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Windows 10 rollout: Unwary small firms complain of unwanted upgrades

As Microsoft continues to push Windows 7 and 8.1 users to upgrade, tech support firms report a rising number of complaints from small businesses that have inadvertently made the switch.

Image: Microsoft
Tech support firms are reporting that rising numbers of small and medium-sized businesses are complaining about unwanted upgrades to Windows 10.

Microsoft's goal of getting one billion devices running Windows 10 by 2018 has seen it adopt increasingly aggressive tactics to get people to switch from earlier versions of Windows.

These methods include messages telling Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade, which have been criticised for making it appear like there is no opt out, and plans for Windows 10 to begin automatically installing on most Windows 7 and 8.1 machines.

Most recently there have been complaints from users about upgrades to Windows 10 automatically initiating. According to Mary Jo Foley on ZDNet, Windows 7 and 8 users, who report not choosing to upgrade to Windows 10, are seeing their machines start to upgrade if they ignore a pop-up telling them an upgrade has been scheduled. Users have several opportunities to refuse the upgrade but, with the option to cancel the upgrade being less prominent than the option to continue, some users are complaining they have been caught out.

Those affected are not only consumers - who have taken to the web voice their anger - but also small businesses.

While large corporations typically run the enterprise version of Windows, which doesn't receive the upgrade nag messages, SMBs often run Pro, or in some cases Home, versions of Windows, neither of which are exempt from the upgrade.

In recent weeks, firms that provide technical support to small businesses say there has been a rise in complaints about unwanted Windows 10 installs.

Roy Castleman is owner of London-based Prosyn, which provides support to IT networks and systems for organizations of all sizes but has a large base of small and medium-sized customers.

He said smaller clients were reporting a problem with staff clicking through updates and inadvertently installing Windows 10.

"That causes quite a few problems for customers because quite often they are actually saying 'Yes we want the upgrade'," he said.

Castleman said complaints about unwanted upgrades started soon after Microsoft launched the Get Windows 10 nag messages last year and have risen again in the last week or so - coinciding with users reporting Windows 7 and 8.1 automatically scheduling upgrades to Windows 10.

These unwanted upgrades cause various problems for firms, he said, including software and services that businesses rely on no longer working.

Those clients who rely on custom software that runs on an earlier version of Windows also can't make the switch to Windows 10 without devoting significant time to ensuring compatibility with Microsoft's latest OS, he added.

"I think Windows 10 is a good platform as it goes forward but it does take about 18 months to get all the other software and kit up to date," he said.

Microsoft gives users 31 days to roll back from Windows 10 to their previous operating system but Castleman said this process doesn't always work.

Jonathan Edwards, managing director of IT-support business Integral IT, said they'd also had complaints from clients who'd initiated the Windows 10 upgrade.

"The Windows 10 upgrades have led to slow/freezing machines and some compatibility issues," he said.

"As a business, we will be sticking with Windows 7 for customers. If, and when, we choose to upgrade our customers, we will do fresh operating system installs (not upgrades) and apply [them] to all PCs on the network."

Blocking Windows 10

Microsoft points out that customers who don't want to install the Windows 10 upgrade can refuse it and take steps to block it.

"Customers continue to be fully in control of their devices, and can choose to not install the Windows 10 upgrade or remove the upgrade from Windows Update (WU) by changing the WU settings," a Microsoft spokesman said.

To stop the Windows 10 upgrade from initiating, Windows Update settings will need to be changed from "Install updates automatically" to one of several options that allow users to choose which updates are downloaded and installed - as outlined here. Unticking the box marked "Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates" on the Windows Update settings page may also work.

Prosyn's Castleman argues that requiring users to disable automatic updates puts users in a difficult position as "Microsoft then says if you disable your automatic updates you won't be secure".

IT administrators can also disable the upgrade and nag messages using Group Policy settings or, in the Home edition where the Group Policy editor is not available, by editing the Windows registry.

Last year small business admins also complained about the upgrade being pushed to centrally-managed networked PCs on a Windows Domain.

In related news, Microsoft has just announced it is pushing back the point at which it will cut off support for Windows 7 and 8.1 machines running on Intel's Skylake CPUs. Microsoft had previously said it would end full extended support for machines running on Intel's latest CPUs in July 2017 but last week extended that date until July 2018.

Read more on Windows 10...

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Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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