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Will free upgrades wreck Windows 10 for geeks?

Windows 10 will be the last Windows version, or so Microsoft says. Of course, it won’t be the last update. Instead, the company is changing the way updates are delivered, making it easier for most and restricting freedom of choice for others.

In a world where selling operating systems to consumers no longer makes money, these changes are a necessary evil, but that won’t make them more palatable to die-hard fans. Windows 10 will be a lot more like OS X than people realize, and not everyone will like it.

People don’t buy operating systems, they buy devices

One year after its support expired, Windows XP’s market share is still above 15 percent, more than Windows 8 and 8.1 combined. The XP situation highlights Microsoft’s dilemma. Consumers buy devices for the features they offer and the tasks they solve, but rarely buy operating systems. People still on Windows XP are happy with the capabilities offered, and are more likely to buy an entirely new device than a new version of Windows.

Microsoft will push mandatory updates to home users to validate enterprise builds.

Microsoft embraced the fact most people run their computer with out-of-the-box settings back in the 1980s. They made a deal with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that charged them a Windows license fee for each processor they shipped, whether or not Windows was installed. This reduced individual license fees for OEMs and encouraged them to install Windows rather than other operating systems on their devices. By the time the per processor license fee for consumer devices was dropped in 1994, Microsoft had secured its Windows monopoly.

Related: Windows 10: Our complete guide to Microsoft’s next OS

Not only do people use devices with default settings, they also prefer what they already know. It’s one reason why desktop Linux distros are having such a hard time securing a significant market share, despite being free, incredibly diverse, flexible, and user friendly.

Microsoft is stuck supporting old versions of Windows

Users loved Windows XP, and following Windows versions struggled to offer improvements significant enough to coax users away from that familiar OS. As long as hardware that came with Windows XP is running, people continue to use it. The same is already happening with Windows 7, which Microsoft is damned to update until at least 2020. Support for Windows 8.1 will expire in 2023. Meanwhile, aided by the rise of smartphones and tablets, the PC market has been declining, eroding Microsoft’s margins from selling Windows licenses to both consumers and manufacturers.

windows-7-all-in-one-sony

At the same time Apple, Google, and other companies, reacting to the reluctance of users to update their devices, have further pushed the envelope on how software is being serviced. They deliver updates automatically in the background and for free, requiring little user input. With Windows 10, Microsoft is adopting this strategy.

Windows 10 will come with different editions and servicing branches

Like previous versions, Windows 10 will come in several different editions: Home, Mobile, Pro, Enterprise, Education, Mobile Enterprise, and Internet of Things Core.

The editions will differ not only in features, but also in the way they receive updates. Depending on the Windows 10 edition, users will have access to three different servicing branches; Current Branch (CB), Current Branch for Business (CBB), and Long Term Servicing Branch (LTSB).

Users who upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.1 won’t have the choice of servicing branch.

CB will work much like mobile updates work today. Security patches, fixes, and feature updates will be pushed out automatically, and they will be handled by Microsoft. Home users will be committed to CB, while Pro and Education users can choose between CB and CBB. The CB servicing routine won’t allow users to delay or defer updates.

Microsoft promotes CBB with the idea that “millions of Insiders, consumers and customers” will validate changes to Windows 10 for months before business customers are deploying updates with “increased assurance of validation.”

According to Mary Jo Foley, users who upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8.1, regardless of of edition, won’t have the choice of servicing branch. They will be forced into CB. This is a smart move, increasing the number of people who will test new features before CBB users update.

Related: Linux loses ground in latest Steam hardware survey

If Mary Jo Foley’s sources are right, CBB users will eventually need to accept feature updates in order to receive security updates. Only Enterprise users on LTSB will be able to defer non-security updates.

The road to the one true Windows

The Windows Insider program wasn’t only designed to publicly test Windows 10 builds and ensure they meet expectations and work smoothly. It was also used to build enthusiasm and support for Windows 10, with millions of testers spreading the news and millions more eager to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.

The Windows Insider program will live on, even after Windows 10 is released. Insiders will continue to be the first to access and test new features, further increasing the number of public testers. It’s an ingenious solution to an expensive developer issue: testing new builds on as many diverse devices as possible.

windows-10-hands-on

In the short term, a high Windows 10 adoption rate is crucial to ensure Windows 10 is stable on a wide range of devices. As we’ve established earlier, those upgrading will join CB and function as testers. The data will help Microsoft convince businesses to upgrade. This is where Microsoft still makes money, as Enterprise customers pay big bucks for Windows volume licensing.

Related: At last, Microsoft reveals its seven versions of Windows 10

Once the extended support for Windows 8.1 has come to an end in 2023, Microsoft will only have one operating system to service. Windows 10. Not having to support three or four versions of Windows at the same time will free up a lot of resources. By employing Windows Insiders as public testers, alongside internal testing, updates pushed out to other users will have undergone a much more through validation than previously possible, increasing the stability and security of Windows 10. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Windows 10 may bundle more bloatware

The catch is that Windows will become a lot more like OS X, in that regular users are at the mercy of Microsoft for the kind of updates they receive. Automated updates are a blessing in regards to security, but they can be a pain when it comes to features. Not everyone wants Candy Crush Saga hogging resources on their system. The game will come pre-installed with Windows 10 and it’s a precursor to what else we might expect.

Bloatware has long been the bane of buying a computer that comes pre-installed with Windows, but it was always the device manufacturers that were to blame. A clean installation of Windows would get rid of the unnecessary tools.

Windows 10 will be different. It’s designed to generate revenue in new ways, which is why Microsoft completely overhauled its Store and recently announced new policies to eliminate clutter and ensure the quality of listed apps.

Related: Candy Crush Saga will ship with Windows 10 whether you want it or not

If the Candy Crush Saga is any indication, we will now see the operating system itself delivering junkware, and for the average user this will be difficult to avoid. We can only hope that it will be possible to remove undesired apps and features with ease.

The needs of the many over the needs of the few

The average user won’t mind these changes. After all, Big Brother Microsoft is feeding them new and exciting content and ensures their system runs smoothly. Users with a habit of customizing their OS, on the other hand, might be less than pleased to find that they can no longer opt out of updates in Windows 10. They will also be annoyed by pre-installed apps they have no use for.

Power users will be unhappy to find they can’t opt out of updates they don’t want.

These are the kinds of users that will eventually bite the bullet and make the move to Linux. Since this will be a minority of users, we will see a tiny increase of the Linux market share at best.

Related: It’s official: Windows 10 to launch July 29 as a free upgrade

Unfortunately, only the major Linux distros will benefit in the long term. On devices that come pre-installed with Windows 10, manufacturers will be able to force Secure Boot, with no way to turn it off. The smaller Linux distros aren’t licensed for Secure Boot and thus can’t be installed on hardware where it’s enabled.

Could Windows 10 be cracked?

Phones have locked themselves down for years, of course. Rather than jumping ship, annoyed iOS and Android users have found ways to break out of the limits of an automatically updated operating system that came pre-installed with bloatware and prevented them to perform various tasks. They developed ways to jailbreak iOS and root Android.

We might see tools emerge that–in a similar fashion–allow users to circumvent automatic updates in Windows 10. The fact such an event might happen seems strange, though, considering Window’s history of (relative) openness. Enthusiasts may not be happy with the direction Windows 10 takes, but it’s the consequence of a world where people no longer want to pay for the operating system.
Windows 10 will be a lot more like OS X than people realize, and not everyone will like it.

According to Microsoft, Windows 10 will be the last Windows version. Of course, it won’t be the last update to Windows. Microsoft is changing the way updates are delivered, making it easier for most and restricting freedom of choice for others.

Related: Has Windows 10 fixed Microsoft’s app store woes? Not exactly

In a world where selling operating systems to consumers no longer makes money, these changes are a necessary evil, but that won’t make them more palatable to die-hard fans.