Nick's Notes

Whose computer is it anyway?

The Guardian reports that Windows 10 for home users will enforce operating system updates. We already know that Windows 10 will be the last big marketing name for the operating system, although engineering releases and service packs will continue. It’s not that enhancements and additions have gone away, they are being handled differently. So my first assumption is that there will be be hefty updates coming from time to time, and that not all of them will be security updates.

Dealing with security first, these updates should be applied to your computer as soon as possible after release. They usually update functionality only in so far as they close off unintended exploits. No one is likely to be using those exploits for legitimate purposes, so fair enough. There is a community responsibility to keep up to date on these things.

But what about enhancements? Apple have a long standing approach to OS X and iOS updates. New functionality comes out annually and we know from the stats that something like 60-70% of people update within a month or so, and eventually usage reaches the high 80%’s. Not everyone chooses to update, and this could be for several reasons. They may not be comfortable doing so – concerned it may go wrong. They may be unaware – the 1 on the Settings icon on the phone or iPad may not be calling so loudly to these users as it does to me! Or in a few cases they will have chosen not to update because the know a key app to them isn’t supported from day one on this new release.

It is that latter point that concerns me most about this Windows development. What if you have some medical device with software that hasn’t been updated to run on the new release yet? You could say to the authors that they must bring out the software to match Microsoft’s schedule of releases but we all know there are many reasons why that won’t happen.

Windows is a very open environment where a computer can be uniquely configured. What if the drivers, or mix of software doesn’t yet work in the new base operating system. People today on Windows 7 or 8 would wait until their card or peripheral manufacturer releases new drivers certified for the latest release of the operating system. Will they be expected to follow Microsoft’s release schedule as well? In the more controlled hardware world of Mac that is easy and the drivers get updated with the operating systems because it is all coordinated by Apple. But this is Windows, hobbyists build their own computers, and not all of them put Linux on them – so this level of coordination won’t or even can’t happen either.

So how do Microsoft expect to handle the updates? Well we have a clue from the way they have invited people to join the queue for Windows 10. There will be a scheduled release, to ensure the the servers aren’t overloaded. What if two networked devices are updated at different times. Lots of homes have networks, and some even have servers these days. The opportunity to get out of sync is huge.

And what about kit that won’t take the next update – or will Microsoft limit themselves to the current processor / disk / memory configurations common today. Not a chance – so how will that be handled. What if my computer runs really slowly after an update, but was fine before. Microsoft have released a lot of bloatware in the past and there is no reason to believe that will change.

Despite the above, I actually don’t want to over exaggerate these points. Many updates should be applied. Most will work. But it isn’t Microsoft’s right to force people to take the updates. And forcing an update, rather than inviting the owner / user to accept it and respecting their right to choose when to take it, if at all, is necessary for all but a small class of deep security updates which ensure better security for the online community as a whole.

I have been very positive towards Microsoft recently. They have done some good things for the iPad and iPhone, and Office 16 for Mac is a big step forward. It is ironic that in the ecosystem they have created they are at their worst. I realise it’s not Microsoft’s practices in its entirely I dislike, it is the Windows division in particular.

But why should I worry? All of my computers are running OS X, iOS or Debian (a Unix variant). Good luck if yours aren’t.

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