For those of you who have known me for any length of time know I’m not a Microsoft “booster.” I’m a consumer advocate. And yes, I have a great deal of experience with PCs. I’ve been building my own computers since the mid-‘70s and in the early days, even written my own operating systems.
This article discusses a topic near and dear to my heart—Windows 10 updates.
Today, I came across a rather disturbing Facebook thread discussing Microsoft’s new push to get older systems converted to Windows 10. Now, before I get started, understand I’m on your side. I too have systems that simply can’t convert past Windows 7. One has an “old” Pentium 4 processor, the other is running Windows Media Center. All of my other desktops, laptops and notebooks are running Windows 10. And yes, I agree, Microsoft comes off as an arrogant prick when it tries to update your systems over your objections or late at night when you’re not watching. And yes, IMHO, they could have done a much better job with this rollout—but I’ll get to that later.
When Windows 8 first came out, it lived on one of my systems from about two days. IMHO, it sucked (that’s a technical term). I simply hated it and restored back to Windows 7 almost immediately. I never upgraded to Windows 8.1. I saw it as lipstick on a pig. As a result, I don’t recommend it.
When Windows 10 was released, I did far more research and liked what I saw. I worked slowly and after doing an image backup, converted my system very early in the WinX rollout. Yes, I had considerable trouble—having to revert my first attempt after only a week of trying to iron out “issues” (that’s what Microsoft calls bugs—it sounds better). However, after waiting another nine months, I gave Windows 10 another try and the system came up. Have I had troubles since? Sure. Let me explain why.
I first started working with Windows in 1986 when I joined Microsoft (I worked there for fourteen years). My first assignment was to help hardware companies (they call them “OEMs”) write device drivers for Windows version 1.0. These complex chunks of code are used to connect Windows to video cards, printers and peripherals of all kinds from keyboards to mice to scanners. They weren’t easy to write—even in the old days—they required a very highly skilled engineer and lots of testing. Today, given the heightened emphasis on security, device drivers are a lot more difficult to write, certify and be accepted by the new versions of Windows. And this assumes the company which owns the hardware is willing to write them. Why would they? Device drivers are generally “included” with the hardware. They come with the printer or video card and folded into the price you pay. If the company has to write a more complex (and safer) version of the driver (especially for an older model) there’s nothing in it for them but good customer service—perhaps you’ll come back to them for an updated printer or a new video card.
Sure, some hardware (systems) manufacturers like Dell, or HP write their own device drivers—but many just use those supplied by their vendors. But companies fail. This is a tough business and many, many hundreds of companies no longer exist—despite having functional hardware still in use all over the world. Therein lies a problem. How to get these old devices to be visible by newer versions of Windows. Well, the Microsoft engineers tried to make it easier by creating “generic” device interfaces which can (usually) interact with older hardware—and it works most of the time, with some notable exceptions as many people in the FB thread mentioned. But, for the most part, if your hardware is old, and the company that sold it is gone, your chance of using it with Windows 10 is slim.
One approach you might try with old hardware is virtualization. That’s implemented in Windows 10 as “HyperV.” Basically, it lets you create a Windows 7 (or XP or Linux) OS within Windows 10 and run your old hardware device drivers from there. This does not always work, but it might be worth a try.
As far as systems support, Microsoft is being hammered to beef up security. We all hear about worms, viruses and malware of every description—even “ransomware” which takes over your system until you pay a fee to get your data back. As a result, Microsoft has dramatically reduced the number of “misbehaving” device drivers, applications and other software it permits to run on your system. This means safer everything. It means your personal information is safer. Your banking and credit account information is more secure—even when you browse to sketchy sites—at least to a greater extent—Microsoft can’t prevent stupid. It turns out that Microsoft discovered Windows XP had some very dangerous flaws which exposed it to all manner of attack and easy access for hackers. Windows 7 is far safer and Windows 10 goes even further to protect you from those who would steal what you own. That’s why Microsoft wants you to install Windows 10—so they can protect you more easily.
Does this mean that Windows 10 is bulletproof? Hardly, but it’s far, far safer than Windows 98 or XP or even Windows 7.
So yes, some of you can’t install Windows 10. I understand that. Sometimes you simply didn’t wait long enough. Windows 10 setup gets into some strange states which make the system appear dead—with a black screen, but it’s still updating. It can take over a day sometimes. Yeah, that’s dumb and Microsoft should have done better, but it might come out of it like your kid in a coma after that bike accident. Based on the comments in the FB thread, some of you have actually given up and thrown away perfectly good systems as you have been unable to resurrect them after a blown Windows installation. That’s a shame. I support my choir, friends and family (I retired from the tech world in 2010) and while I’ve seen some blown installations, I’ve always been able to get the systems back to a functional state—or at least save the data. Yes, I know what I’m doing (mostly). Would you hold a funeral and bury one of your kids alive if you couldn’t get them to wake up? No, you would take them to the ER. Yes, it might cost some money or call in a favor from your brother-in-law to get your system back, but in most cases, your data and pictures and programs are still there waiting for you or the next person who finds your system in the trash—it just takes the right engineer to fix it.
So, if you don’t want to install Windows 10, and this assumes you’ve upgraded to Windows 7 (older versions are simply unsafe to use on the Internet), take the advice of Microsoft MVPs and install GWX Control Panel. This free utility will stop Windows Update from displaying the prompts to upgrade Windows 10 as well as disarm the Windows Updates which will try to update on it’s own. It does NOT disable the other Windows 7 updates which fix a litany of security issues and system problems.
I was told about GWX Control panel from my friends in the Microsoft MVP community. This organization is comprised of computer experts (okay, nerds) like me who donate their time to help Microsoft software users and developers all over the world. They are highly respected and a great resource.
And in closing… Microsoft is a basically good company. Yes, they’re interested in staying in business, but keeping you and your data safe is an integral part of their business model. They could care less about your data. Sure, all the browsers you use farm your posts and searches looking for ways to sell you stuff—that’s why they’re free. And the Windows 10 upgrade is free—until July 2016 when they start charging for it.
But what could Microsoft do better? First, it needs to back off, take a deep breath and understand people don’t like to have stuff (even good stuff) jammed down their throats. Microsoft needs to add a switch “No, don’t try to upgrade” and don’t flip it back—ever. If the consumer wants to upgrade, let them, but FIRST, check the system. As Windows 10 Update worked ten days ago, it spent many hours thrashing my wife’s Pentium 4 system before coming to the conclusion that she was running a Pentium 4—a processor incapable of running Windows 10. This is a brutally simple test that could have been done immediately and saved everyone a lot of time and grief. Ironically, after Windows 7 was (automatically) restored, it asked if she wanted to upgrade (again).
Next, Microsoft needs to be far more diligent in determining which devices are not compatible with Windows 10. Make sure the customer knows they can’t use their ten-year-old (or almost new) printer, video card or knife sharpener before it rips out the system’s brain and tries to replace it ever so gently—with a spoon.
Questions? Just ask.
What am I doing now that I retired from the tech community? I’m a publisher and novelist. Check out http://betav.com.
Have a safe day.