I feel that Windows 10 is a win-win for users regardless of the devices they’re using, and a much more positive experience than was Windows 8. But given overwhelmingly negative nature of online feedback, there is always a chance that some less-than-positive aspect of Windows 10—real or imagined—will overshadow all of the good news. And Windows 10’s automatic update requirement is clearly that thing.
When you first heard the term “Windows as a service,” you probably thought “subscription service,” and many assumed—fueled by baloney FUD stories like the ones I debunked in Windows 10 Upgrade is Free, Not “Free”—that Microsoft would of course eventually be coming to users with a collection plate, asking to be paid. This is not the case. This automatic updating requirement is simply “Windows as a service” implemented in running code.
While Microsoft has always required Windows Insiders to agree to automatic updates in order to test Windows 10, we first learned about its plans to make this a requirement of the shipping version of the product when it announced that Windows 7 and 8.1 users would get Windows 10 for free, back in January.
I’ll provide the broader context of this announcement in a bit, but I can tell you that the following line, uttered by Microsoft corporate vice president Terry Myerson, is what caught my attention:
“Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10,” he said on that January morning, “we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device, keeping it secure, introducing new features and functionality to our customers over time.”
At that I leaned into Mary Jo Foley and asked whether she had heard that I like I had. It wasn’t said explicitly, but it sounded to me like Microsoft was going to require that Windows 10 upgraders let their PCs be updated. She agreed, and after the event, as we were ushered between buildings on the Microsoft campus as we headed toward the meeting room in which we would be recording “Windows Weekly,” we asked about this. And were told that, yes, Microsoft would require anyone who received the free Windows 10 upgrade to keep the system up to date. We would learn more about this later, we were told, and assumed Build (which was held in April).
Today, we do have a better understanding of this requirement. We know that it’s not really tied to the free upgrade. Instead, those with Windows 10 Home will be unable to turn off automatic updating, though they can defer upgrades for a limited time period. Windows 10 Pro users can turn off automatic updating and defer upgrades, but they must in fact keep Windows up to date in order to receive support. In short, all individuals with Windows 10 are required to keep their system up to date.
I view this like a motorcycle helmet law, in that it’s just regulating common sense. And it’s designed to keep everyone safe, because your insecure PC could infect others.
But let’s step back a moment and recall the full segment of Myerson’s January discussion about this topic. This happened right after he announced that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade, and it was presented a benefit of this free upgrade.
“This is so much more than a free upgrade,” he said. “Once a device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will be keeping it current for the supported lifetime of the device, keeping it secure, introducing new features and functionality to our customers over time. In fact, with Windows 10, we think of Windows as a service. In the next couple of years, one could reasonably think of Windows as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like other Internet services, the question ‘what version are you running?’ will cease to make sense.” He went on to explain why this was great for developers, and then discussed how enterprise customers—which, incidentally, are not getting Windows 10 for free—will continue to have the ability to manage how updates are installed to their PCs. But the best practice, he said, was to connect all Windows 10 devices directly to Windows Update, so that they receive “the best security, the best productivity functionality over time, as soon as they are available.”
Adding that Microsoft long considered the “implications of Windows as a service,” Myerson then said that Windows as a service was “great for consumers, great for developers, and great for the security of [its] enterprise customers.” (Let unsaid was that this is great for Microsoft, too, as it provides fewer different attack surfaces for hackers to infiltrate and will be easier for them to support.) “Windows 10 redefines the nature of the relationship between us and our customers,” he concluded.
It really does. And not always in positive ways. After all, there are reasons for trope like “wait for Service Pack 1.” Windows Updates—to use another vehicle-related comparison—are like seatbelts in that they usually work properly and benefit everyone generally. But sometimes they go south, and cause harm. And it is those negative experiences that pundits and Twitter and email cranks remember most. And over time, the conventional wisdom changes from “keep your PC up-to-date” to “maybe you should wait before installing any updates Microsoft delivers, if you ever do so at all.” Not good.
Are the concerns overblown? Maybe not. As recently as this past weekend, Microsoft published updates to Windows 10 that caused some users’ PCs to crash. “And it’s not even out yet,” the negative will complain, readying their anti-Microsoft nonsense.
More pragmatically, there are examples of updates—not critical updates, but driver, software and other updates—that are simply not required or that clash with your PC. In previous versions of Windows, you could hide these updates using the Windows Update control panel (even in Windows 8, which provided a Modern front-end to the interface). But Windows 10 doesn’t include a Windows Update control panel, and the Windows Update interface in Settings doesn’t provide any ability to hide updates you don’t want.
But the interface does exist. When you install KB3073930 you will receive an interface for hiding updates. It’s now delivered in the form of a Troubleshooter, so it’s separate from Windows Update for some reason. But it works.
Don’t want Silverlight? Great. Just hide it, and you’ll never see it again, nor will you ever have it be added to your PC in the background.
Finally, Ed Bott has some good advice for anyone worried about “Windows as a service”: Enable System Restore (you can find it with Start search), since it’s disabled by default in Windows 10. When you do so, Windows will create a restore point before it installs updates. That way, if something does go wrong, you can restore your system and recover from whatever problem. Between these two tools, you can proactively protect yourself from stupidity while ensuring that your system stays up-to-date. It’s a win-win.
Point being, if you’re going to ride a motorcycle, please wear a helmet. And if you’re going to use a PC, please keep it up-to-date. This isn’t just about you. It’s about all of us.