Microsoft Partners: Windows 10 Strong-Arming Tactics May Extinguish Customer Enthusiasm

Microsoft has stirred its customers into a frenzy of anticipation over Windows 10, but the way it's going about getting the OS onto their PCs could make this short-lived, partners told CRN on Monday.

Microsoft is downloading Windows 10 files to PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1 even if customers have not signed up for its free Windows 10 upgrade offer, Ars Technica reported last week.

The Windows files, which are included in a recent Microsoft update, are between 3.5 GB and 6 GB in size and located in a hidden folder called $Windows.~BT, according to a report from The Inquirer.

[Related: Microsoft's Free Windows 10 Upgrade -- 10 Things Partners Need To Know]

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A Microsoft spokeswoman told CRN the software giant is doing this to "help customers prepare their devices for Windows 10 by downloading the files necessary for future installation."

"This results in a smoother upgrade experience and ensures the customer’s device has the latest software," the spokeswoman said in the email, adding that the Windows 10 files are "typically less than 3GB’ in total.

Although Microsoft is distributing the Windows 10 files only to customers running consumer versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, with automatic updates turned on, two partners told CRN they see this as the latest of several cases in which Microsoft has overstepped its bounds.

"Microsoft really needs to be more transparent with these types of decisions," said Jon Bach, president of Puget Systems, a Kent, Wash.-based Microsoft system builder partner.

Bach said Microsoft built up good will with technology enthusiasts by letting them test out the Windows 10 Insider Preview, and this was an effective marketing vehicle for Windows 10. But Microsoft no longer seems to be listening to early adopters, and that could put a crimp on Windows 10 adoption, according to Bach.

"They had a really great thing going. But now they're making a series of decisions that are alienating these same tech enthusiasts, and it is quickly swinging public perception into the negative," said Bach.

Last week, Puget Systems emailed 9,000 of its top customers running Windows 7 and Windows 8 to offer guidance and advice on the upgrade to Windows 10. Bach said a surprisingly large number of customers indicated they wouldn't be moving to Windows 10 anytime soon, which he believes could stem from a mistrust of Microsoft's upgrade tactics.

"Many people did upgrade to Windows 10 right away. But there is a large majority of people that are hearing more about Windows 10, and are deciding to wait. This is not good for Microsoft," said Bach.

Microsoft, which introduced the concept of "Windows-as-a-Service" at the Windows 10 launch in January, is making updates mandatory for consumer versions. Partners see the logic in this, as it's easier for Microsoft to support customers that are all running the same version of Windows.

However, some partners believe Microsoft, equipped with this kind of power, could try to extend it into other areas. For example, Windows 10 includes a peer-to-peer downloading mechanism that taps into customers' Internet bandwidth to upload Microsoft updates. As noted by the blog How-To Geek, this option is turned on by default in Windows 10, and Microsoft doesn't make it easy to turn it off.

Microsoft says this feature ensures that users get updates in a timely fashion. But as is the case with the automatic Windows 10 downloads, it could be problematic for customers whose service providers cap their bandwidth usage, said Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Xylotek Solutions, a Cambridge, Ontario-based Microsoft partner.

Grosfield said that while he understands why Microsoft is using these methods to get customers onto Windows 10, these sorts of tactics are usually not well-received.

"For the consumer, this is not going to sit well -- Big Brother behaviors rarely do," Grosfield said. "Having Microsoft decide on behalf of the consumer when or if they upgrade to a new OS is not likely to be popular."