Microsoft to get pushy about upgrading to Windows 10

Will automatically download the upgrade and begin installation on most consumer and small business PCs in early 2016

windows 10 upgrade notification

Come the beginning of 2016, Microsoft will get much more assertive in distributing Windows 10 upgrades to consumers and small businesses, the company's top OS executive said Thursday.

Rather than wait for customers running Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 to request a copy of the new OS -- the practice since June -- Microsoft will instead begin to automatically send the upgrade to PCs via Windows Update, the default security maintenance service.

The push -- which some will see as too pushy by far -- will be a two-step process, with the first kicking in this year, the second in early 2016.

"We will soon be publishing Windows 10 as an 'Optional Update' in Windows Update for all Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 customers," said Terry Myerson, who leads the Windows and devices group at Microsoft, in a post to a company blog. "Adding Windows 10 here is another way we will make it easy for you to find your upgrade."

In Windows Update, an optional item is just that, or it's supposed to be. The item appears under a list that can be examined by users who have Windows Update set to not automatically download and install updates, letting them choose -- or not -- the update. Traditionally, optional updates are unchecked, meaning that the user has to explicitly mark the item for it to download and install.

Microsoft has been testing the use of Windows Update's optional list since at least mid-September, according to user reports and Josh Mayfield, a software engineer who created GWX Control Panel, a tool originally designed to make Microsoft's get-a-reserved-copy applet from last summer go away. Then earlier this month, Microsoft started pre-selecting the optional upgrade, resulting in downloads of the Windows 10 upgrade and a launch of the installation process on users' Windows 7- and Windows 8.1-powered PCs.

When that became public, Microsoft said it had goofed. "In the recent Windows update, this option was checked as default; this was a mistake and we are removing Windows 10 from Windows Update for users that have not reserved a copy of Windows 10," a company spokeswoman said two weeks ago.

A bug perhaps, but one that Microsoft will turn into a feature in 2016.

"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," Myerson said.

In fact, that will occur on the majority of Windows 7 and 8.1 machines, since the bulk of consumers and many small businesses have Windows Update set to the Microsoft-recommended option, which is to accept all recommended items. Those items are automatically pre-selected for the user.

Microsoft has a history of using this two-step process with many of its updates -- particularly in the last year -- of first ticking an item as optional, then after some time digesting telemetry from customers to see if there are any showstoppers, switching the same item to recommended status.

While the Windows 10 upgrade delivered as a recommended update will automatically begin the installation process, the user will be able to refuse the OS change at some point, probably early in the process. "Before the upgrade changes the OS of your device, you will be clearly prompted to choose whether or not to continue," Myerson said.

That will be cold comfort to those who did not want the upgrade to appear on their PCs in the first place, much less be nagged or pressured into moving off Windows 7 or 8.1. Some users who received the pre-checked optional Windows 10 upgrade earlier this month not only howled about the tactic, but reported that they were unable to back out of the upgrade notification or were blocked from downloading necessary security patches without accepting Windows 10.

Microsoft also will offer a last-ditch defense against an upgrade: Even after the device has morphed into one of the billion that Microsoft wants to have on the books by mid-2018, users can restore the prior OS if they act within 31 days.

Myerson did not lay out a timeline for the aggressive Windows 10 campaign, but the first part -- listing the upgrade as optional -- will almost certainly start next month after Microsoft wraps up work on the first major update to the new OS.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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