ms-event-2015-01-21-win10-46Microsoft released Windows 10 on July 29th, and the operating system update is available at no charge to those currently using Windows 7 or 8. Should you take advantage of the offer to upgrade your operating system for free?

The majority of answers to technical questions fall into these two categories: “I’m not sure.” and “It depends.” Evaluating the Windows 10 upgrade option is an appropriate example. Let’s begin with “It depends.”

There are a number of considerations that should be addressed before installing any new operating system (OS). Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Information to help you make an informed decision is available at dozens of reputable websites. Let’s review the questions you should answer before you upgrade:

What are the advantages and disadvantages to upgrading? How will Windows 10 improve your computing experience? How might it disappoint you? For example, with a little research you will find that Win10 makes more efficient use of computer resources. You will likely find that it boots up a little faster, and takes up a bit less hard disk space than 7 or 8. However, you will also discover that the Win10 upgrade has disappeared the Windows Media Center, Gadgets are gone, and you can no longer play DVD movies on your computer. Is your printer, scanner, or other peripheral unsupported by Windows 10?

Will my computer support Win10? Just because Microsoft relentlessly tempts you to upgrade, don’t assume your hardware will actually operate correctly when you do. Do you know what the minimum hardware requirements are? Do you know that your computer’s manufacturer has drivers available for Win10? Is there an application you use that might not function properly after the update? Is there an option to revert to your existing operating system just in case Win10 doesn’t work out for you? Have you made a complete backup of your system before upgrading? If you’re forced to reinstall your old OS from scratch, do you have the media from which to do so? Do you have the activation key for Windows and Office? Are you willing to purchase the software again if you haven’t taken the time to properly prepare for the upgrade?

How is Win10 working out for others? Check out what tech-sites are reporting about the new OS so you’ll know what to expect. Do a quick search for “Windows 10 disasters” to sample some worst-case scenarios. The experiences of others are often our least painful learning opportunities.

How is Win10 different from your existing OS? If you’ve been running Win8, and abhor the Metro Tiles, you’ll likely be thrilled to discover that the Start Menu is back. If you upgraded from Win7, you might be dismayed to find the Start Menu now contains Metro Tiles. You will also notice that the Start Menu look-and-feel has changed, and may not actually include all of your installed applications. You might also be unhappy that Win10 automatically shares your Wi-Fi password with others, allowing them access to your Internet connection. You might be very disappointed that Solitaire now displays advertisements, while Spider, Freecell, and Hearts are gone entirely.

As you can see, your decision to upgrade depends on a number of factors. But the information you need is available before you make that choice.

The remaining answer to the question of upgrading – “I’m not sure.” – is actually a bit more complicated. This is primarily because Microsoft isn’t sharing the Windows road-map with anyone. The following observations illuminate the direction the company appears to have selected.

Microsoft Announced Windows 10 Is ‘The Last Version Of Windows’… And since then, refuses to elaborate. The prevailing evidence is that Microsoft is getting out of the operating-system business. That is, will no longer be generating revenue by selling subsequent releases of Windows. Rather, the OS will be a loss-leader, while advertising and application-software will become the primary revenue producers.

Microsoft Office is no longer for sale. Many people are aware that Office 365 is the current version of the Microsoft productivity suite, few realize that it’s impossible to purchase. Office 365 is an example of software-as-a-service (SAS). And SAS is the current – and future – business model for the software industry. Recurring monthly income is now king, and applications are the portals for that cash-flow. Would you like to play Solitaire on Win10 without the advertisements? It will cost you $1.50 a month (or $10 a year). Would you like to watch DVD’s on Win10? A one-time fee of $15, please.

But, Windows 10 Is Free! In this new SAS marketplace, Windows 10 is the free platform from which the SAS will run. Once installed, Win10 updates cannot be disabled, and the OS will always be current, so there’s no opting out of any changes. Microsoft appears to be following Google’s lead by monetizing Windows. The Start Menu Tiles are predominantly links to products and services that will generate commissions for Microsoft. And the Windows Search tool now returns links to Internet advertisements rather than just searching the contents of your PC.

Privacy and the Microsoft login account. Beginning with Windows 8, users were steered towards creating a Microsoft account to log into their computers, and Win10 continues this practice. While there is an option to create a local login instead, the process to do so is not readily apparent. The primary concern with using the Microsoft account is that the user is required to provide a valid email address, and their location and Web-browsing data can now be associated with an individual user. Microsoft can now leverage this information to market you. You will, of course, agree to the terms of the license that authorizes the collection and use of your personal information as you initially install Win10.

While Windows 10 may not appear as attractive just now, let’s consider the question from a pragmatic perspective… We could refuse to upgrade, and commit to stick with Win7 and 8. But that will only work until those versions reach their end-of-support date, (remember Windows XP?) but that only buys us another five to seven years. Then we’ll have little choice other than making the inevitable Windows upgrade.

Since we’ll likely end up there anyway, it makes sense to accept the offer of the free upgrade. But we don’t have to do it today. Windows 10 is available for free until (at least) July 29th, 2016. That gives us ample time to find the answers to the questions listed above. It also affords you time to develop your strategy for when you do commit to upgrading. Fortunately, there are solutions to much of the unpleasantness associated with Win10:

Managing your privacy. Take the time to plan your migration to the new OS. Learn how to move to Win10 with a local account that will protect your identity. There are settings within Win10 that restrict the amount of information forwarded to Microsoft. Location tracking can be turned off, and privacy options can be improved.

Install alternative applications. Don’t want a monthly ‘Microsoft bill’? Look into Open-Source (free) software. Apache’s Open Office creates documents and spreadsheets that can be saved in MS Office formats. It can also open and modify the Microsoft formats. Forget about the $15 Microsoft DVD player, and install the free VLC program. There are numerous no, low, or one-time cost software solutions that will allow you to avoid monthly SAS payments.

Modify Windows. In the short time since Win10 was released there are many work-around solutions that have been documented on blogs and tech Websites. The pesky Start Menu Tiles can be disabled,  You can kill Wi-Fi sharing, customize the Start Menu, and disable many pesky notifications.

Hopefully, you can now envision an informed strategy to answer the Windows 10 question. Use your search-engine of choice to continue the educational process, and feel free to email your unanswered questions to me. Don’t let Microsoft pressure you into an upgrade you’re not ready for. And until then, it’s not difficult to disable those upgrade notifications (ask me how).

Death, taxes, and Windows 10. We’ll all need to deal with these eventually. But it doesn’t have to be today.

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