Recently I noticed that my Windows 10 test PC wasn’t staying logged in. Every day, despite not having logged out, I was seeing the login screen. A bit of poking around in the Windows 10 settings showed that Windows was trying to install update KB4013429, rebooting to complete the install, failing to complete the install, and rolling back the changes. Rinse and repeat daily, since March 14.
Searching online, I immediately found plenty of other people experiencing this problem. No official solution from Microsoft, but plenty from other users, including what turned out to be the only thing that worked for many: a total reinstall of Windows 10.
One user pointed to an interesting tool, available in the TechNet Script Center, called Reset Windows Update Agent. This script was created and submitted by a non-Microsoft contributor, not by Microsoft. Since I wasn’t getting anywhere looking for an official solution, I tried the tool’s main feature, which does indeed reset all things Windows Update. After rebooting, Windows successfully installed a few updates, then started to install ‘Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1607 (KB4015438)’, which Microsoft issued on March 20 to address problems with KB4013429. But that update also failed to install.
I admit to being tempted to contact Microsoft about this, but then I remembered my previous encounters with Microsoft support, shuddered, and thought better of it. After all, Microsoft already knows my PC is having trouble installing this update, because of all the telemetry in Windows 10, right? If anything, they should be contacting me with a solution. Yeah, right. Like that would ever happen.
I feel sorry for anyone who tries to do anything productive with Windows 10. I only use it for testing and media playback, but even so, this is the end of the line for my relationship with Windows 10. I’ll be installing Linux Mint MATE next.
We calledit. Microsoft denied it. Now the reality of advertising in Windows has arrived. We’re not talking about the tiny, easily-ignored ads commonly seen in Skype, either. The ads that just started appearing in Windows 10 are hard to miss, and they’re in Windows Explorer, arguably the core user interface of the system.
Of course Microsoft is calling these ads ‘tips’ and insists that they just provide helpful information to Windows 10 users. Okay, let’s take a look at what users are seeing:
You may disagree, but in my opinion, that’s an ad. It might as well say “Your Advertisement Here” or “Advertise In This Space”. At this stage, I’m sure we’ll only see ads from Microsoft in Explorer, but once the anger subsides, it’s difficult to imagine Microsoft won’t start selling that space – and others like it – to the highest bidder.
That’s right, Windows 10 really is an advertising platform, just as we’ve been saying all along. It explains why Microsoft was so happy to give away the O/S to anyone who upgraded from an earlier version, why they pushed so hard and literally tricked people to upgrade from earlier versions, why they included so much user activity tracking in Windows 10, and why they retrofitted that tracking into earlier versions when people failed to upgrade in sufficient numbers.
Clearly, the underlying reason for Microsoft’s advertising-in-Windows strategy is simply the enormous amount of money being made by Google from advertising.
There’s a surprisingly lengthy post on the Windows Experience blog, co-written by two senior Microsoft managers: Michael Fortin (CVP of Windows and Devices Group Core Quality) and John Cable (Director of Program Management, Windows Servicing and Delivery).
Okay, what’s so important that these two folks decided to write about it? Just this: after the upcoming Windows 10 “Creators Update”, Windows 10 will be slightly less likely to do things at inconvenient times.
I don’t know about you, but allowing users to have control over when updates are installed, and when their computer reboots, seems like a pretty basic feature. And in fact that kind of control has existed in Windows for years. Until Windows 10. But instead of fixing the problem and apologizing for it, we get senior Microsoft managers talking about this bug fix as if it was the most amazing new feature ever.
I understand that there are good reasons to force updates and restarts, the main one being that otherwise many people allow their computers to get out of date, and vulnerable. But seriously, wouldn’t it have made more sense for automatic updates and restarts to be the default behaviour, and allow for this behaviour to be overridden, when Windows 10 was released?
Update 2017Mar22: A new ‘tip’ from Microsoft shows Windows 10 users how to change ‘Active Hours’, during which Microsoft hopefully won’t remotely restart their computer. Of course, the maximum duration for active hours is still only twelve hours. On a related note, I was wondering why my Windows 10 test PC always seemed to be logged out lately, and discovered that it’s been trying to install one particular update every night for a couple of weeks. Windows reboots to complete the install, but the installation fails, and the cycle repeats. This is exactly the kind of thing that bothers me about letting Microsoft screw around with my computer without my knowledge.
The good news is that Microsoft is improving the state of privacy in Windows 10, albeit slowly, and grudgingly. The bad news is that the improvements are unlikely to satisfy anyone genuinely concerned about what Windows 10 is really doing.
New: Privacy Dashboard
A few days ago, Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of the Windows and Devices Group, announced a new web-based Privacy Dashboard, accessible via your Microsoft account. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you’re out of luck. I’m still using my Microsoft account to log into my test system, because otherwise I’d have to buy a Windows 10 license. You probably already have a Microsoft account even if you don’t use Windows 10, as they are used for XBox Live, Skype, and other Microsoft services as well.
Poking around in the Privacy Dashboard, the Browsing History section is empty for me, presumably because I don’t use Cortana or Edge. The Search History section is also empty for me, because I don’t use Bing search. But if you use Cortana, Edge and Bing, you’d be able to see all that history here, and be able to remove it as well.
The Location section shows where you’ve been when you logged in on Windows 8.1 and 10 computers. Again, you can clear any or all of this. The section for Cortana’s database shows everything Cortana knows about you, based on your interactions. This is where things get interesting for me, because I only used Cortana for a couple of days when I first installed Windows 10. Cortana knows how often I eat at restaurants, and how far I go to get there. It knows my main mode of transportation. It knows what kind of news interests me. It’s not much, but it’s enough to be kind of creepy.
The Privacy Dashboard is a step in the right direction, and it’s very useful for anyone interested in seeing exactly what information Microsoft has collected. It also allows you to clear much of that information. But what if you want to prevent Microsoft from gathering this information in the first place?
Privacy improvements in Windows 10
Also revealed in Myerson’s post are upcoming changes to the privacy settings in Windows 10. The initial privacy setup has changed, and now provides a bit more information about the various privacy levels and settings. Microsoft is “simplifying Diagnostic data levels and further reducing the data collected at the Basic level.” But in fact there will be fewer privacy levels to choose from, and there’s still no real explanation of exactly what data is sent. And of course the most useful ‘Security’ level (which disables almost all telemetry) is only available to Enterprise users. Us regular folks can only throttle data collection down to the ‘Basic’ level.
According to Microsoft, the Basic level “includes data that is vital to the operation of Windows. We use this data to help keep Windows and apps secure, up-to-date, and running properly when you let Microsoft know the capabilities of your device, what is installed, and whether Windows is operating correctly. This option also includes basic error reporting back to Microsoft.” This sounds reasonable, but it’s lacking in detail and — for many users — still sounds like an intrusion.
Luckily, there are alternatives. I recently discovered a Powershell script called Reclaim Windows 10 that can disable all of the telemetry settings in Windows 10. I’ve yet to test the script, but it looks promising.
Advertisements in Windows 10?
Microsoft still insists this isn’t about advertising: “We want you to be informed about and in control of your data, which is why we’re working hard on these settings and controls. And regardless of your data collection choices, we will not use the contents of your email, chat, files, or pictures to target ads to you.” I’d like to believe that, but it seems unlikely. Microsoft is clearly taking aim at Google’s huge lead in online advertising, and the idea of having a captive audience for advertising (in the form of millions of Windows users) is obviously just too tempting to resist.
Microsoft continues to push Windows 10, now at the expense of Windows 7, which it now says “does not meet the requirements of modern systems, nor the security requirements of IT departments.”
Capossela did say that Microsoft heard the criticism, and tried to find the ‘right balance’, but he only seems to actually regret one particularly nasty ploy, in which closing an upgrade dialog caused the upgrade to start for many users.
Of course the Windows 10 push is long over, and the bad feelings it generated have started to fade. Unfortunately, even with the bad publicity, I suspect that Microsoft views the operation as a success, which means that they may be tempted to use the same tactics in the future.
Details are sketchy, but apparently a recent Windows 10 update caused major problems for some users. Affected users were suddenly unable to access the Internet. December’s Patch Tuesday (earlier this week) included an update that addresses this problem.
This issue once again raises the question of whether Microsoft can be trusted not to push flawed Windows updates, especially now that updates are essentially mandatory and unavoidable.
Update 2016Dec16: Many of the Knowledge Base pages on the Microsoft support site now include this message at the top: “If you are experiencing issues connecting to the internet we recommend you restart your PC by going to Start, clicking the Power button, then choosing Restart (not Shut down).” No further explanation is provided.
When Microsoft releases a new version of Windows 10, it’s delivered in the form of a bandwidth-annihilating all-inclusive package. Windows 10 basically downloads a new copy of itself. Most Windows 10 users also don’t have much control over whether and when these massive updates occur.
Earlier this week, Microsoft publicly admitted that this arrangement is perhaps not ideal, and announced upcoming changes that will make the Windows 10 upgrade system less awful. Users will be given slightly more choice for scheduling upgrades, and the updates will only include what’s actually changed in the O/S, making them significantly smaller.
What’s really weird is the way that Microsoft is portraying these changes, as if they’ve discovered something new. Sorry, Microsoft. The rest of the world already knew that limiting update packages to what’s actually changed is a good idea.
Microsoft’s big Windows 10 giveaway is over, and with it, interest in the new operating system. The latest numbers from netmarketshare.com show that growth in the number of Windows 10 devices has slowed to a crawl. Windows 7 growth in the last month or so is actually higher than for Windows 10.
To see the numbers on netmarketshare.com, select Operating Systems > Desktop Share by Version from the drop-down lists under Market Share Reports.
Thanks to Microsoft’s rules, it’s no longer possible to buy a new PC with any version of Windows other than 10. But Windows 7 and 8.1 are still available, so if you don’t mind installing Windows from scratch, you still have options.
Windows 7 will continue to receive support – and security updates – from Microsoft until January 14, 2020. Windows 8 will be supported until January 10, 2023. See the official Windows lifecycle fact sheet for details.
If you plan to risk a migraine and read Microsoft’s blog post, keep in mind that the intended audience is Enterprise users, not us lowly consumers (aka Windows 7/8 Home/Pro users). Parts of the post need to be interpreted differently for non-enterprise users. For instance, references to WSUS and ConfigMgr only apply to Enterprise users.
The changes will take effect on October 11, next week’s Patch Tuesday. The bottom line is that updates will no longer be delivered separately, but in large update packages. Each month, three of these packages will be produced:
security-only quality update – a single update containing this month’s security updates; not available through Windows Update!
security monthly quality rollup – a single update containing this month’s security updates, as well as non-security updates from the previous month, and the contents of all previous rollups.
preview of the monthly quality rollup – perhaps weirdest of all, this update will contain next month’s non-security updates. In other words, this month’s non-security updates, which are otherwise not available in the regular monthly rollup. Microsoft seems to be saying “For those of you who want this month’s non-security updates but would prefer not to wait until next month to get them, here’s a preview of those updates.” Even weirder, this update will become available the week after the regular Patch Tuesday. The preview rollups will also include fixes from all previous monthly rollups, and older updates will be gradually added as well.
Why will the monthly rollups contain non-security updates from the previous month? For example, according to Microsoft, the first (October 2016) rollup will include non-security updates from September. But why delay October’s non-security fixes for another month? This makes no sense.
What happens if an update causes problems? In the past, you could just uninstall the problematic update. That won’t be an option with this new system. Microsoft’s response to this question makes it clear that this is your fault: “Every Windows update is extensively tested with our OEMs [customers] and ISVs [customers], and by customers – all before these updates are released to the general population. Your organization may also be interested in validating updates before they are publicly released, by participating in the Security Update Validation Program (SUVP).” In other words, our updates are thoroughly tested by you, and if you’re not testing them, you should be.
Why is Microsoft doing this?
According to Microsoft, these changes will “simplify your updating of Windows 7 SP1, Windows 8.1, … while also improving scanning and installation times and providing flexibility depending on how you typically manage Windows updates today.”
There may actually be some good reasons for bundling updates. But Microsoft is being so vague that it’s hard to believe they aren’t trying to foist something unwanted on us. Maybe the new system will make Windows Update faster and more reliable. Maybe it will simplify updates, an appealing notion for many users. Maybe it will make us all safer. It’s difficult to predict.
But there’s no question that these changes will make it difficult to avoid unwanted updates, and therein lies the problem. We already know for sure that Microsoft desperately wants us to either upgrade to Windows 10, or install updates that make Windows 7 and 8 more like Windows 10. Clearly these changes are beneficial to Microsoft, and we have a pretty good idea why (it’s advertising infrastructure). And, despite Microsoft’s assurances, we can be fairly certain that these changes don’t actually benefit the user, unless the user enjoys targeted advertising.
Given Microsoft’s recent actions, and suspicions concerning their actual motivation, these new updates are going to be examined closely. Are all the ‘security’ updates actually necessary? Are they even related to security? Microsoft can slap a ‘security’ label on anything they want and force it down our throats.
What can we do about this?
If you use Windows 7 or 8.x Home or Professional, there’s not much you can do. As I explained in an earlier post, you can trust that Microsoft will act in your best interest and let them install what they want on your computer (yikes), you can stop using Windows Update completely (also yikes), or you can switch to Linux.
It’s also still possible that – with enough pressure from users – Microsoft could make these changes more palatable. The Electronic Freedom Foundation says (and I totally agree) that “Microsoft should come clean with its user community. The company needs to acknowledge its missteps and offer real, meaningful opt-outs to the users who want them, preferably in a single unified screen. It also needs to be straightforward in separating security updates from operating system upgrades going forward, and not try to bypass user choice and privacy expectations.” I would add that Microsoft should describe in detail exactly what each update really does, and how it affects the collection and transmission of user activity and other information.
Now that Microsoft’s offer of free Windows 10 upgrades for Windows 7 and 8.x users is over, it makes sense that we should stop seeing those annoying reminders everywhere. Sure enough, an update for Windows 7 and 8.x became available last Patch Tuesday (September 13) that removes the ‘Get Windows 10’ feature. The update is identified as KB3184143, and has the (surprisingly meaningful) title “Remove software related to the Windows 10 free upgrade offer”.
If you’ve been using the third-party software GWX Control Panel to keep those annoying Windows 10 upgrade messages away, and you’ve installed KB3184143 on your Windows 7/8.x system, you might be tempted to remove GWX Control Panel. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to assume that Microsoft won’t re-enable the ‘Get Windows 10’ feature again in the future. I plan to leave it running on my Windows 7 and 8.x computers.
Of course, knowing Microsoft, if they decide to start pushing Windows 10 on us again, they’ll probably develop something completely new, in which case GWX Control Panel probably won’t help.