Suing Microsoft

March 28th, 2017

No major company is necessarily free of of the need for some legal wrangling. In the old days, Apple filed legal actions against Microsoft — mostly over changes of theft of the Mac OS — but, in 1997, the two companies decided to settle and focus on making money. Sometimes that desire converges, which explains why Office for Mac and iOS gets plenty of attention nowadays.

Sometimes the legal wrangling is the result of customer complaints or problems. One notable recent example is Windows 10. If you believe Microsoft, it has 400 million users. The fairly decent adoption rate was no doubt fueled by the fact that, for the first full year, it was a free download to consumers. After that, the price reverted to the usual absurd upgrade fee, which starts at $119.

You may notice that the adoption rate has slowed if you examine the web metrics, but I’m not going to waste your time.

But it does appear that Microsoft went a little too far in trying to coerce Windows users to upgrade. So we had situations where the Windows 10 installer would download in the background whether customers wanted it or not. In some cases, the installer would launch and do its stuff without approval, or with inverse approval.

So, based on a silent user interface change, clicking the “X” on an installation prompt would not dismiss it but start the process. And I recall one instance, mentioned here from time to time, involving a radio talk show host who, while on the air, observed the Windows 10 installation taking over the show’s PC. So it was unusable until the upgrade was complete.

One Windows users won a $10,000 award from Microsoft in a legal action complaining about the nasty consequences of an unwanted and unexpected Windows 10 install.

Some of you might suggest Apple isn’t innocent, for people who selected the App Store option to download OS updates in the background might find a new version of macOS as part of one of those downloads. Aside from taking up extra space on your Mac’s drive, however, the installer will not launch unless you want it to, and you have to manually start the installation process.

Now about Microsoft.

According to a published report in Ars Technica, Microsoft is the subject of a class-action lawsuit alleging that Windows 10 was negligently designed, that the defects were hidden from users, and that, therefore, the upgrade was unfit for its intended purpose.

You know, like the classic definition of buggy software.

The war stories speak of familiar themes, such as someone complaining that the upgrade was installed without permission, and further, that it damaged the customer’s PC beyond repair, which required purchasing a new system. The latter seems more than a little extreme, however.

In a related complaint, the lawsuit asserts that the OS isn’t checking the PC to determine “whether or not the hard drive can withstand the stress of the Windows 10 installation.”

Another complaint cites the case of someone who did accept the upgrade, but it resulted in data loss and the failure of some apps to stop working. But that appears to be related, since data loss could result in damaged apps. This complaint refers to the alleged failure to check the system for compatibility.

Well, you get the picture.

The lawsuit alleges that Microsoft did not “exercise reasonable care in designing, formulating, and manufacturing” the upgrade, and, further, that Microsoft knew Windows 10 had “potentially harmful propensities.”

Despite the extent of the harm allegedly caused by Windows 10 upgrades, the lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages, which would seem an especially low figure if these and other complaints in the legal filing are true.

Predictably, Microsoft has denied the claims. In a statement, the company says: “If a customer who upgraded during the one-year program needed help with the upgrade experience, we had numerous options including free customer support and 31 days to roll back to their old operating system. We believe the plaintiffs’ claims are without merit.”

Well, it’s not as if Microsoft is going to apologize for its alleged transgressions, regardless of the case’s merit.

Normally, I wouldn’t pay attention to a lawsuit of this nature. Many are just nuisance actions that any large company might confront in the course of doing business. But I’ve also followed a number of troubling tales about the Windows 10 upgrade process, and these allegations do not appear to be out of the range of possibility.

It is known that Microsoft went overboard to force Windows 10 upgrades on users. Beginning an upgrade without approval means that the customer doesn’t have the chance to check their PCs for compatibility, or even to backup their data in case something goes wrong.

The claims about the lack of checks for system compatibility are particularly troubling, but that claim will require proof, a developer’s review of the upgrade process to see if system checks are really being performed.

At the end of the day, the people who allegedly lost systems due to damage will probably end up receiving a pitiful sum, or a discount coupon, even if they win. But I expect Microsoft will defend this one vigorously, because a loss — or a settlement — could create a troubling and expensive precedent that would result in even more lawsuits.

| Print This Article Print This Article

2 Responses to “Suing Microsoft”

  1. Steve Sagan says:

    Good post, although a comment about this

    “So we had situations where the Windows 10 installer would download in the background whether customers wanted it or not.”

    Ahem! That’s the same thing that happens with iOS!

Leave Your Comment