Customers took a stand against Windows 10’s aggressive upgrades – and won

microsoft building tab support into windows 10 upgrade popup
Jesse Worley threatened to sue Microsoft. He’s not the first to take on the Redmond company, but his move to take legal action had a purpose. He wanted Microsoft to acknowledge that aggressively pushing the Windows 10 update was a problem. Customers weary of the Windows 8 disaster were unwilling to take the upgrade leap; Microsoft was, he reasoned, ignoring their fear of heights.

Worley built a Windows 7 machine for his grandfather, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, in 2013. Because of this, Worley customized the machine to look like Windows XP, an operating system his grandfather still remembered well. Since Windows 7 will still receive patches until 2020, he wanted to keep the machine on Windows 7 until he got around to building a PC with Windows 10, using the fake Windows XP interface.

But thanks to Microsoft’s persistent Windows 10 upgrade program, Worley’s grandfather unknowingly initiated the Win 10 upgrade by clicking the “X” to close an upgrade window – which gave permission by not explicitly refuting the update. For the last 21 years, that X has been used to close programs in Windows. Microsoft chose to change that function.

It didn’t turn out well.

A surprising upgrade

“Surely I’m not the only one to face surprise updates, or to spend time and money fixing them,” Worley said in email correspondence with Digital Trends. “Microsoft’s culpability most certainly isn’t limited to those suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease or their families either. I’m not a litigious person, and one of the things I dislike most are people taking a sort of perverse profit from the suffering of others.”

“I’m an IT tech whose grandfather’s computer was updated through subterfuge, which made life harder for him and his caretakers until it was fixed.”

Many customers weary of the Windows 8 disaster were unwilling to take the upgrade leap. Microsoft seemingly ignored their resistance.

With Windows 10, Microsoft fixed the mistakes made in Windows 8 by bringing the desktop interface back to the forefront, while retaining the app-based structure. The result is a combined environment with the benefits of a tablet-like experience spicing up the desktop we’ve come to rely on for decades.

It’s a great operating system, but Windows 10 is not without issue. Privacy advocates dislike it, as Microsoft collects data such as voice input, text input, website history, and more. There are ways to limit the personal information Microsoft receives, but these steps likely aren’t known by the average Joe. The growing privacy concerns have called out security experts, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and even France’s National Data Protection Commission.

Is this data-mining the fuel that powered Microsoft’s aggressive Windows 10 upgrade program?

“The tactics Microsoft employed to get users of earlier versions of Windows to upgrade to Windows 10 went from annoying to downright malicious,” the EFF said in August. “Some highlights: Microsoft installed an app in users’ system trays advertising the free upgrade to Windows 10. The app couldn’t be easily hidden or removed, but some enterprising users figured out a way. Then, the company kept changing the app and bundling it into various security patches, creating a cat-and-mouse game to uninstall it.”

Change isn’t always for the best

Aside from the privacy issues, many people simply don’t want to jump on the Windows 10 bandwagon. Most holdouts rely on Windows 7, which is currently the most-used operating system on the market. Many don’t like the Windows Store, Cortana, or the tweaked Start Menu. Others simply need their PC to function the same as it always has, for various reasons.

For Jesse Worley and his grandfather, a familiar OS was a must-have. The change from a simulated Windows XP environment to Windows 10 was disrupting, and cost time and money to undo the damage. As Worley pointed out in his email, he’s likely not the only one who suffered from Microsoft’s seemingly malicious upgrade scheme.

Jesse Worley
Jesse Worley
Jesse Worley

“I’m just the IT tech, so I fought my fight,” he said. “I don’t want to say that because my grandparents suffered, now I understand personally how someone with Alzheimer’s Disease — or bad eyesight, or a small monitor, or who was conditioned to repeatedly press ‘no’ to the GWX popup, or any of a million other reasons for not clicking the fine print in GWX and de-scheduling the update — personally suffered.”

When he threatened Microsoft over the Windows 10 upgrade, he wrote the company a letter of his intent as requested in Microsoft’s EULA for Windows 10, which states that “we hope you’ll mail a Notice of Dispute and give us 60 days to try to work it out, but you don’t have to before going to small claims court.” (The company even provides a Notice of Dispute form.)

Surprisingly, Microsoft has admitted that the upgrade pop-up window was misleading, and customers who faced the Windows 10 upgrade beast and failed can strike back. Worley did so and received $650. He wanted Microsoft to pay him for his time and donate to any Alzheimer’s charity, but the company only agreed to pay for his time, given that Microsoft donates to charities already.

Worley took the money and donated it to alz.org.

Customers should come together

Ultimately, Worley hopes people impacted by the forced Windows 10 upgrade will write a complaint to Microsoft demanding a settlement for their wasted time and money in repairing the device. He wants Microsoft to vow it will never use an aggressive promotion again, and for the victims to donate their rewards to Alzheimer’s research if they don’t need the money “in case Microsoft doesn’t take the hint.”

Microsoft admitted the upgrade pop-up window was misleading.

“I want those people to fight their fight,” he said. “I know they can win those fights. Some of them are big fights that cost a lot of money, and some, like mine, are little fights worth less money.”

Worley isn’t the only individual who has gone after Microsoft over its Windows 10 upgrade tactics. California travel agent Teri Goldstein sued Microsoft in small claims court in June and won $10,000. She didn’t authorize the update, and the install failed. After that her computer, which she uses to manage her business, was unusable. Microsoft couldn’t fix the PC, so she went to small claims court instead.

Microsoft appealed the court’s decision, which compensated Goldstein for replacing the PC and lost wages. But the company reportedly dropped its appeal so it wouldn’t have the expense of continuing the litigation. The whole story can be read in Goldstein’s ebook “Winning Against Windows 10: How I Fought Microsoft and Won.”

“Teri and I both believe that legislation which criminalizes software companies that use aggressive or misleading tactics to trick their own users into dangerous updates is necessary,” Worley said. “While we might take separate approaches toward accomplishing that shared goal in California and Texas, we know that this fight would be significantly easier with Microsoft reps at the table as opposed to sticking their fingers in their ears and writing checks against their ethical shortcomings.”

Updates are a part of software, and they usually result in better, more stable, more secure software. But companies should be upfront with them rather than slipping updates in on the sly. Microsoft’s efforts to force upgrades to Windows 10 shows that aggressive updates can indeed go too far, and is a rare example of users getting relief for a PC that suddenly breaks – through no fault of their own.

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