From mid-2015 to 2016, Microsoft ran two simultaneous experiments. First, it made Windows 10 free and available to anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8. Second, it began an aggressive campaign to push people to upgrade. First Windows 10 became a “Recommended” download instead of an optional one. As time passed, reports of people being ‘accidentally’ upgraded to the new OS increased, while Microsoft made various changes to the “Get Windows 10” app that emphasized the need to upgrade and downplayed the idea that customers had a choice. The issue came to a head when Microsoft issued a Get Windows 10 update that completely changed how the program worked. For the previous 10 months, declining an upgrade was as simple as clicking on the red X in the upper right-hand corner of the message box. After Microsoft’s update, clicking the red X did nothing. Users who thought they had dismissed the upgrade option woke up a few hours or days later to find their systems running an operating system they hadn’t intended to install. The people most likely to be affected by the problem were those who had spent 10 months actively avoiding Windows 10, which only added fuel to the fire.
Microsoft changed course within a month, but the company took a PR beating. Now, even Microsoft executives are agreeing that their update was more than a bridge too far. In an interview with Windows Weekly, Chris Capossela, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer, called the weeks between Microsoft’s initial patch update and the eventual decision to reverse course on the malware-like installer “very painful.” He continues:
We know we want people to be running Windows 10 from a security perspective, but finding the right balance where you’re not stepping over the line of being too aggressive is something we tried and for a lot of the year I think we got it right, but there was one particular moment in particular where, you know, the red X in the dialog box which typically means you cancel didn’t mean cancel.
And within a couple of hours of that hitting the world, with the listening systems we have we knew that we had gone too far and then, of course, it takes some time to roll out the update that changes that behavior. And those two weeks were pretty painful and clearly a lowlight for us. We learned a lot from it obviously.
I think Capossela might be surprised at how many people viewed the previous iterations of Get Windows 10 as ‘going too far,’ but that’s beside the point. The larger question is why Microsoft ever thought it would be ok to switch how the application functioned after 10 months. Either Capossela is lying about Microsoft’s internal discussion of the topic or Microsoft doesn’t allow criticism of its decisions to percolate high enough in the company to inform its executive teams. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that changing how the “Do not install Windows 10 on my computer” process would inevitably result in a great many unwanted upgrades. The claim that it takes weeks to test an update to Windows Update is disingenuous as well. First, Microsoft could’ve fallen back to the old, previously-approved update and pulled the malware-style version of Windows 10 immediately. The company allowed the situation to go on for several weeks because it wanted to push as many people as possible on to Windows 10.
Second, there’s the idea that Microsoft “learned a lot from it.” Microsoft has been writing software literally longer than I’ve been alive. Throughout the past year, we’ve seen repeated problems with the Windows 10 patch cycle. When Redmond launched Windows 10, it initially planned to kill patch notes altogether until pushback from enterprise customers forced the company to change its plans. It beggars belief that Microsoft just realized that people actually find patch notes useful given that the company has decades of experience writing software for large enterprises. It’s all well and good for a corporation to promise that its learning from mistakes, but it’s awful hard to believe such promises when the mistakes in question violate basic principles of software design and customer service. It’s not hard to realize that changing how a program works without fully informing the end user will lead said users to be unhappy with your product.