Breaking down the outrage over Windows 10 automatic upgrades

Windows 10 upgrade explainer

There's been plenty of outrage on the Internet over Microsoft's free Windows 10 upgrade initiative. From bothersome prompts to seemingly unsolicited installs, the Windows 10 hate has reached a fever pitch and some are even taking it upon themselves to start petitions and investigations against Microsoft.

Windows 10 is getting a bad rap, but is all of this user outrage rightfully deserved and where did it even come from? Here we'll take a look back and explain just why some are hating on Microsoft's latest operating system.

Ever since its release last July, Windows 10's reception has been bittersweet. Though we were excited to see Microsoft return to its roots with a desktop-focused OS, the reintroduction of the beloved Start button and truly Universal apps, the insistent free upgrade offers have become aggravating for many vocal customers.

W10 explainer

To most of us, this deal was a no-brainer. The first-ever free upgrade to a new version of Windows? Count us in.

As with each new generation of software, though, there were some users who had already grown comfortable with, and accustomed to, previous editions – namely Windows 7. For many in that select crowd, seeing the "Get Windows 10" (GXW) recommendation dialogs has been deeply irritating.

Beyond small annoyances, the reminders have become a meme. In one instance a live weather broadcast in Iowa was interrupted by the GXW notification, hilariously replacing the green screen weather map with a blown up version of Windows.

Viral fun aside, the disdain for Microsoft's practices has escalated in concert. Unfortunately, Microsoft's string of muddled messaging hasn't helped its case, and an angry mob of petitioners has risen against Microsoft, sans the pitchforks and torches.

The problem

The controversy over Windows 10's upgrade system stems from miscommunication from a number of different sources, including Microsoft, the press and even a handful of Windows users.

The latest arc of this whole saga started out subtlely, with an automatic upgrade being triggered only if you've 1) neglected to disable "recommended updates" in your Windows Update settings and 2) ignored every warning sign from Microsoft that, yes, an upgrade has already been scheduled for your convenience.

In other words, users would have to make an effort to cancel their upgrades rather install them. Microsoft's' messaging around Windows 10 changed from reserve your optional upgrade to schedule the recommended upgrade, forcing users to opt out rather than opt in.

Win10 explainer

The only way to cancel or reschedule the recommended Windows 10 upgrade was following a tiny link to an outside web page.

This was arguably a means for Microsoft to shore up the slowing Windows 10 adoption back in April.

For that reason, it wasn't as unexpected for Microsoft to encourage upgrades in such a brazen manner as it was disappointing to see the company take such aggressive action towards its devoted following of Windows 7 and 8 users.

And, as a result, many customers opted to fire back.

The response

Users were understandably outraged over Microsoft's increasingly forward practices, to the point that Redmond itself refined the process due to "customer feedback," adding a supplementary notification and thereby another chance for users to cancel or reschedule their upgrades. While it wasn't a complete reversal in policy, responding favorably to audience dismay was clearly a step forward for Microsoft.

However, the exasperation did not end there. In fact, rage over the infamous "Get Windows 10" (GWX) app only grew more severe with time, compounded by some unfortunate misinformation circulated throughout the media.

It started with a report from UK IT news outlet The Register, whose headline implied that the option to close out of the GWX scheduler had been removed completely, denying users a choice in whether they wished to upgrade. Numerous websites, perhaps prematurely, cited the story in published works of their own, though it was ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley who investigated the situation further.

Deeming the report a "false alarm," Foley confirmed that the only way to see the notification that The Register's Gavin Clarke had written about was by going into Windows Update, approving the Windows 10 install and agreeing to the terms of Microsoft's EULA. Obviously, there was more to the story than some outlets may have been privy to.

W10 explainer

Microsoft, on the other hand, responded to The Register's report more harshly, condemning the website for its inaccuracies.

"The Windows 10 upgrade is a choice – designed to help people take advantage of the most secure, and most productive Windows," the company's statement reads. "People receive multiple notifications to accept the upgrade, and can reschedule or cancel the upgrade if they wish."

Nevertheless, like a bad game of telephone, word spread like wildfire that Windows 10 was automatically being installed on computers with users having no say in the matter. This, of course, inspired organizer Todd Kleinpaste to petition the Electronic Frontier Foundation, asking it to investigate the legalities of Microsoft's upgrade practices.

Calling the actions "malicious," the petition sparked even more negative press. In fact, Computerworld's Preston Gralla went as far as to boldly regard Windows 10 as "malware". Being compared to a virus – no matter whether you think that's fair – isn't good for Microsoft's biggest money maker, especially considering users still had a choice in the matter, despite the elusiveness.

What's next for Windows 10?

While Windows 10 is undeniably an improvement over Windows 8, its reputation is faltering due to less-than-transparent methods of spurring installs. Fortunately, as we approach the release of the major Windows 10 Anniversary Update, there's hope we'll see favorable changes arrive just in time for the operating system's first birthday.

Furthermore, with the free upgrade offer about to expire, concerns over pesky marketing techniques will inevitably be put to rest.

Because, after all, this isn't to be compared to the challenges Microsoft faced with Windows 8. Rather, Windows 10 was released as a largely sound platform that delivered on the same fronts as Windows 7 six years prior. Once users embrace the free upgrade instead of rejecting it based on Microsoft's aggressive upgrade techniques, who knows, maybe they'll come to enjoy it as much as gamers seem to.

Gabe Carey
Gabe has been writing about video games and technology since he was 16 years old. Currently serving as a Contributing Editor & Producer for TechRadar, where he keeps articles fresh and up to date on the reg, you may recognize his byline from Digital Trends, TechSpot and Kotaku UK. He can't tell if his adoration of Sonic the Hedgehog is genuine or ironic anymore.