Microsoft May Face Legal Consequences for Windows 10 Upgrade Trickery

July 12th, 2016

Let me get this out of the way: Windows 10 has proven to be a pretty decent upgrade as Microsoft’s OS goes. It fixes some of the worst ills of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, particularly when it comes to using a traditional Windows desktop interface and a working Start menu. For the previous versions, people often ended up adding third-party Start menu modifiers to restore what Microsoft’s developers should never have taken away.

Even better, Microsoft appeared to be apologizing for the Windows 8/8.1 debacle by making the new OS free for consumers for one year. All right, businesses with traditional Microsoft support contracts would continue to pay, but this move seemed destined to entice lots of people to upgrade in large numbers. That would help encourage developers to build stuff for the Windows Store. Having more apps would, in turn, convince customers that the upgrade was the right thing to do.

In addition to a working Start menu, and a way to more or less use Windows in the traditional way, Microsoft included support for the Cortana virtual assistant. In that, they had a one-year advantage over Apple, which isn’t installing Siri on the newly rebranded macOS until Sierra arrives this fall. There’s also the ability to automatically switch from keyboard/mouse to touchscreen mode for a Windows 2-in-1 notebook, and a virtual desktops feature that is similar to Spaces on a Mac.

On the negative side, Microsoft persists in using that immature stickpin artwork and thin lettering from the interface formerly known as Metro. But it’s not a huge impediment to being productive, and perhaps you’ll get used to it. Obviously I tolerate it.

Windows 10 is also supposed to be snappier and more secure. Switching from Windows 8/8.1 should be a no brainer if your apps are compatible. But if you’re already accustomed to Windows 7, and don’t want to risk app or driver conflicts, there’s little here to drive you to move to Windows 10. Worse, some customers have evidently felt compelled to turn off updates altogether to keep Windows 10 off their machines. That, however, puts them at risk in the event Microsoft needs to push a critical security or stability update. But these are desperate times.

Why? It seems that Microsoft, in its eagerness to entice you to upgrade to Windows 10, hasn’t just flooded the airwaves with silly lifestyle ads. They’ve taken questionable steps to force the issue, and that maneuver may be putting them in the crosshairs of state attorneys general in the U.S. I also wonder how the EU is going to take this questionable strategy.

So offering a Windows 10 upgrade free ought to be enough. Users should have choices, and if they don’t want this upgrade, so be it. That’s the way it’s always worked. But Microsoft has gone way too far, by secretly downloading Windows 10 in the background on many PCs, so it would be ready to install as soon as you gave the OK. Aside from the propriety of pushing an installer file to you without your approval, consider the plight of PC users with small SSDs installed on their machines. Where they had enough space before, a few gigabytes unexpectedly removed could cause trouble.

But the worst move is to actually install Windows 10 without warning. Isn’t that a classic definition of malware? You see, that unfortunate move resulted in disabling the work computer of one California resident who decided she wouldn’t put up with this abuse. So she took legal action against Microsoft and was awarded $10,000 for her time and trouble. One expects that just removing Windows 10 is likely to require restoring from a backup or clearing your PC’s drive and starting over. Not good.

Indeed, I was sort of a witness to this behavior, as I listened to radio talk show host Thom Hartmann, who uses a Windows PC to manage the show’s scheduling and call-in guests, complain on the air that the Windows 10 was, unwanted, installing itself right then and there. Even if he wanted Windows 10, he’d obviously wait till the show was over, or leave it in the hands of a system admin to sort things out. As it was, it temporarily disabled key management features for his show.

I wasn’t surprised to hear him vow to consider switching to the Mac, and one listener called in and tried to convince him to give Linux a try.

Obviously this wasn’t the sort of publicity Microsoft expected.

Even when Windows 10 wasn’t forcing itself onto a PC, Microsoft tried another questionable move, to change a long-standing interface convention to fool you into installing the upgrade. So the traditional interface element on a prompt or dialog is an “X” in the upper right corner. Whether Mac or PC, clicking or tapping the X would dismiss the prompt without any further action.

In its desperation to force Windows 10 on as many PCs as possible, Microsoft made a stealth change, which meant that the usual dismiss command would, in fact, OK the upgrade. The mind boggles!

Now according to published reports, activist New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is looking into the situation to determine how Microsoft customers might have been harmed by being deceived or forced into instilling Windows 10.

You might have heard of Schneiderman, since he is taking legal action against presumptive Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump as the result of al those complaints about Trump University and its sales and marketing practices.

Now typical of most software companies, Microsoft’s software agreement contains a supposedly binding arbitration clause and a waiver of class action lawsuits to protect itself against dissatisfied customers. Would it apply to installing an OS against the wishes of a customer? I suppose we’ll find out if Schneiderman and his colleagues can successfully bring such actions.

If Microsoft is meant to suffer for its overaggressive approach to Windows 10 upgrades, so be it. While Apple has, in recent years, made macOS upgrades free, you are never forced to accept them. There are options to control how updaters are managed in the App Store preference pane. You don’t have to accept software you don’t want, or weren’t ready to consider.

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2 Responses to “Microsoft May Face Legal Consequences for Windows 10 Upgrade Trickery”

  1. DaveD says:

    There are some things that desperate companies do that angers me. It didn’t affect me, but I felt the companies should be severely punished. One company is VW and the other is Microsoft. VW needs to be “tarred and feathered” for cheating. While Microsoft did not stoop to the deep level of VW it is along the line of deceptive practices.

    Who is the true owner of your PC?

    Apple is not the master of my Macs. I have a Snow Leopard Mac for my iTunes library. I know Apple wants me to use the latest OS and iTunes. But, I can’t for the time being. It’s something I need to plan for and at least every thing involving with my iTunes library still just work. However, Apple did a practice that I complained on the feedback page. It pushed the wonders of upgrading to El Capitan notification via the NBagent process. I would not have minded if it was several megabytes in size, it was hundred of megabytes which impacted my limited bandwidth. It asserted itself as a higher priority process and would come back after a force quit. I finally stumbled on a way to postpone it by shutting down the network access. Hopefully when NBagent resume it would be overnight or on a faster network connection. It would be just luck (mostly bad) as to when. Even after I downloaded El Capitan, but never installed, I got treated with a second massive round of NBagent to tell about wonders of “El Cap” again.

    I live in Washington state where Microsoft cast a giant shadow and have zero love for the company. I avoid using their products (the same with Google) for ages. It goes way back when Apple sued Microsoft over the Macintosh “look and feel.” Yeah, Microsoft got away with it from a poorly written contract with Apple as one of its “trusted” partners. I applauded when the government got Microsoft’s business branded as a monopoly.

    To be fair, I am glad that Microsoft recognized that Windows Vista and 8 were a mistake. But without consent, forcing a Windows 10 upgrade process, downloading the installer, and tricking a user to unknowingly do an upgrade, is just wrong. Microsoft needs to be stopped and punished for this. Again, who is the master of your PC when you look at the long term implication.

  2. Michael says:

    Microsoft or any other company can include whatever they want in their license agreement, and regardless of that fact you cannot sign away your rights. I can just hear the judge laughing at Microsoft now when they say, “But the consumers agreed to waive a class action lawsuit against us when they accepted our product by clicking on that button.”

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