Microsoft signals renewed push to force users onto Windows 10

Cryptic Microsoft post seems to indicate Windows 10 is being switched to 'recommended' status. It's unclear how the update can be kept at bay

Microsoft signals renewed push to force users onto Windows 10
Credit: flickr/Steve Snodgrass

A cryptic post from Microsoft seems to indicate that Redmond has stepped up its push to upgrade Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users by moving Windows 10 to "recommended status."

According to ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, about 5 p.m. ET on Monday, Microsoft dropped a small bombshell:

As we shared in late October on the Windows Blog, we are committed to making it easy for our Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 customers to upgrade to Windows 10. We updated the upgrade experience today to help our customers, who previously reserved their upgrade, schedule a time for their upgrade to take place,

Shortly after, Microsoft maven Paul Thurrott confirmed the message. Apparently this is Microsoft's version of an official announcement.

Both Foley and Thurrott believe that the message signals the long-anticipated switch of the Windows 10 upgrade from "optional" to "recommended" in Windows Update. As a "recommended" update, the Windows 10 installer launches automatically on Windows 7 and 8.1 computers with default settings.

I took one look at the announcement and scratched my head. Read it again and again, and I still can't make heads or tails of it -- if you can, I'd sure like to hear from you.

The October Windows Blog post talked about the end of the Windows 10 Reservations process, wherein potential upgraders could "reserve" their Win10 bits in advance. At that point, everyone who had reserved a copy of Windows 10 had received their copy. Many people found that the upgrade didn't work, but the point is that the reservation system was disbanded in October. In that blog post, Windows honcho Terry Myerson said:

We will soon be publishing Windows 10 as an "Optional Update" in Windows Update for all Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 customers. Windows Update is the trusted, logical location for our most important updates, and adding Windows 10 here is another way we will make it easy for you to find your upgrade. Early next year, we expect to be re-categorizing Windows 10 as a "Recommended Update". Depending upon your Windows Update settings, this may cause the upgrade process to automatically initiate on your device. Before the upgrade changes the OS of your device, you will be clearly prompted to choose whether or not to continue. And of course, if you choose to upgrade (our recommendation!), then you will have 31 days to roll back to your previous Windows version if you don't love it.

It's now early next year, and we're all expecting to see "recommended" Windows 10 upgrade entries in Windows Update. I haven't seen one on any of my Windows 7 or 8.1 PCs. Looking around the Web early Tuesday morning, I can't find anybody who's seen one. I certainly can't find anyone who's "previously reserved their upgrade" and is now anxiously awaiting an opportunity to install it. The reservation system died in October.

This is more than a lousy marketing exercise. Shortly after that Windows Blog announcement last October, Microsoft started pushing the Windows 10 upgrade as a "recommended" update in Windows Update. It took them a week, but Microsoft ultimately reverted to "optional" status for the update, claiming the action was "accidental." Heaven only knows how many people moved from Windows 7 or 8.1 to Windows 10 because they clicked OK in an official Microsoft prompt.

Microsoft continues to assure us that "customers remain in full control and can easily decline the upgrade if they choose," but we have no idea how the choice will be presented. Clearly, Microsoft needs to get upgraders to approve a new EULA. But is that the only point at which a customer can decline? Windows users are accustomed to clicking through EULAs without even reading them. Imagine the uproar if clicking on a EULA is the only action required to install Windows 10.

We also don't know what happens if a customer declines the EULA. Will the installer come back again? Will it leave the PC in a bizarre state, with 3GB to 6GB of unwanted files hanging around in a hidden folder? What happens when you reboot?

In that October Windows Blog post, Myerson promised us a new feature:

You can specify that you no longer want to receive notifications of the Windows 10 upgrade through the Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 settings pages.

What happened to the promised setting?

Most of all, I'm curious to find out if Microsoft will honor the registry entry that it suddenly, silently documented in the Jan. 18, 2016, update to its Knowledge Base article "How to manage Windows 10 notification and upgrade options." That article, KB 3080351, says:

To block the upgrade to Windows 10 through Windows Update, specify the following registry value:

Subkey: HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate

DWORD value: DisableOSUpgrade = 1

Which brings the description in line with what we had observed and published on Jan. 14.

Until we actually see a "recommended" Windows 10 update in the wild, it's hard to say what Microsoft will do. Right now, if you're content to stick with Windows 7 or 8.1 -- after all, you still have six months left on the free upgrade offer -- your best bet is to download and run Josh Mayfield's GWX Control Panel. That'll clean out the Get Windows X subsystem, reset the registry entries, and keep the hidden scheduled tasks from firing.

Whether GWX Control Panel will keep the "recommended" updates at bay -- I have my fingers crossed.

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