This is a story about a woman who runs her own small business as a personal trainer. She uses Microsoft Publisher to create her at-home training programmes and Excel for keeping track of payments, et cetera. She has a Win XP computer from 2004.
I upgraded said computer to Windows 7 at XP EOL and replaced her ancient GPU so that she could use two monitors. I also got her to use LibreOffice Calc instead of MS Excel, but she loves her Publisher, so we decided it wasn’t worth switching to Linux. This has been working just fine for several years, and there was no reason to believe she’d have to spend a cent on the thing for years to come. Until last week.
Last week, Microsoft decided it would be fitting to install Windows 10 without her permission. (And don’t give me the excuse that she implicitly accepted it by closing the window or whatever, that’s bullshit. She was very clear on that.) Her Publisher software immediately stopped working, and she phoned me. I told her not to worry and scheduled a visit so that I could reinstall 7. I backed up her user directory and went to install Windows 7. The key I’d sold her didn’t work. I phoned Microsoft and was told to wait, then told that the key was not valid. Luckily, I had another key, so I used that one to install Windows 7. I ran Ninite, jimmied the ancient CD-ROM drive to install Publisher, and restored the backup. All was going well. She paid me for the new Windows license and my time, and took her computer back to her house, plugged it in, and began working.
Twenty minutes later, the computer froze and she was forced to hard reboot. It is now not working, and she’ll have to bring it by again so I can figure out what bootloader rubbish Windows 10 did that is causing it to have some kind of intermittent fault. In the mean time, she’s basically unable to work.
When we say “user choice”, this is what we mean. Not some nebulous idea of “freedom” or extreme Stallman-level trust, but rather the ability to choose whether you want to risk screwing up your perfectly working system with an upgrade. And, Microsoft? This is unacceptable, period.
A note, two years on. Windows 10 doesn’t suck as much as it did - for the most part - but the business practices it is a part of haven’t changed. Microsoft thinks it can treat paying customers as beta testers, shipping code that deletes important software and files or renders machines unbootable and forcing users to accept it with no repercussions. So far, as consumers and as an industry, we have failed to prove them wrong. We need to do better.