Detested snooping patch KB 2952664 reappears

Reappearance of patch designed to provide telemetry stokes users' fears about a return of 'Get Windows 10' nagware

Perhaps the world has gone truly mad. Or maybe Microsoft's trying to pull the wool over our eyes prior to its major shift in patching strategy -- the patchocalypse -- widely anticipated this month. It's even possible Microsoft wants to bring back the "Get Windows 10" campaign, to drive Windows' reputation even deeper into the dirt.

A Microsoft spokesman says it isn't bringing back the "Get Windows 10" campaign, but our old nemesis KB 2952664 reappeared suddenly yesterday afternoon, and Windows users are livid -- and scared.

For those of you who don't recall, KB 2952664 (and its Windows 8.1 companion KB 2976978) are officially described as:

Compatibility update for upgrading Windows 7 - This update performs diagnostics on the Windows systems that participate in the Windows Customer Experience Improvement Program. These diagnostics help determine whether compatibility issues may be encountered when the latest Windows operating system is installed. This update will help Microsoft and its partners ensure compatibility for customers who want to install the latest Windows operating system.

There's a lot of sugarcoating around that description, but the bottom line is that KB 2952664, a prerequisite for the KB 3035583 "Get Windows 10" nagware patch, is specifically designed to provide telemetry (that is, snoop) to see if a direct upgrade to Windows 10 will perform correctly.

When the patch first rolled out yesterday, I heard a howl of protest from people who are concerned about "Get Windows 10" appearing once again. There was a great deal of confusion about the way the patch was presented and what it was intended to do. For example, poster JO on reported:

KB2952664 appears under both the "Important" tab and the "Optional" tab of Windows Update. The brief description under the "Important" tab indicates the update was published on July 12, 2016 whereas under the "Optional" tab the stated publication is today. Clicking the "More information" button on either description takes the user to the same KB article dated July 12, 2016 revision 24.0. This seems odd.

Since that time, Microsoft has released an update to the KB 2952664 article, which is now dated Oct. 4, at revision 25. The official Windows Update list was also updated -- well after the fact -- to say that the new version of the patch is optional.

Reaction on the Microsoft Answers forum has been shrill. Poster xiowan kicked off one thread with a spot-on comment:

What is going on? Why is Microsoft update offering this update "to prepare Windows 7 PCs to more easily update to the latest operating system" when the free offer for Windows 10 is over? Is this something that we will not be able to hide when it is sent out again starting with the new update system that doesn't allow individual updates to be hidden next Tuesday? What does Microsoft plan to do ... change Windows 7 inch by inch until it is just as intrusive as Windows 10 and prone to updates that fail and try to re-install time after time? I paid good money for 7 copies of WINDOWS 7 that Microsoft pledged to support until 2020 and don't think it's right to change the way the operating system works to suit their money-making schemes.

Xiowan segues to what I believe is the crux of the situation:

Windows 10 ISOs and installation disks and USB keys should be manufactured to contain all necessary software to install the new operating system ... there should be no need to change millions of  peoples operating system "to more easily upgrade to the latest operating system." This is obviously just a way for Microsoft to find out more data about everyones' PC to further their opportunities to make more money.

Bottom line: If you want to upgrade your Windows 7/8.1 PC to Windows 10, and haven't already done so, you're being set up to pay full price for the privilege. If you want to keep Windows 10 off your machine, don't install KB 2952664 (Win7) or KB 2976978 (Win 8.1).

I often wonder why Microsoft fans the flames in an already awful situation.

Update: A Microsoft spokesperson sent this comment: 

There is no Get Windows 10 or upgrade functionality contained in this update. This KB article is related to the Windows Update and the appraiser systems that enables us to continue to deliver servicing updates to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 devices, as well as ensure device and application compatibility.

That matches everything I've heard about this version of the patch. KB 2952664 doesn't appear to be paving the way for another GWX firestorm; there's no reason to break out Josh Mayfield’s GWX Control Panel. But it sure would have helped if Microsoft had documented this change in KB 2952664's long history.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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