And finally… Windows 10 – why I can’t recommend it

You’ve got until July 28th 2016 to finally decide whether to take advantage of the ‘free’ Windows 10 update offer. I’ve been waiting and waiting, in the hope that Microsoft will make some changes that change my mind but they haven’t so here’s my last (but one) post on the subject.

I’m going to try to keep this as short as possible but it’s going to be quite long anyway, so let’s break it into things you can change or work around, and things you can’t. If you don’t want to dig into the technicalities (I’ll try to keep it understandable), just read the ‘Things You Can’t Change‘ section. If you find yourself somehow using Windows 10 – or you know someone who already has it – you might want to look at the rather shorter ‘Things You Can Change‘ section: there’s a few eye-openers you need to know about. Finally, you might ask yourself, ‘What’s the Alternative?‘ and ‘Can I hedge my bets?’.

What is Windows 10?

Windows 10 is a faster, more secure version of Windows 7, and does away with a lot of the ‘new style Start Screen’ nonsense from Windows 8.

If that was all there was to be said, I’d stop here and we could all go and enjoy the summer. Unfortunately, Microsoft have chosen to shoot themselves in the foot by trying to sneak in a few extra ‘features’ of which you might not be aware.

Things You Can’t Change

Windows Updates

Whilst previous versions of Windows had regular updates, Windows 10 is rather different. It’s true that it still updates every month, but apparently there won’t ever be a Windows 11 – new features will be added (and sometimes existing features taken away) regularly, so that you’re always on ‘the latest version’. In theory, this could be a good thing but if you rely on a particular feature and Microsoft remove it (or start charging you for it), it might not seem such a good idea.

Unlike every previous version of Windows, it is impossible to choose not to install individual Windows updates. This has already caused problems for a number of customers who installed Windows 10 (either deliberately or by accident). Windows updates are normally a good thing but occasionally an update causes something to break or not to work properly. Previously, I would uninstall the update and tell Windows not to put it back on. Job done.

Windows 10 unfortunately ignores this and reinstalls the update at the earliest opportunity, causing the problem to crop up again. In response to howls of protest from people like me, Microsoft introduced an ‘update remover’, which allows you to remove updates that are causing problems. This is fine, as long as Windows 10 recognises that there is a problem… When the problem prevents the mouse working but the computer doesn’t actually crash, Windows 10 doesn’t see that there is a problem, so it won’t let you block the offending update. I know, I’ve tried!

There are also many documented bugs and problems with Windows 10 that Microsoft have yet to fix.

Privacy

Call me paranoid, but one thing that really concerns me in Windows 10 is privacy. This is a tricky topic, because most of us share our lives with Apple or Google through our mobile phones and tablets. If we think about it at all, we balance giving away private information with the convenience of having all our ‘stuff’ available wherever we are, plus free satnav, calendars, email, etc.

With Microsoft, that’s a trickier equation. The amount of information you share with Microsoft is almost impossible to determine and, although you can change settings to reduce what you share, there are suggestions from researchers online that your choices are not always entirely respected. And how many people actually have a Microsoft phone or tablet to make it worthwhile sharing their private information? At the moment, according to The Daily Telegraph, Google and Apple have 98% of the mobile market.

The Windows 10 terms and conditions say

“We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services,”

and

“However, we do not use what you say in email, chat, video calls or voice mail, or your documents, photos or other personal files to target ads to you,”

So it seems they collect that information, they just don’t use it to send you adverts. Personally, I’m not that happy with sharing everything with Microsoft. Even with my online life with Google, I don’t share every document, email, photo, and conversation with them. And what exactly do they include in ‘private communications and files in private folders’? Do ‘private communications’ include my bank’s password? And, if they’re storing it, how can they guarantee that hackers (or disgruntled Microsoft employees) can’t get at it?

Longer term

Many people – too many, to be honest – have chosen not to upgrade their old copies of Windows, being happy with XP, Vista and Windows 7. Ignoring the first two (definitely time to upgrade although not necessarily to Windows 10) Windows 7 runs quite happily and should continue to do so until 2020, when Microsoft cease supporting it. However, although security updates are important, Microsoft have recently changed Windows 7 and 8 privacy settings to more closely follow Windows 10. They’ve also issued a ‘security update’ which actually aims to circumvent steps people have taken to avoid the ‘Windows 10 Update’ nagging that is becoming more frequent and intrusive. It’s likely that before 2020 automatic updates will slow down Windows 7 to the point where the only apparent option is to buy a new machine with Windows 10 pre-installed. From my own experience, Since Windows 10 came out, checking for updates on a freshly-repaired Windows 7 machine has gone from taking fifteen minutes to taking anything up to five days.

Hidden Costs

There is a trend in computing where manufactures steer you towards renting their products, rather than buying them. For example go to PC World (no, don’t…) and ask for a copy of Microsoft Office and you will probably be offered Office 365 Home for £79.99 – not too bad as it covers up to five PCs. Except that that price buys you a one year licence to use Office, after which you have to renew annually for a similar (and almost inevitably rising) price. Anyone who’s still using an old copy of Office 2007 will realise that that is roughly what they paid to buy Office outright and use it for nine years.

There is always the free LibreOffice, of course, but people buying Windows 10 on new machines are already learning that there are hidden costs. Want to play DVD movies? £11.59, please. Solitaire? Free, but if you want to avoid video adverts between games, that’ll be £1.19 per month or a bargain £7.69 per year!

There’s also the issue that What Microsoft Giveth, Microsoft Can Also Take Away. Recently, they changed the terms for some of their ‘unlimited’ cloud storage customers, so that it now meant ‘from 1 Terabyte, with additional charges for more capacity’. If I bought a car with an unlimited mileage warranty and the manufacturer subsequently said that, actually, they meant ‘from 1000 miles’, I wouldn’t be happy. Then again, my car has a VW diesel engine, so I’m already not happy…

It’s always possible to install a free DVD player and games (although often with adverts) but Microsoft are trying to encourage everyone to use only their ‘Windows Store’ for downloads so that they can verify that everything is safe. It’s a model they’ve seen working very profitably for Apple and Google, but it seems to go against what we’ve always expected from Windows.

Things You Can Change (and almost certainly should)

Personal Information

For starters, I’m concerned with the amount of personal information that gets shared with Microsoft. There are thirteen pages of privacy settings, allowing you to switch off most but not all of the tracking. This is a difficult topic for me, having shared my entire life with Google for years but I think the difference is that I get something back from Google (free email, diary, satnav, and more) whereas, not having a Windows phone, I get no real benefit from sharing my life with Microsoft. If you’ve already committed to Apple or Android (Google’s system), you might feel the same.

Whose internet connection is it?

I also don’t like the fact that, by default, Microsoft use your internet connection to download Windows Updates for anyone else in the world (or, more likely, other people in your street). Again, this can be changed but of the people I’ve visited who now use Windows 10, no-one had changed it. If you’re on a standard BT Broadband connection and limited to 10GB per month (their standard terms) one other person downloading the Windows 10 update over your connection could use one-third of your entire monthly allowance!

Sharing your wifi connection

Windows 10 wants to share your wifi password with everyone in your address book, which might not be what you want. Or rather, it did have that ability – MS have removed it in the latest upgrade. That’s actually a good thing (and I applaud them for doing it) but it also makes you aware that features can be taken away.

Again, this is not specifically a Microsoft issue – Google and Apple have been known to remove useful features – but previously if something was present in Windows 7, it stayed there even if it disappeared in Windows 8. With Windows 10, there’s a real likelihood that that will no longer be the case.

What’s the Alternative?

As I mentioned in a previous posting, there is an alternative. It’s free, it’s vastly more secure than Windows. For the typical user, it does everything they want and in a very Windows-like way (although under the skin it’s quite different). You won’t need to stop using Windows to try it out. Versions of it already run on your mobile phone, tablet, car (probably) and washing machine. It runs 96% of the internet. Oh, and the International Space Station. And that’s the subject of my next posting.

Can I hedge my bets?

If you don’t want Windows 10 now but might like it in the future, you have until July 28th to install it on your computer via the free upgrade offer. As long as you activate Windows 10 with Microsoft over the internet, you can then immediately revert back to your previous version, safe in the knowledge that even after July 28th you’ll be able to upgrade again free of charge whenever you like. There’s a small risk of needing to re-install a few of your programs (whether upgrading or reverting) but almost everything should work fine.

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