Update

How Microsoft's tricky new Windows 10 pop-up deceives you into upgrading

Microsoft's new trick to coax users into upgrading to Windows 10 relies on changing behaviors the pop-up's instilled since December.

new windows 10 logo primary
Credit: Rob Schultz

This morning, the unthinkable happened: My wife, an avowed PC user who long ago swore to never touch an Apple device, started shopping around for a Mac Mini. And it’s all thanks to Windows 10. Or rather, the nasty new way that Microsoft’s tricking Windows 7 and 8 users into automatically updating to Windows 10.

I adore Windows 10, but I’ve long been a vocal critic of the heavy-handed tactics that Microsoft’s been using to force people into the upgrade, all to hit a goal of migrating 1 billion users to an operating system brimming with freemium services and ads. The annoying “Get Windows 10” pop-up began using deceiving malware-like tactics months ago, but it recently received an overhaul that seems purposefully designed to confuse users who have been wearily slogging through the nagging for half a year now. 

That nasty trick resulted in my wife’s beloved Windows 7 PC being sneakily upgraded to Windows 10 this morning. Sure, she has 31 days to roll it back to Windows 7, but she feels so betrayed—like Microsoft forcibly removed her control over her own PC—that she’s strongly considering embracing the Dark Side and buying a Mac, instead.

Even worse, the process can kick off automatically if you don’t touch a thing on your computer.

UPDATE: Further reading: How to escape the Windows 10 update you mistakenly agreed to and How to go back to Windows 7 or 8 after an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade

The change

In December, the Get Windows 10 (GWX) pop-up changed its verbiage in a way that mimicked malware: The only immediate options were to “Upgrade Now” or “Start download, upgrade later.” An offer you can’t refuse! The wording changed slightly since then, but the only way to decline the upgrade has been the same: By clicking the X button in the GWX pop-up’s right-hand corner and closing the window.

Earlier this year, however, Microsoft pushed the Windows 10 download out as a Recommended update. That means anybody using the default Windows Update setting—as you should be!—automatically received the installation bits and a prompt to install the new OS, which again could only be refused by exiting via the in the corner of the pop-up’s window. 

Last week, Microsoft altered the GWX prompt, as ZDNet covered. On the surface, it’s an improvement; the box clearly states when your PC will be upgraded, and even adds a (still small and easily skippable) line that allows you to reschedule or change the upgrade timing. So far so good!

gwx new LumpyMayoBNI via Reddit

But here’s the icky part: The redesigned GWX pop-up now treats exiting the window as consent for the Windows 10 upgrade.

So after more than half a year of teaching people that the only way to say “no thanks” to Windows 10 is to exit the GWX application—and refusing to allow users to disable the pop-up in any obvious manner, so they had to press that X over and over again during those six months to the point that most people probably just click it without reading now—Microsoft just made it so that very behavior accepts the Windows 10 upgrade instead, rather than canceling it.

That’s gross.

And if you don’t find that small link to reschedule or cancel the Windows 10 upgrade—or, say, if the pop up appears while you’re away from your computer—your system will automatically begin the process at the scheduled time. In other words, your PC can potentially upgrade to Windows 10 without you asking it to or explicitly approving the upgrade.

That’s gross, too.

Fallout and prevention

PC users are already up in arms over it, and rightfully so. By now, every existing Windows 7 and 8 user has seen and declined the Windows 10 update numerous times. By forcing out Windows 10 as a Recommended update and changing the behavior associated with exiting the GWX pop-up, Microsoft’s actively striving to push the operating system on people who actively don’t want it.

Worse, these under-handed tactics are encouraging Windows 7 and 8 users to disable Windows Updates all together, which leaves their systems more vulnerable to attackers who exploit security flaws.

That certainly stops Microsoft’s nagging, deceptive pop-ups, but I’d recommend installing the free GWX Control Panel tool instead. It lets you remove and disable the upgrade prompts all together—though it’s a shame that you have to resort to third-party tools to keep your operating system from hijacking itself. Update: Several users have also written me to suggest Never10 by famed security researcher Steve Gibson as an easier to use GWX Control Panel alternative.

Again: I personally use and love Windows 10. It’s great! But deploying these dirty tricks only frustrates long-time Windows users who have very valid reasons to stick with operating systems they already know and love. And thanks to the deceitful new update, there’s a very high chance that my wife will be a new OS X convert by the end of the day. You may have ostensibly achieved another Windows 10 upgrade to pad your adoption stats, Microsoft, but you very well may have lost a lifelong PC user who swore she’d never switch to Apple.

Which means that I might have to learn how to troubleshoot Macs.

Dammit, Microsoft.

Update: Here’s some user feedback after I received after tweeting about the issue this morning.

This story, "How Microsoft's tricky new Windows 10 pop-up deceives you into upgrading" was originally published by PCWorld.

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