My views of Windows 10 (from the outside)

June 6, 2016

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.)

Written on 06 June 2016.
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Last modified: Mon Jun 6 23:19:58 2016
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