Free Windows 10 upgrade ending soon – should you care?

Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015. To encourage its adoption, Microsoft announced that it would be available as a free upgrade for users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 for a period of one year. The expiration date is coming up very soon, after which Windows 10 will sell for $119. So taking advantage of that offer is a no-brainer, right?

Well, maybe.

Nag nag nag

Microsoft hasn’t exactly been doing the soft sell here. To communicate the upgrade offer to all eligible users, Microsoft pushed out a “Get Windows 10” pop-up nag screen through Windows Update. Those of us who wanted to postpone or bypass the upgrade (or just stop the nagging) figured out how to remove the update that installed it. Then Microsoft pushed it out again. Then we hid the update. Microsoft un-hid it.

The battle escalated until Microsoft changed the upgrade prompt to actually install Windows 10 even if you tried to stop it. Users were so outraged that many started disabling Windows updates altogether. Microsoft then dialed it back a little, making the upgrade prompt clearer and more controllable.

At any rate, it’s obvious that Microsoft really really wants you to upgrade to Windows 10.

We know what’s best for you

Frankly, I just don’t trust Microsoft much these days. It goes back to the launch of Windows 8 in 2012, at which point Microsoft arrogantly decided that we were all going to use the tablet-friendly “Modern” user interface instead of the traditional Windows desktop, whether we liked it or not. Never mind that Modern was designed for touch screens and was a royal pain to use with a keyboard and mouse.

The backlash from Microsoft’s business customers was swift and justifiably brutal. Microsoft might be able to push home users around, but enterprise administrators responsible for deploying hundreds or thousands of desktops were having none of it. The president of Microsoft’s Windows division, Steven Sinofsky, was shown the door, and Microsoft was forced to atone for its sins by releasing Windows 8.1, which at least gave us the option of defaulting to the Windows 7-style Start menu that we were all used to.

Windows 10 (if you’re wondering why they skipped Windows 9, we don’t really know), from a user standpoint, promised enhanced security and stability, and it would be able to determine whether it was running on a tablet or desktop and adapt accordingly, using the optimal interface for each device. But the most significant enhancement was behind the scenes – Microsoft would be able to unify its code base across all supported platforms – PCs, Surface tablets, the Xbox, and even Windows Phone. Once implemented, this could save the company tremendously on development expenses.

Further, Windows 10 is likely to be the last major new release of Windows. Once Win 10 is installed, Microsoft can transition its software model to a cloud-based service, seamlessly pushing fixes and new features through automatic updates indefinitely. (The question is whether Microsoft will be transparent about this process, or leave users in the dark about what is being changed and when. Based on how they handled the “Get Windows 10” process, I have concerns.)

In summary, Windows 10 benefits Microsoft far more than it does you. That’s why they are so darned eager to get you to upgrade.

Do I have a choice?

So, should you upgrade, assuming you haven’t already (willingly or otherwise)?

If you are currently running Windows 8 or 8.1, I say go for it. Your PC is already screwed up and can only improve with Windows 10. But see the caveats below.

If you have Windows 7, I vote no. While Microsoft ended “mainstream support” for Win 7 in January 2015, you will still receive security updates until January 2020. You will almost certainly get a new computer within the next three years, and you can make a nice leisurely transition to Windows 10 at that time.

And if you plan to keep your current Windows version and want to stop the nagging, technical guru Steve Gibson has provided a nifty little utility program called Never10. Download and run it. It will make the registry changes necessary to disable the nag screen, and even delete the Windows 10 upgrade files if they’ve already been downloaded. You can keep the program and run it later to reverse the changes if you change your mind, especially on the off chance that Microsoft decides to extend the free upgrade period past July 29.

Leap of faith

Now, if you decide to make the jump, under no circumstances should you choose the “express settings” option for Windows 10. The default privacy settings for Windows 10 are, quite frankly, a sick joke. Microsoft is taking its cues from Apple and Google and looking to get its hands on as much of your data as possible. I can’t do a better job of covering this issue than David Auerbach does in this Slate article, which I strongly recommend you read through before upgrading. Auerbach recommends skipping the process of creating a Microsoft account, which opens the door to all sorts of data collection and the ill-advised “feature” called Wi-Fi Sense, which shares your home wi-fi password with all of your contacts so they can connect automatically to your network when they visit (or park in your driveway). Perhaps you see this as a convenience. I see it as a loss of control and it scares me. (If you already have Windows 10 installed, refer to this article to check your wi-fi sharing settings and modify them.)

Happy anniversary

Shortly after the free upgrade offer ends, Microsoft will push out an “anniversary update” with some enhancements and new features, most of which seem to involve Cortana, the voice-controlled virtual assistant that is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Siri. At the same time, they will double the number of “promoted apps” (i.e., ads) that appear on the Start menu. It makes you wonder what other sorts of “promotions” Microsoft is planning down the road, which they can stuff into your Windows installation at any time, and without notice. Welcome to Windows 10.