our problem; we have some responsibility to keep the overall system up and responding, but very little to make sure the specific service affected does not collapse under the load it's experiencing.

In theory we could run these three different sorts of environments using different operating systems and software stacks. In practice we have limited staff and so the needs of the multiuser computing wind up spilling over to affect what we run for the other environments; provided that it works reasonably well, it's simply less work to have a uniform setup across all three environments. Today most of that uniform environment is Ubuntu LTS, because Ubuntu LTS remains the best environment for providing the multiuser computing part of things.

sysadmin/OurDifferentSysadminEnvironment written at 00:33:20; Add Comment

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