Stop helping me!

Lynn Greiner, freelance IT journalist and regular contributor to InsightaaS.com
Lynn Greiner, freelance IT journalist and regular contributor to InsightaaS.com

When Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would be a free upgrade to systems running Windows 7 and higher, individuals and companies alike smiled, albeit in a guarded manner. OS upgrades usually aren’t cheap, so it would save them a bundle.

But then the gotchas kicked in. To begin with, Enterprise versions of the OSes weren’t eligible for the freebie, so anyone running under an enterprise agreement faced a big price tag if they wanted to move to Windows 10.

Worse yet, however, was what emerged later. Microsoft announced that, in early 2016, it would push out upgrades to Windows 10 to all compatible systems (except the Enterprise editions, for which the upgrade can be postponed; those running the Pro version have a limited ability to postpone the upgrade as well), regardless of user preference.

For enterprise IT, that’s an “improvement” of nightmarish proportions. If the company had paid for the Enterprise version, IT would have some control, and could easily block the upgrade. But for companies using other than the Enterprise version, if IT hasn’t figured out how to block it, that forced upgrade can put a major spanner in their operational works.

Why?

Some applications do not play well under Windows 10. Some machines may have insufficient free disk space to operate properly after downloading the upgrade files (they arrive sneakily, downloaded in the background without warning). Once upgraded, users may have difficulties figuring out the operating system, adversely affecting their productivity. And even though the compatibility checker thinks a machine is compatible with the new operating system, some components and peripherals may not work properly. Microsoft lists some notable examples on its upgrade site.

For example, I’m acquainted with one system that, although the compatibility checker happily greenlighted a Windows 10 upgrade, detests Microsoft drivers, preferring its own vendor’s somewhat proprietary versions. Under Windows 7, a Microsoft video driver for what one would think is a fairly standard display adapter turned the screen pink (rolling back to the vendor driver fixed the problem). There is no way I’m letting it automatically upgrade to Windows 10.

In fact the vendor support site clearly indicates that allowing the upgrade would not be a good idea. It says, “Product not tested for Windows 10 upgrade. (Vendor) is not testing or developing Windows 10 drivers for this product. If you choose to upgrade, some features, applications, and connected devices may not work as expected.”

In other words, “Do you feel lucky?”

That’s just one system. Multiply that by an office full of machines, and things could get – um – interesting. And not in a good way.

That’s not to say Windows 10 is bad. I’ve successfully upgraded several systems, and they’re working fine. But first I made sure that my critical applications would run properly, and that the computer in question could handle the operating system. On a couple of machines, I had to prevent the automatic upgrade by getting rid of the Microsoft application that does the deed, and blocking its return (it’s automatically downloaded through Windows Update, and is maddeningly persistent). Then I deleted the downloaded upgrade files to recover a several gigabytes of disk space. You can find instructions on how to get rid of the offending application and files online.

Windows isn’t the only product that gets upgraded whether you like it or not. When Microsoft Office 2016 was introduced in Office 365, it was an optional update. Users could continue to use Office 2013, and many chose to do so. However, one of the joys and curses of software-as-a-service is that it’s kept up to date whether you like it or not, and sure enough, Office 2013 went away.

Again, Office 2016 is quite good. I fell wildly in love with some of its new features. But there are enough differences to annoy anyone who’s operating on autopilot, as we often do when working with a familiar program. Our fingers remember where they’re supposed to be, and if that changes, confusion ensues.

It’s all about choice. Most people don’t mind change if they have some say about when it happens. Unexpected, or expected but badly-timed change (like the automatic updates that surprised a journalist colleague during a press conference, preventing him from taking notes) is unwelcome. People tend to dig in their heels and resist, even if they know the change will ultimately be a good one.

Yet for vendors, change is something they need to encourage. Keeping everyone on the newest version of a product cuts support costs, allows them to retire old software rather than struggling to maintain what may have become difficult-to-maintain code, and in many cases eliminates security problems that would otherwise affect customers. And, of course, license upgrade fees, when levied, provide a nice, albeit intermittent, revenue stream.

That’s why many vendors, including Microsoft, Autodesk, Adobe and others, are moving to a subscription model. It keeps the software updated, cuts down on support issues, and provides an ongoing revenue stream that doesn’t exist when people buy and sit on perpetual licenses.

For companies, the model is a mixed blessing. It’s always good to have current software, and subscriptions are easier to budget than “big bang” version changes that involve capital expense. On the other hand, a continual stream of change may break processes, and make training and internal support a perpetual pain.

Despite this ambivalence, in our increasingly cloud-focused world, the subscription, as-a-service model is something businesses and consumers will need to come to terms with. But vendors will need to sort out a more humane way to distribute changes to avoid the kind of angst suffered by those “enjoying” the forced Windows 10 upgrade.

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