Windows 10 Lawsuit Threatens Security, Innovation

Everyone loves uncovering hidden features in Windows. I'll never forget the time I figured out how to disable a default feature in the Edge Browser by creating a new Registry entry. Recently, lawyers have discovered their own hidden gem in Windows 10: lawsuit mode. And users could soon be paying the price, with less security and innovation.

According to The Seattle Times, California travel agent Teri Goldstein recently sued Microsoft for causing her PC to upgrade to Windows 10 without her explicit permission, and won $10,000. Rather than appeal and spend more on attorney fees, the company chose to set a dangerous precedent, giving Goldstein her money without further legal challenge.

Microsoft might have the deep pockets to pay for lawyers, but what about the lone developer who writes a single app?

MORE: 5 Ways Microsoft Can Promote Windows 10 Without Fooling Users

If software vendors can't issue automatic upgrades without fear of a lawsuit, then we're all in huge trouble. A company the size of Microsoft might have the deep pockets to pay for lawyers or settlements, but what about the lone developer who writes a single, 99-cent app and posts it in an app store? What about nonprofit, open-source organizations pushing their own operating systems?

There's no doubt that Microsoft is pushing its new platform very aggressively, but everyone, even diehard Mac users, should hope the company succeeds in getting most people to move to Windows 10. For both security and functionality reasons, all operating-system vendors should always be upgrading their core software automatically and seamlessly. For the good of the entire ecosystem, users should have to upgrade, as they are pretty much forced to do on many other platforms.

Modern operating systems are filled with potential security holes that need to be patched on a regular basis. While it works to improve Windows 10, Microsoft still has to waste a ton of dollars and developer hours on securing Windows 7 until 2020 and Windows 8.1 until 2023.

Imagine going to jail, because you didn't patch your PC.

Unfortunately, more than 10 percent of computers on the Internet are running Windows XP, an OS from 2001, which no longer gets security patches at all. Windows 10 accounts for only17 percent of those computers, while Windows 7 dominates with 48 percent. How much better could Windows security be if the company could focus only on the current version?

When you have an insecure operating system, you're a risk to not only yourself, but the entire Internet. Without your knowledge, your computer could be part of botnet that hackers use to attack legitimate businesses or governments. Your personal information could be compromised and used to steal from banks and other creditors.

MORE: How to Upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 7 or 8

The problem of insecure computers is so serious that some experts think regular users should be held legally responsible. Imagine going to jail or being sued into bankruptcy, because you didn't patch your PC and a hacker used it to rob a bank.

"Perhaps, the only way to get individuals to take this seriously and actually change their behavior –– to be more attentive to issues of security," writes Josephine Wolff, a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, "is if there are concrete penalties and consequences associated with participating in bots, falling for phishing attacks, failing to install security updates, and other basics of computer hygiene." 

PC users should also be rooting for Windows 10 to kill Windows 7 and 8, because the new OS enables a new type of software — universal apps. Universal apps take advantage of Windows 10's unique ability to switch between tablet and desktop modes as they change their UIs accordingly. The very same apps also run on Windows 10-powered phones. But developers aren't going to create as many of these apps if they know that only a small fraction of computers can run them.

Android users can only wish that Google was able to push its latest OS upgrades to their phones. Instead, because phone vendors and carriers who couldn't care less have to issue the upgrades, most users have old versions of the operating system that aren't as secure and don't have all the latest APIs for apps. Developers won't build apps that take advantage of new features available in Android 6.0 when 92.5 percent of phones are running older versions. However, when Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile bothers sending an over-the-air update to your phone, you can delay it, but you can't reject it forever, without rooting your phone.

Want to use the Google Docs from 2010? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Google solved the fragmentation problem by making its Chrome browser and Chrome OS automatically update in the background. You don't get a choice to stick with an old version of Chrome. Heck, you don't even know you've been upgraded.

Apple automatically alerts you to iOS upgrades and, though you can hit cancel on these messages, the system will not stop nagging you until you install them. No wonder 84 percent of iPhone and iPads now have the latest version of the OS, iOS 9.

Cloud-based software also updates seamlessly. Want to use the Google Docs from 2010? Sorry, you're out of luck.

Microsoft should be more up-front with users and drop the pretense of giving them the option not to upgrade.

Microsoft has received a lot of criticism — deservedly — in the past few months for pushing Windows 7 and 8 users to upgrade via automatic updates that make it difficult to opt out. In one recent example, a prompt that implores users to "Get Windows 10" continued to install the OS, even if you hit the "X" button to close its window. You had to go into a different menu to prevent the upgrade. However, this week, Microsoft promised to change this particular behavior.

"Nobody ever asked me if I wanted to update," Goldstein told The Seattle Times. She also said that she had "never heard of" Windows 10. I'm going to guess that she probably got one of those prompts at some point and didn't know how to interpret it.

But, for all the reasons we've mentioned, Microsoft is right to nudge users onto its new platform. If anything, the company should be more up-front with users and drop the pretense of giving them the option not to upgrade. The company could also incentivize users to upgrade with better first-party apps, a longer deadline and lower licensing fees for system builders.

MORE: How to Use Windows 10

Microsoft should also provide better support for upgraders. Goldstein claims that Windows 10 crashed her computer and that Microsoft's support techs couldn't fix it.

I too have experienced some problems with Windows 10 upgrades. Recently, I tried to upgrade two different laptops to Windows 10 and, after several failed attempts, was only able to upgrade one of them. One laptop fell asleep during the download and had to restart from 0 percent when I woke it up. The other said it didn't have enough space for Window 10, even though it had 150GB free. My wife has been trying to upgrade her desktop for over six months and keeps getting cryptic errors that say "something happened."

However, the solution to problems like Goldstein's and mine is not a wad of cash to buy a new computer, but better software and support from Microsoft. If we live in a world where companies are afraid to push important software updates to their users, the problem will be bigger than just a few failed upgrades.

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Avram Piltch
Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.