Windows 10 is here, but is it really free?

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you are acutely aware that the new Windows 10 OS is now out and available as a free upgrade to existing Windows users. I continue to receive a friendly reminder to upgrade each time I logon to my PC, but haven’t done it yet. As an underwhelmed, sometimes rather irritated, Windows 8.1 user, you’d think I’d jump at any opportunity for a change, but something keeps holding me back. So to help me decide, I did a bit of research on the new features and what folks are saying…the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you haven’t upgraded yet, perhaps this will help you decide as well.

Let’s start with the positives:

It’s free!

Microsoft’s messaging makes it clear that customers running Windows 7 or Windows 8, 8.1 (Enterprise editions not included) will get a free upgrade to Windows 10 if the upgrade is performed within one year of release. This does not mean Windows 10 is ‘free for one year’ but rather those who upgrade to Windows 10 within one year will have it free for life. What’s the catch? Not much financially but as we all know, nothing is ever really free. Read on.

Hello Start menu!

Our old friend the Start menu is back! Microsoft did a great job combining Windows 7 and Windows 8 to create a new and improved, highly customizable Start menu that includes both a list menu and tiles. But if for some reason you miss the tile-only screen from Windows 8, you can get it back. The only difference is that you’ll scroll through your tiles from top to bottom instead of left to right.

Goodbye charms!

Windows 8 users rejoice! The Charms bar is gone! I remember my Windows 7-loving husband using my Windows 8 computer  and trying to figure out how to logoff or check his connection (use the Charms!) or conversely, get the Charms he had inadvertently made appear go the heck away! The Charms bar has been replaced by a list menu on the left of the screen (accessed by the Start menu) and where the Charms used to appear, there is now an Action Center where notifications, settings, etc. are displayed.

Other great features people are talking about:

  • Control Panel is updated with categories, and subcategories shown on left side bar.
  • Task View shows small view of all windows open, shows multiple desktops or you can switch back and forth between them.
  • New Edge browser many are saying is clean, neat, and loads fast(er).
  • Updated Task Bar (Cortana, Task View, Edge).
  • Overhauled OneNote interface.
  • Tablet mode (use if you’re using a tablet instead of a mouse).
  • New photo, video player, and music apps.
  • Virtual desktop
  • Windows Hello which offers iris and fingerprint recognition.
  • Heavily integrated with Xbox One.
  • Cortana featured on all Windows 10 devices.
  • DirectX 12, a framework that allows the OS to interact with your graphics card.

And now, the negatives:

I could take every single feature listed above and easily find something negative to say about it. I’m not going to nitpick though because I think that Microsoft has done a great job with Windows 10 cleaning up, streamlining, and improving in several areas. What concerns me most is that Windows 10 appears to be the most intrusive OS to date, where you are pretty much laid bare by default. Windows 10 claims the right to pass large amounts of your data to Microsoft’s servers, use your bandwidth for Microsoft’s own purposes, and profile your Windows usage.

Advertising ID

Windows 10 automatically assigns an advertising ID to each user on a device tied to the email address that’s on file. They then use that ID to tailor ads when you’re online and using certain apps.


Your lovely personal assistant Cortana collects a massive amount of your personal data in order to provide services to you.

Vague (at best) privacy policy

From the terms included in the end-user license agreement, “We will access, disclose and preserve personal data, including your content (such as the content of your emails, other private communications or files in private folders), when we have a good faith belief that doing so is necessary to protect our customers or enforce the terms governing the use of the services.” As David Auerbach states from his Broken Windows Theory blog entry, “In other words, Microsoft won’t treat your local data with any more privacy than it treats your data on its servers and may upload your local data to its servers arbitrarily—unless you stop Microsoft from doing so.”

There ‘are’ ways to get around most of the privacy settings, and a quick ‘Edge’ search will walk you through each. But the shady thing is how hard it is to disable everything (several different screens, cumbersome processes) and that you don’t opt-in to these things, but rather must take the time to opt-out to secure yourself. This, together with the privacy policy makes me realize that this truly isn’t a free upgrade.

So, no, I’m not going to recommend that you upgrade or stay where you’re at. That’s up to you. But I do think it’s worth doing some research and arming yourself with the facts before you dive in. And if you do take the plunge, may I recommend I custom install?

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