Robert B. Marks (garwulf) wrote,
Robert B. Marks

An open letter to Microsoft about Windows 10

“Money isn’t as important to our organization as knowing who to trust.”

– Mr. White, Casino Royale

Dear Microsoft,

I’ve been using your operating systems for a long time. My first was MS DOS 3.2, back when I was a teenager. I remember Windows 3.1, and even Windows 3.0. While the rest of the world was using Windows 95 and 98, I was running my critical applications on Windows NT 3.51 and 4.0 (my father owning a computer company at the time had its benefits).

And, we really need to talk about Windows 10.

Over the last year, both my desktop – on which I run my business and do my professional work – and my laptop have needed to be replaced. They were showing their age, and they were both due. But whereas a couple of years ago, replacing them would be easy, today it is considerably less so.

You see, today I have to find a way to avoid Windows 10.

I managed it – the new desktop runs Windows 8.1, while the new laptop runs Windows 7 Professional Edition – but it wasn’t easy. Staples, one of my usual office electronics sources, even lost a sale from it – they had a Windows 10 machine that met my needs, but the more I learned about Windows 10, the less I liked it, and they had no Windows 7 or 8.1 machines.

So let’s talk about why I’m avoiding Windows 10 like the Black Death.

For one thing, Windows 10 isn’t a product anymore – it’s a service. And a product and a service are two very different things. Putting your faith in a product means just that. Putting your faith in a service means putting your faith in the company providing that service. And, I regret to inform you that I’m not prepared to do that.

Let’s be frank – you’ve put out some really stellar operating systems. By the time it hit Service Pack 2 or 3, Windows XP was really good. Windows 7 was great – possibly the best you’ve ever done. Having now tried it, I can say with confidence that Windows 8.1 is pretty good too, a solid operating system that I can indeed trust with my business.

But you’ve also released some real stinkers. Windows Vista was just plain bloated, and Windows 8 was a solution to a problem that almost no laptop or desktop user had. I had the option of skipping those, and I did, probably saving myself and my business quite a lot of lost time and productivity.

It is this basic flexibility – the ability to pick and choose – that can be the difference between a smooth computing experience and a difficult one. Unfortunately, your new service model takes that flexibility away. You’ve alternated between good and bad operating systems for long enough that I can’t take it for granted that the next iteration of Windows is going to be a good one. But if I had a computer with Windows 10, I wouldn’t have any choice as to whether or not to use it – if Windows 10 version 5 or 6, for example, was unstable, buggy, or had interface changes that are just plain bad, I’d be stuck with it, thanks to Windows 10’s forced upgrade cycle.

Let me put it this way: when you’re running a business or professional practice, a computer is little more than a tool. Once you have it running as you like and need it to, you need it to stay that way. You don’t want the interface or the functionality to change from one day to the next. You don’t want default programs or settings to be modified – or even worse, deleted – without your knowledge or consent. And, the last thing you need is for the stability of the system to change for the worse because of the latest update (which has indeed been reported, with multiple Windows 10 updates).

So, on a productivity level at the very least, I can’t afford your forced update cycle. My computers need to be stable from day to day – no exceptions. For that matter, due to the possibility of losing functionality or program compatibility in an upgrade, I’m not even sure that operating systems should be offered as a service in the first place. But, there’s more.

Let’s talk about your privacy policies. They doesn’t just lay claim to program metrics, which are understandable, but to the data and files on a Windows 10 computer as well, up to and including the content of emails. Section 2.b. of your Services Agreement, for example, lays claim to “a worldwide and royalty-free intellectual property license to use Your Content, for example, to make copies of, retain, transmit, reformat, display, and distribute via communication tools Your Content on the Services.” (Source) Well, this is a serious problem and a flat-out deal-breaker. You see, I own a publishing company, so many of my files are governed by intellectual property rights contracts to which you are not a party. And, since my career includes work for Canada’s Department of National Defence, my hard drives also contain sensitive files. You don’t have the right to collect that data. To give credit where it is due, your privacy statement has removed some of its more problematic language, but it still claims the right to “collect content of your files and communications when necessary to provide you with the services you use” – and since one of the services on the list for these policies is Microsoft accounts, which are what Windows 10 tries to push all users into using on their computers, this can functionally be interpreted as including Windows 10 under the category of “services.” (Source) When it comes to email, this is highly problematic – any messages between my business and my authors, as well as with my clients, is privileged communication. In some cases, it is governed by non-disclosure agreements. To have this material collected by the operating system of the very computer on which it is stored represents a massive security risk that could compromise my business and my clients. After all, it only takes one rogue Microsoft employee to publish or sell this data for it to become compromised. So, as long as these policies are in place, Windows 10 is not coming anywhere near any computer of mine.

But, there’s even more – because now we have to talk about your upgrade campaign.

I didn’t have a problem with it at the beginning. After all, it was an optional upgrade that you had to opt into. But now you’ve taken this to the point that I can only describe the upgrade campaign as “rape-y.” More than once, you’ve arranged to upgrade computers without the consent of their owners. Up here in Canada, I’m pretty sure that borders on, if not flat-out constitutes, a computer crime. Considering the recent news about criminal investigations starting against you in multiple states, it looks like it constitutes a computer crime in the United States too. Over the last year, I have had to take active measures to protect my computers against being upgraded by Windows Update.

In fact, right now the greatest security threat that I have to protect my computers from is you – yes, you: Microsoft. Anybody else trying to compromise my computers has to get past at least two hardware firewalls, script blockers, and virus and malware scanners, among others. You have a backdoor built right into my system called Windows Update, and you’ve demonstrated no reluctance to exploit it.

But, there’s also the question of just what we’re getting with Windows 10, and, frankly, you have been far less than forthcoming. The Enterprise edition subscription plan and fees weren’t announced until this month, almost a full year after Windows 10's release. Is there going to be a subscription fee for the Professional edition? You haven’t announced one yet, but considering how long you waited before announcing the fees for Enterprise, it is probably going to be another two or three years before we know the answer to that one. And then there’s this whole “Windows 10 is the last version of Windows” that your PR department likes to keep trotting out – except that you’ve already announced the end of primary support for Windows 10 as October 13, 2020, with extended support ending on October 14, 2025 – something that would not be the case if you really were shifting Windows into a single operating system service from this point forward. (Source) So, unless you’re selling off your operating system business within the next ten years (which seems unlikely), there’s another operating system coming in the next 2-4 years.

As I mentioned above, to trust a service is to trust the company providing that service. After this upgrade campaign and its complete disregard for the autonomy of your customers, the withholding of subscription fee information for almost a full year after the release of the operating system, and the fact that you’ve been marketing Windows 10 as the final iteration when it clearly is not, there is no way on this Earth that I would trust Microsoft right now.

I hope that you read this and come to realize just how far things have gone. I hope that you return Windows to a product, and that Windows 11 ends up being as great as Windows 7, without a forced upgrade cycle or privacy issues. I hope that you realize that your privacy policy lays claim to far too much, and that you come to understand that besides the moral dimensions, updates which change default programs or flat-out deletes programs and applications are simply unacceptable.

Because the fact of the matter is this: if you don’t realize these things and change course, once my new computers need replacement Microsoft Windows will no longer be of use to me and my business – and I (and many others like me) will simply migrate to an operating system that is.

Tags: business, microsoft, open letter, windows 10

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