Windows 10, Chicken Little, and the Digital Divide
Windows 10 released last week, to more hoopla and good press than Microsoft usually gets these days. I downloaded and installed my free upgrade on Thursday and have been tweaking it and getting used to it slowly. I only have it on a tablet at the moment, but I’m liking it enough that I will probably install it on my MacBook Pro (my work machine) via BootCamp.
In addition to the laudatory articles, there have been a series of articles about various aspects of the new release, especially those having to do with integrating different functions: Cortana, which draws on email, browsing, and calendar (among others) to optimize its efficiency, and WiFi Sense, which allows the sharing of hotspots and personal WiFi networks among socially connected users.
The toplining of “smart” software has been met with considerable apprehension, some of which tips over into breathless headlines such as “Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do.” Microsoft’s security settings are long and detailed, and their explanations offer more transparency about data collection and recording than we’re used to. For example, telemetry has been around for years, but now people are noticing that it can’t be turned off.
Unlike the two big mobile systems (iOS and Android), Windows is overwhelmingly identified with computers. Not tablets, not phones, just computers. Something like 90 percent of the world’s computers run Windows, while only tiny fraction of tablets and phones run Windows or Windows Mobile. So shrinking the gap between mobile and computer has different ramifications, both practically and symbolically. In the case of Windows 10, some of the most talked-about changes are features that people take for granted in mobile but haven’t thought about as being part of their computer use.
At this point, people who use Macs are almost certainly people who use iPhones or iPads, so the increasing convergence between OSX and iOS isn’t a problem for many of them. For someone like me, who loved OSX but not iOS, it is. But I’m one of a tiny, tiny minority, useful primarily for illuminating things that satisfied iOS users may not notice.
But Windows users think of Windows as running the computer. Full stop. They want to think of it residing there, able to be disconnected and still run locally in the same way.
Microsoft has rightly decided that it won’t survive in the long term if it doesn’t get a stronger foothold in the mobile market, or at least have congruence between mobile and non-mobile platforms. Windows 8 started to collapse this distinction, and its interface made a lot of people hate it. They wanted the desktop. They didn’t want to learn the Metro interface. This is unsurprising. People don’t like change on things they take for granted, but also, Metro was about touch and most computer screens weren’t touch. Even when they were, they were new and people were still learning them. Windows 8 and 8.1 asked users to learn both a new interface and a new way of computer-using at the same time. Many people rebelled.
Windows 10 rolls back the most egregious Metro design features and restores the familiar desktop. But it is still all-in with connectivity and integrated functions. And this is freaking some people out.
Microsoft has made some boneheaded choices, in my opinion. WiFi Sense should have been wholly opt-in. People aren’t noticing that the contact choices are opt-in because they’re fixated on WiFi Sense being opt-out. In fact, your contacts are not included by default in WiFi Sense; you have to enable each of the groups of contacts individually. But the initial opt-out of WiFi Sense means a lot of people either miss that distinction or think it doesn’t matter. An express install (the most common way of installing Windows 10) will turn on WiFi Sense by default but won’t connect to any of your contact groups without you taking several more steps.
If you look at what Cortana does, it’s very much in line with Siri and Google Now. That’s the whole point; Microsoft wants to leverage its Outlook (and other) users to draw them into a service like those of its competitors. But while you may be fine with that on your phone (people who’ve never used a smartphone can wind up loving Siri right away), you don’t necessarily expect that on your computer. Why does Cortana need to look at your email? For the same reasons Google Now looks at your Gmail and your Gcal and tells you how long it will take you to get to work. But your Windows program hasn’t done that before. It hasn’t been proactive like that.
If you don’t want that kind of integration, you can turn off Cortana with a click. It’s not a big deal. But it’s worth remembering that’s where all these programs are going. Windows isn’t staying on your desk anymore. Of course, Microsoft programs haven’t been limited to your computer for over a decade; Word started requiring internet connectivity to function fully in the early 2000s. But the integration with the online world has been gradual, and many people view their computer as something qualitatively different from their phone.
There is one other aspect of WiFi Sense that no one is talking about much, one that has implications for people who are extremely sensitive to mobile data charges and/or who spend time in areas where connectivity is difficult. That is the option to connect to WiFi hotspots that your contacts have used. It’s separate from sharing your own WiFi with your contacts, but it uses the same contacts lists. If you enable this provision you are automatically connected to hotspots they use when those hotspots are available (it’s a bit like phone companies’ hotspot access systems, but it uses crowdsourcing). This also has obvious security/privacy issues, but for some people that tradeoff will be worth it, especially people on the wrong side of the digital divide. When I see tech types telling everyone to turn off WiFi sense, I wonder if they have ever met someone who might rationally make a different tradeoff. I sure have.
Finally, railing against Microsoft’s TOS and privacy/security is fine, but it is imperative that we keep in mind that Windows 10 is more of the same, not some unique departure. The entire Internet of Things is a massive privacy problem in the making (and yes, that includes you, Apple Watch, and you, Fitbit). A Sky is Falling approach is demonstrably unhelpful. Our privacy legislation lags way behind data-collection reality. But over and over again it has been shown that when people feel unable to change the privacy issues that worry them, they resign themselves to not having privacy rather than lobbying for better laws. And they don’t change their behavior. This is the worst of all possible worlds.
Absolutely pick apart the security flaws in Windows 10. But put them in the context of privacy and security flaws in every system. This isn’t a Windows problem. This is a 21stC data problem.
Great post, Sunita. As someone who has used OS and iOS forever, and has pretty much shunned Windows, I hadn’t even thought about the way in which Microsoft has served solely as a computing environment, making the new integrative changes very new to many Windows users. The integration is really a blessing and a curse, and lately I’ve been especially frustrated at the way Apple automatically wants all a person’s devices to be part of an OS/iOS borg.
I’ll admit, too, that I’m one of those people who pretty much feels like privacy is a lost cause (add security to that, too), which, you’re right, is not a great place to be.
Thank you! I hadn’t thought about the computing environment aspect either, until I was reading comments on the various tech posts, and I noticed how many commenters were talking about the invasions of their computer space (my language, not theirs). You know these are people who have mobile phones, and yet Windows was somehow different. They expected to be able to create an offline local environment, which I totally empathize with. I just think it’s basically gone, in terms of what programs are available to us. There are a few, and there are still writers who use computers that are wholly offline to write with, but I think it will become harder and harder. We’ll all be going back to Alphasmarts for that!
Thank you. As a Windows aficionada, who absolutely despises Apple anything because of its walled garden and resource hog-ation, and as a halfway decent tweaker (married to a proficient Windows tweaker), the chicken little bullshit based on misunderstanding (especially from Apple fanboys who parcel out wrong information as if they know what they’re talking about) is getting on my nerves.
We have Windows everything, including phone. So *high five*.
It is so weird to me to be defending Windows, because I was totally on Netscape’s side during the suit. But the more I teach and research privacy issues, the more I know that there are no companies with clean hands. Also, I really like Windows 10 so far!
Hah! I was at Microsoft when we beat them hollow with our IE. Such rejoicing!
That was when I hated Windows! And was using it, of course! I fled to Apple at the very end of 9.x and loved it. It was so much sleeker and less bloated (because, in part, it had far fewer users). But once the iPhone and the app store were added to the mix, OSX changed. The indie developers and programs I loved were pushed toward cross-platform synchonicity, which affected their development process. At this point everything needs to be cross-platform to be popular, and that has changed the types of programs that are available.
The thing about Apple I completely dislike is the proprietary everything and how everything is so locked up that things are hard to debug. For a few years, I worked in commercial apps that had to work on Windows and Macs. Woe! Woe! Woe!
I don’t mean phone apps. These were entertainment application programs distributed via CDs.
I’m SO GLAD they got rid of the Metro look. I hate it! And never use it.
I’m thinking of wiping my hard drive and doing a clean install of Windows 10, instead of an upgrade. They never quite clean up everything well and leave all kinds of legacy crap behind despite claims to the contrary. Hope my laptop and my sanity survive the changeover. I’m trying to put it off as much as possible.
The first time I saw the Metro interface on a computer I hated it. But because I got to know it through the Windows Phone interface, where it is efficient and quite intuitive, I could see where they were going. I didn’t mind it at all on my tablet, but I didn’t use it on a computer.
I think you’ll like Windows 10 much better. I don’t want Cortana or WiFi Sense (I didn’t want Google Now either, or WiFi Sense on my phone), but I turned them off and checked all my security settings and so far everything is working well.
I don’t use Cortana on my phone either and like that defunct 1990s program Bob, I have no intension of having Cortana talk to me on my laptop. Dreading and yet looking forward to Windows 10.
I know it’s the 1.0 version, and they have made some mistakes (they HAVE to change their various opt-outs). But it is nice. I’m afraid to be too happy with it, but I really think this is the version 8 should have been (along with the things that have changed since 8).
I wouldn’t have fled to Apple if the different iterations of Windows weren’t so terribly bad. I was a Windows fan for as long as I could take it. With the new release of Windows 10 it sounds like a good deal with the exception of the privacy issues. But like you said, that’s not a Windows problem that’s a 21st C problem as everything is built to connect you to every freaking thing. Like Robin said, this is a terrific post. You are always articulate in your arguments and I can only hope to write like that one day.
*blush* Thank you!
I’m exactly the same. I was a faithful Windows user until, ironically, Word became tied to the internet and the program became more and more bloated. But this version, for all its security/privacy issues, feels more streamlilned. More like the efficiency of the Windows Mobile platform. I could be wrong, and there are definitely things to fix, but so far so good.
In a weird way, I think it’s good that Microsoft is under the gun on the privacy/security stuff. So many people use the platform that they have to address them. I think some of the egregious opt-out stuff will be modified, and I’m really hoping for greater granularity in contacts permissions. That would be *great*. I’d be more than happy to share encrypted info with trusted contacts (as opposed to everyone in a particular list, no thank you).
I also think the WiFi hotspot sharing could be really good for people in developing countries who move around. If you trust people on your skype or hotmail list, or can select a subset of those lists, using their hotspots automatically could be really useful.
Hi there, I came over from Dear Author, who linked to this post today. Just wanted to say that as a user of multiple operating systems, both at home and at work (where I have a PC, a Mac Mini, and a Linux box all on my desk), I really appreciate this balanced reaction to a lot of the Win 10 coverage going around. I’ve seen several options I will be turning off once I actually finally get my mitts on it. And I DO want to see it; I’m curious about it not only from a work-related standpoint (since I’m a QA Engineer in my day job and may need to care about testing our site on Edge), but also from a general geeky curiosity standpoint. And I want to see if I’ll be able to put it on my older MacBook via BootCamp, or whether I’ll need to do it on my MacBook Pro.
*waves* Hi, and thanks for commenting! I had a tough time finding tech posts about the various issues that didn’t just repeat each other or link to the same source. There was quite a bit of coverage last year when the developer preview was released, but I haven’t read as much of that in this round. Like you, I have a Mac as well as a tablet that runs Windows (and I’ve installed Linux on netbooks in the past). I’ve always had to keep a backup Windows option because I use databases that aren’t OSX-compatible.
I thought Windows 7 was pretty good and I was OK with Windows 8 and 8.1 on the tablet (using it on the phone helped with my learning curve). Obviously I’m still early in the Windows 10 process, but so far it seems like they kept good bits of 7 and good bits of 8. I turned off Cortana and WiFi Sense immediately, as well as a few other things, which helped to cut down the suggestions and clutter.
I don’t know about older MacBooks, but I’m pretty sure people are loading W10 onto older netbooks so it has a shot. I’m going to put it on my old HP Mini netbook later this month and see how it works.
Yeah, I need to keep Windows around for work-related reasons, as I mentioned–not only because of testing web pages on browsers, but also because my employer does deploy games to Windows as well as mobile devices, and I like to be able to play our games even if I don’t actually have to TEST them.
I wound up discovering that my older MacBook (which is old enough that I can’t update it past Lion) has Bootcamp 4 on it–so it’ll be interesting to see whether the Win 7 Bootcamp partition lets me go ahead and upgrade to Win 10. Once I put Lion on the box I DID see the “upgrade to Windows 10” icon show up on my Win 7 systray, which does at least suggest that I may be able to run it. It’ll be interesting to find out, anyway.
And if it doesn’t work, I can try putting it on the newer MacBook. Although I’ll also be interested to see when Apple actually updates Bootcamp to officially support Win 10, too!
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