Microsoft's upgrade treadmill hits a new low | Apertura Designs

Microsoft's upgrade treadmill hits a new low

Microsoft is arguably the technology industry's greatest proponent of vendor lock-in. Their business model is predicated on customer dependence on Microsoft products, and associated forced and unnecessary upgrades—usually at astronomical expense. It's a practice that Microsoft has perfected through years of monopoly behaviour—and subscription-only services such as Office 365 are truly redefining what it means to be tied to a single vendor.

Microsoft reached a new low point late in 2017 with the announcement of a new Windows edition: Windows 10 Pro for Workstations. Why, one might ask, is this controversial? Well, the answer lies in an existing Windows product: Windows 10 Professional. That's right—Microsoft now has two editions of Windows 10 that are both ostensibly targeted at nominal professionals.

Windows 10 "Professional" is anything but

One might reasonably assume that by virtue of Windows 10 Professional's branding, professional users are Microsoft's target market. However, using the product in actual business environments reveals clear, unambiguous evidence that this is not the case. For example:

  • Endless updates that derail work at critical times. Deferring or omitting specific updates is either labour intensive or practically impossible. PCs are completely unusable while updating, with staff wait times on the order of 30 minutes entirely usual. Updates often break or change existing features, add throwaway apps, or remove features that have already been paid for.
  • Privacy violations by default. Windows 10 shares personal data for the purposes of targeted advertising and other privacy-hostile "free" services—a practice that is more in line with consumer products. Telemetry sent to Microsoft cannot be disabled.
  • More Blue Screens of Death. Windows' legendary system instability continues unabated, to a familiar online community support refrain of "reinstall Windows to fix it."
  • Installing software still often requires a full system reboot. Windows customers tolerate this as normal behaviour—but in 2018 it's practically unheard of in other operating systems.
  • Performance-sapping antivirus software required more than ever. It's still the norm for Windows customers to waste five percent of their host PCs' computing capability on antivirus software. Performance nosedives during antivirus scans, with growing industry acknowledgement that Windows antivirus products mimic the same destructive behaviour as the infections they are supposed to prevent.
  • Ransomware. Literally every prominent ransomware exploit reported in the past two years has affected Windows exclusively, without exception, and to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars in fallout.
  • An app store that breaks itself. Basic apps are rendered unusable, with fixes involving user-friendly-hostile workarounds.

Other examples abound—but a brutally effective way to illustrate the gulf between Microsoft's claim to professional use, and using the product in practice, is the following screenshot of the Windows 10 Professional Start Menu:

In Microsoft's view, Candy Crush Soda Saga, Minecraft, Xbox, plus various other games and built-in advertising are clearly features that businesses desire. Joking aside: if there was ever a clear sign that professional users are not Microsoft's target market, the above screenshot is it.

Windows as a Service only increases the pain

Microsoft touts their new approach to delivering operating system fixes and features as Windows as a Service. Gone are major updates delivered according to a documented and planned schedule, replaced instead with a firehose of varying updates delivered as and when Microsoft sees fit. While of little concern for consumer environments—where cosmetic features and novelty apps generally go unnoticed—it's a disaster for businesses that demand predictability and stability. Windows as a Service has turned Windows 10 Professional into nothing less than a moving target—a nightmare for administrators, support staff, and end-users alike who simply wish to get work done.

Aside from inadvertently trashing stability in the name of a marketing selling point, Windows as a Service has a more nefarious purpose—one that is central to Microsoft's goal of perpetuating the upgrade treadmill: existing features that have already been paid for can be modified or removed on demand.

Perhaps the most notable recent example of this is the Resilient File System (ReFS). ReFS is an overhaul of Windows' existing 1990s-era filesystem technology, designed to offer modern levels of data integrity and protection against file corruption. For Microsoft, it's also a late attempt to finally compete with similar filesystem technology that has already shipped in Linux and macOS. Windows 10 Professional initially supported the creation of ReFS-formatted drives, providing a critically important feature for businesses requiring guaranteed integrity of data stored on disk. Remarkably, Microsoft subsequently removed the feature in a later update to Windows 10 Professional—shafting businesses that had already paid for and were relying on the feature.

So, where did ReFS support go?

Introducing Windows 10 Pro for Workstations

Sure enough, ReFS is now a headline feature of Windows 10 Pro for Workstations. Those businesses that paid for expensive Windows 10 Professional licences to obtain ReFS support now have to undertake even more expensive upgrades to access the very same feature. Windows 10 Pro for Workstations doesn't stop at ReFS. It also raises the limitations that were imposed on Windows 10 Professional purely for market segmentation reasons—such as support for more powerful CPUs and greater amounts of memory.

Cumulatively, it's the ultimate insult for customers that invested in a professional-branded product, only to find it loaded with defects, consumer-grade features, and artificial restrictions. Microsoft is now betting on those same customers undertaking the necessary upgrades to address Windows 10 Professional's shortcomings.

It's time to step off the treadmill

Microsoft's definition of what constitutes a professional product—or even what a "workstation" is—conveniently shifted over the course of Windows 10 Professional's existence, with the clear intention of railroading businesses into paying more for an expensive new product. Who can predict when those same features will be removed in favour of an even more costly Windows edition?

For businesses, migrating off Windows entirely is easier than ever. The wide availability of cloud services eliminate the underlying dependence on Windows and all of its associated hidden costs. Open source operating systems offer vastly superior security and stability; single editions packed with every professional-grade feature imaginable; better performance; no limitations on CPU and memory; none of the update pain; and no license cost.

There really is no better time to switch.