Difference engine: Less than a perfect 10

 Microsoft’s Windows 10 is failing to catch on

AFTER an initial flurry of people upgrading their personal computers to Windows 10, the latest and greatest version of Microsoft’s popular operating system, the migration seems to be running out of steam—despite a roll-out that was the most carefully managed in the company’s 40-year history. Launched in late July, after nine months of public testing, Windows 10 is available free (until next July) to anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 on their computers. Despite this unprecedented generosity from Microsoft, Windows 10 accounts for only 9% of computers used to surf the web, says Net Applications, an internet analytics firm based in Aliso Viejo, California. By contrast, six-year-old Windows 7 runs on over 56% of computers. Even the disastrous Windows 8/8.1 has a 14% share, while older versions still (mainly Windows XP) account for over 12%. For the record, Apple’s OS X claims 7% and open-source Linux 1.6% of total users.

These are, of course, early days for Windows 10. And to have chalked up, in little over four months, something like 135m sales and upgrades (out of the 1.5 billion of so PCs in the world) is no mean feat. Microsoft’s professed goal is to have a billion copies of Windows 10 in use within three years. That may still be possible, but consider this: Windows 7’s share of the market of late has started to rise, not fall.

No doubt, some of that increase can be traced to computer users rushing to buy new PCs with Windows 7 pre-installed before supplies run out. Others have snapped up shrunk-wrapped copies of the old operating system while they are still on the shelves. Microsoft has now stopped supplying Windows 7 to original-equipment makers as well as retailers, though a substantial inventory still exists. Whatever the reasons for the slowdown in Windows 10’s uptake, clearly a lot of people are attached to Windows 7 and are reluctant to part with it.

Your correspondent is one of them. He has Windows 7 on his workhorse computer and is more than happy with its everyday performance. In his routine chores, he has no need for any of the fancy bells and whistles Windows 10 brings to the desktop. His fully patched Windows 7 computer has never let him down. Thanks to regular housekeeping and proper protection, “Homebrew7” remains as snappy as ever and continues to run seamlessly with all other devices attached to his network. Meanwhile, Microsoft has promised to continue providing bug-fixes and security patches for Windows 7 until 2020. So why the rush?

It is not as though your correspondent has no experience of Windows 10. A tablet he bought earlier this year came with Windows 8.1 pre-installed, and promptly upgraded itself to Windows 10 (build 10240 ) as soon as it became available. Since then, he has upgraded it manually to the latest version of Windows 10 (build 10586).

Its behaviour has been exemplary. Anyone still running Windows 8.1 ought to upgrade without hesitation. The migration to Windiws 10 is essentially trouble-free, thanks to the comprehensive set of device drivers common to both versions. For those who struggled with the touch-centric Start Screen of Windows 8, the new operating system is more polished and intuitive, helped no end by the return of the much-missed Start Button. Anyone so inclined can give Windows 10 all the look and feel of Windows 7—all the more so if they install a free software tool called Classic Shell.

But for the 800m or more Windows 7 users, the upgrade path to Windows 10 can be rough. One way to check how much trouble may lie ahead (without triggering gigabytes of downloaded Windows 10 setup files which, for those with download data caps, can gobble up a month’s allotment) is to run a small Microsoft utility called Upgrade Assistant for Windows 8.1. Any Windows 7 computer that can be upgraded to Windows 8.1 will have little difficulty installing Windows 10. In your correspondent’s case, however, Upgrade Assistant found that more than half the programs and device drivers on Homebrew7 were incompatible. Even those that were compatible, he was informed, would have to be reinstalled after the upgrade. As if that were not nuisance enough, most likely he would also have to junk several trusty old peripherals.

Having resolved to stay with Windows 7 for the time being, the problem is then how to stop all the nagging from Microsoft to upgrade. Without so much as a by-your-leave, Microsoft sneaks anything from three to six gigabytes of code into a Windows 7 or 8.1 PC, to speed up the transition process to Windows 10. It also puts an icon in the taskbar, which will start the upgrade process, willy-nilly, if clicked. More annoying still, a message pops up at inconvenient intervals, asking whether the user wants to upgrade to Windows 10 now or later—with no way of saying neither, thank you. Closing the message box merely starts the download anyway. All very frustrating.

So, here is what determined Windows 7 users can do to put a stop to this nonsense. First, check to see if a download folder labelled $Windows.~BT is in the computer’s root directory (c:). To do so may mean telling Windows to show hidden files and folders (open Windows Explorer, click Tools-Folder Options-View-Show hidden files, folders and drives). If the folder in question is, indeed, lurking in the root directory, right-click it and choose Properties to reveal its size. Most likely, the folder will contain gigabytes of code, indicating that all the upgrade files have been snuck into the computer ready to install Windows 10. If the folder contains only 140 megabytes or less, breathe a sigh of relief.

Deleting this folder is not the answer: another copy will be downloaded automatically from Microsoft to take its place. Instead, open up Control Panel and click on Windows Update. When that pops up, click View Update History, and search for the file KB3035583. Click on this and answer “yes” when it ask whether you are sure you want to uninstall it. Once KB3035583 has been banished to oblivion, all of Microsoft’s nagging should cease. Just to make sure, check within the $Windows.~BT folder that those gigabytes of unwanted payload really have disappeared. Leaving the depleted folder in place may dissuade Microsoft from sending a replacement.

Those who want to ensure their Windows 7 computers continue to remain free of any future attempts to upgrade them to Windows 10 should check out Josh Mayfield’s website, ultimateoutsider.com. Mr Mayfield has created a software tool called GWX Control Panel, which, apart from expunging unwanted upgrade files, will keep an eye out for any further attempts to slip sneaky upgrade patches into Windows 7 computers. So equipped, Windows 7 should be left in peace to get on with its job.

But, wait, there is more… Windows XP diehards—and there are still some 200m of them worldwide—need not go without security updates, even though Microsoft ended all support for the venerable operating system in April 2014. If truth be told, however, continuing to use such an obsolete and insecure operating system, no matter how effective it may seem, is not the smartest of moves.

Still, diehards often need protecting from themselves. To that end, a nifty three-line registry hack has been circulating the internet that lets Windows XP masquerade as a point-of-sale terminal operating on an embedded version of Windows XP. Such devices have long-term support contacts and continue to get regular software updates from Microsoft. Anyone interested in downloading the hack can find it easily on the internet. The ethics of using it may be questionable, but its efficacy is not in doubt.

Article source: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21679721-microsofts-windows-10-failing-catch-less-perfect-10?fsrc=rss

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