Broken Trust with Windows Update

Microsoft has recently started using Windows Update as a marketing vehicle to try to coerce users to upgrade to Windows 10, years before the end of life for Windows 7 and 8.1. They've even gone so far as to recommend turning off automatic updates if you don't want the new version. In this open letter to Microsoft, Don Kiely expresses his frustration with what Windows Update has turned into, and asks for a return to the reliability and trustworthiness of Windows Update.

Don Kiely

November 1, 2015

4 Min Read
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Dear Microsoft,

Thanks for all that you do for me, the technical community, and users everywhere. For the most part, other than a few duds now and then, you have some great products and do a magnificent job supporting developers. As someone who dabbles in computer and software security, I really appreciate your heavy focus on security over the last decade or so. You were a little late to the party, but have since embraced it enthusiastically.

For many years, Windows Update has been a Really Good Thing. It evolved into a useful tool for painlessly rolling out bug fixes and security updates, making it easy to keep a system updated. I always feel a bit nervous when you roll out new or updated features using Windows Update--the potential for messing up systems is just too great, and problems have happened--but historically you’re shown some constraint. Constraint is a good thing.

Many of us have grown to trust Windows Update. Maybe not blindly, particularly if we’re responsible for managing and maintaining an enterprise full of Windows machines. But even if we have automatic updates dialed back, we install most everything you send our way.

But’ve really blown it. When did the marketing department take over Windows Update? I’m talking, of course, about your attempts to push Windows 10 out to users via Windows Update the last few months. I keep a relatively clean desktop, free of icons that I don’t use regularly and notifications down to a manageable level of annoyance. So when that pushy Get Windows 10 icon appeared, I was appalled.

Now, I know that you really want the world to move to Windows 10. Worse things could happen, and it’s nice that for now you’re basically giving that new version of the operating system away for free. But pushing it with Windows Update? That’s almost evil.

I realize that I’m not your typical Windows user. As a software developer, I’m reasonably technical, but am certainly not a hardcore systems guy. I can solve problems when they come up, even if it’s through relatively strong BingGoogleFu. (Yes, Bing is my first go-to search engine--I gotta accumulate those points!--but it falls short oftentimes, even with Microsoft and Windows topics. Google provides a nice backup.)

One thing I never do is upgrade major operating system versions. No way, no how. First, way too much cruft from the old OS comes along for the ride, cluttering up the new system. Second, too many settings are left set to inappropriate values, presumably for backward compatibility. And third, an OS update is a great excuse to clean out a system so that it is svelte, fast, and nearly pristine once again, until I muddy it all up again with my stuff. So I am not a candidate for a Windows 10 update. I’ll go to Windows 10 soon, I promise. But when I’m good and ready, on a freshly reformatted partition.

Making things worse, what’s with all the recommended Windows Update items that only update Windows Update to support updates to future operating system updates? I don’t need all that crap. Worst of all, you’ve forced me to not only have to carefully examine all updates, but reject and hide the frivolous ones. Keep in mind, I’m talking just about my personal workstation and laptop, not an ocean of machines where careful scrutiny of every update is mandatory.

And it sounds like you’re going to start pushing even harder. In his blog post Making it Easier to Upgrade to Windows 10, Terry Myerson says that you’re going to start marking the Windows 10 Update as optional, now that you’re past the reservation phase and rolling it out. Then soon you’re going to mark it as recommended? C’mon, Microsoft! An entire OS update through Windows Update, marked as something that used to be for bug fixes? Does that mean that you now think that Windows 7 and 8.1 are bugs? How long until you consider Windows 10 a bug?

Then this:

If you are on a metered connection on Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, then you have the option of turning off automatic updates. We strongly discourage this in today’s connected world because of the constant risk of internet threats. If you choose to do so, we recommend manually checking Windows Update frequently, perhaps when you are on a non-metered network and consider the installation of all “Recommended” and “Important” updates.

Seriously? Turn off automatic updates, something you strongly recommend against doing,  just to avoid Windows 10? So much for using Windows Updates to keep the OS secure and reasonably bug free!

I love you Microsoft. You’ve enabled me to have a pretty darn good career for a lot of years. But more and more I find that I just can’t trust you. And that is really disappointing. Please separate marketing from engineering, and make Windows Update reliable and trustworthy again!


Don Kiely, MVP

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