Microsoft is doing all it can to snatch defeat on the operating system front from the jaws of victory. Now that it finally has a version of Windows that people actually like, the company is acting like a bully, practically forcing reluctant users to upgrade to Windows 10.
Office 365, which is central to the company's shift to a cloud-based business, works closely with Windows 10, but Microsoft this week suddenly announced it will effectively raise prices and eliminate free storage for users of OneDrive, the storage component of Office 365.
To complete the laundry list of obnoxious moves, Microsoft recently announced that PC makers must stop installing Windows 7 and Windows 8.x by November 2016. As near as I can tell, that's the first time in more than a decade that PC makers (and thus users) had so little choice.
These actions are unwise, to say the least. Microsoft has had an image problem for decades, playing the role of bad-cop monopolist while Apple basked in its reputation as the user-friendly alternative. (Never mind that Apple is no stranger to monopolistic and heavy-handed practices with its platforms.)
Bringing back a version of the Start menu and other popular features in Windows 10 earned Microsoft a fair amount of goodwill. Irritating users threatens to reverse that trend.
It's hard to know what's prompting the push to annoy users, but it smacks of panic. Although Windows 10 has been adopted by 110 million users (according to Microsoft), uptake has slowed recently. Microsoft is deeply committed to proliferating Windows 10 across multiple platforms and is more than eager to win back developers who defected or hung back during its Windows 8 midlife crisis.
But carrots, not sticks, are what's needed.
Windows Update is out of control
Windows updates have always been annoying. An unwary user can suddenly be ordered to step away from the PC while a bunch of obscure files are downloaded and installed, a process that can take quite a while. That can be controlled, of course, unless you're a user with weak technical chops.
Microsoft, though, found a way to make that process even more annoying via the Windows 10 upgrade routine.
Users with machines new enough to run Windows 10 soon find a piece of advertising in the system tray -- the white Windows logo that pops open an invitation to upgrade every now and then. You can't make it go away unless you know about third-party apps like GWX Control Panel.
Much more obnoxious is the company's plan, announced last week, to push Windows 10 as a recommended update through Windows Update sometime next year. That means those PC users who have applied Microsoft's recommended update settings will automatically download the huge update when the policy goes into effect.
At one point, the Windows 10 upgrade was checked by default in Windows Update, and some users who didn't notice the marked box found themselves upgrading to a new operating system. Microsoft fixed that, and now users can opt out before the install starts and roll it back within 31 days, which is some consolation, I guess. But the new plan slated for next year will essentially reverse that, making Windows 10 installation happen as part of normal Windows updates for most users.
Windows honcho Terry Myerson last week promised that the seedy Get Windows 10 campaign would get a shut-off switch, but as my colleague Woody Leonhard said, "Don't hold your breath."
Forget about the promised unlimited OneDrive storage
What's with companies that promise consumers "unlimited" use of their products, then get bent out of shape when people take them up on the offer?
In the world of "unlimited" cellular data plans, so-called data hogs get their download speeds throttled if they consume too much data on their mobile devices. Carriers have long abused the term "unlimited." Now Microsoft is inveighing against users who store too much data on its supposedly unlimited OneDrive storage service.
As if Microsoft's decision to crack down on the tiny percentage of users who, well, use too much storage space wasn't bad enough, it's also cutting storage allocations and raising prices for everybody who subscribes to OneDrive. As for the promised "unlimited" storage space for Office 365 users, forget about it. Promised or not, that offer is off the table, and users who don't free up space on Microsoft's servers will be punished.
Although reneging on unlimited offers seems sleazy, it's not hard to understand why some companies do it. Cellular carriers, for example, sometimes have legitimate network management and capacity issues that call for a bit of pressure on ultraheavy downloaders.
But Microsoft has no such excuse. Storage is cheap these days, and enterprises manage huge data stores all the time. Margins too thin, Microsoft? Duh, what did you expect from the storage business?
Windows 10 doesn't need a stick to succeed
Windows 10 is a good product, and it will succeed.
If Microsoft is worried about the pace of Windows 10 adoption, it should make the product better. For example, users are wary of Cortana because it and other parts of Windows 10 collect data and sends it to Microsoft servers, and they don't like the Edge browser because it doesn't support add-ons. Start by fixing those two problems to get more people adopting Windows 10.
We all learned in kindergarten that bullying and breaking promises is bad behavior. Cut it out, Microsoft.