New Windows, New Rules
When it first released, Windows 10 abandoned much of what we'd come to expect from a Microsoft operating system. Unlike its predecessor, Windows 8, it provided support for the traditional keyboard and mouse desktop user.
The first reviews were less than stellar.
In short, Windows 10 is good, but it isn't a slam dunk — and it comes with considerable baggage. [B]e sure you understand the new rules. —InfoWorld
Windows 10 has matured significantly in the four years since it was first released and after January 14, 2020 there is no other option unless you wish to abandon the Windows world altogether. That isn't to say that there hasn't been growing pains — there have been some doozies — but the current version (build 1909) is quite workable once you get past the challenges of upgrading from Windows 7 and earlier.
Supported Lifetime Redefined
Windows 10 was released on July 29, 2015 with support listed as ending October 14, 2025.
Microsoft added a wrinkle: support is only valid for the supported lifetime of the device which was redefined by Microsoft with the newly-created Modern Lifestyle Policy which now requires that you continually maintain Windows 10 major updates and meet other criteria to retain support.
For example, Windows 10 Mobile 1703 has now reached end of service, so no more security or quality updates. The Fall Creators Update is slated to follow on December 10, 2019.
Legacy Hardware Support Uncertain
More than likely the hardware is going to determine the supportability of your computer. As it ages and newer technology emerges it is likely that support for legacy hardware will be removed and your computer could become unsupported.
Windows 10 will not upgrade older systems including those running the Atom processor-based systems past the Anniversary Update (video). Device support can be affected by the manufacturer's discontinued support for hardware, including the loss of support of a component within your system.
Intel is in the process of releasing a souped-up Coffee Lake chipset that will actually work with Windows 7, according to Anandtech. The trick will be convincing Microsoft to allow updates to the new H310C. — ComputerWorld
This move will likely only benefit Windows 7 enterprise customers that subscribe to Windows 7 Extended Security Updates.
Windows 10 is a “mobile-first, cloud-first” hybrid of Windows 7 and 8. It is a single operating system capable of running on every device from Windows Phone to Xbox to the 84-inch Microsoft Surface Hub conferencing system.
Windows 10 is a mobile operating system designed to work with a Microsoft account, which provides access to OneDrive cloud storage and a growing number of online applications, such as Calendar, People, Tasks, Office, Sway, etc. It allows you to save files from your PC to OneDrive (eg from WordPad), as well as to create files online. — The Guardian
It's almost impossible to avoid the cloud now, because of the movement of commercial and government services to the web, the multiplication of computing devices and the rapid growth in smartphones. These different trends reinforce one another. — The Guardian
Windows 10 Editions
- Microsoft's Windows 10 specifications are similar to those for Windows 7. Some features require additional or newer hardware.
- Microsoft's list of Windows 10 features.
- Compare Windows 10 editions.
It is hard to justify these prices when providing what Google does for free and exacting the same costs in terms of advertising and privacy.
- Windows 10 Home: $189.00 (US$139)
- Windows 10 Pro: $259.99 (US$199)
- See which features come with each Windows 10 Edition.
Additional features available in Pro include BitLocker encryption (see Encryption: Protecting Your Data), Remote Access, and the ability to run Hyper-V virtualization on your PC. Some features require special hardware.
Windows 10 Downgrade Rights
Downgrade rights is the terminology Microsoft used to allow users to run an earlier version of Windows using the license for the current version.
- Downgrade rights for Windows 10 — licensing how-to.
- Downgrade Rights — Microsoft Download Center is a direct PDF download from the Microsoft Download Center.
Windows as a Service
We think of Windows as a Service — in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. — Microsoft Blog
Microsoft executives made it very clear that buying a Windows license — or a device with Windows 10 on it — would ensure Windows owners had a license to Windows 10 for the life of the device. But Microsoft has also said that it wants to entice you to pay for additional services over that lifespan. — PCWorld
Microsoft Managed Desktop
Upcoming changes to Windows 10 could change it from a fixed desktop experience to one that is virtual and which has additional fees. Given the frequent updates failures, do you really want Microsoft to manage your desktop for you?
Microsoft is getting ready to replace Windows 10 with the Microsoft Managed Desktop. This will be a "desktop-as-a-service" (DaaS) offering. Instead of owning Windows, you'll "rent" it by the month.
If Microsoft continues on this course, soon your only real choices if you really want a "desktop" operating system will be Linux and macOS.— ComputerWorld
DaaS may only be for enterprise uses at this time, but it may show up on Home and Pro editions once the Microsoft alternatives to Windows 10 have expired.
No More Service Packs
Service Packs are a thing of the past, replaced by an “all or nothing” approach to updates. Windows is a continually evolving project with a cycle that changes every 18 months rather than every decade.
For the past year, I've been hearing a steady stream of complaints from longtime Windows admins and users. Consistently, those grumbles all boil down to a single objection: Because of "Windows as a service," we're losing control of our desktop PCs. — ZDNet
Designed for Mobile Access
The world is changing rapidly. The proprietary desktop scenario of Windows XP, Vista and 7 has been replaced with “bring your own device” in many workplaces.
People are more mobile and many want to access all their information on the go. Windows 10 was designed to meet the needs of the mobile user.
You Sacrifice Privacy for Convenience
While Windows 10 does allow you to move quickly between devices, you sacrifice your privacy for this ability.
In the Cloud
Windows 10 is a cloud-based operating system hybrid.
In the past, Windows could be thought of as software that only exists on your device. Now, with Windows 10, important parts of Windows are based in the cloud, interacting with online services. — Microsoft
Placing your data “in the cloud” provides the ability to stop working on one devices and resume on another. Users can move between desktop and mobile devices as needed without losing productivity.
You No Longer Control Your Data
Of course, this also means that you no longer have direct control of your data and it is accessible to anyone anywhere in the world if your password is compromised (and probably accessible to cloud storage facility staff without any compromise unless you encrypt it before uploading files).
Local Searches Sent to Cloud
For example, when you do a search for a local document or file on your Windows 10 computer, Microsoft sends the information about your system files up to their servers and does the search using Bing. That's what it means to be a cloud-based Windows system.
That only makes sense if you consider two things:
- it would allow for thin-client integration (computers that depend upon a cloud-based server to function much like Chromebook); and
- it would provide Microsoft more information about the sorts of files you have on your computer which could allow them to create a more accurate profile of you to improve advertising conversion rates.
New Windows 10 Features
Windows 10 is designed to take advantage of newer hardware and enables futuristic technologies like holographic computing, biometric login (Windows Hello), Windows Ink and 3D printing. The older your hardware, the greater the incentive to purchase a new computer to take advantage of the features that are important to you.
It also means that those features may not remain for 10 years like past versions of Windows. This could be problematic if you depend upon legacy capabilities, but also opens up the ability to adapt very quickly to emerging technologies.
Additional features are added with each Windows 10 Update (now named by the release date).
Windows 10 has gone through some changes as it matured. The following is a screen capture of an early Preview release showing the Start menu in desktop mode:
PCWorld's Windows 10 review provides a decent overview of the new features when Windows 10 was initially released including some useful hints on getting the most out of the new Windows.
Cortana (a digital assistant) and Microsoft Edge (the replacement browser for Internet Explorer) were the most notable new items. Several of these new features require you to sacrifice at least some of your privacy to benefit from them.
Backup Before Installing Updates
I recommend backing up your files before updating Windows. If nothing else, the October 2018 Update reminded us that there is the potential for data loss after an update. This was not the first update disaster in Microsoft's history.
- 7 Tips to make Windows Updates error-proof instead of error-prone.
- Acronis True Image is strongly recommended for backing up your system (I use it for both Windows and Mac systems).
The following are the major Windows 10 updates since launch:
- The Anniversary Update was released a year after Windows 10 launch (and just after Microsoft closed the free upgrade option for Windows 7 and 8.1 users).
- The Creators Update (Spring 2017) was
designed to spark and unleash creativity, bringing 3D and mixed reality to everyone and enabling every gamer to be a broadcaster.
- The Fall Creators Update (Fall 2017) completed some of the work started with the Creators Update and focused on the ability to move between devices when working on projects (even to and from Android and iOS apps).
- The Spring 2018 Update (1803) included the Timeline feature and the ability to share content with other computers via Bluetooth or WiFi connections. The New Application Guard (Pro only) protects against Ransomware.
- The October 2018 (1803) had significant issues and was recalled. It was re-released in November 2018 and included the Cloud Clipboard, dark-mode File Explorer and other tweaks.
- The May 2019 Update (1903) was rolled out starting May 23rd.
November 2019 Update
An unnamed fall 2019 update (1909) was rolled out starting November 12th. This is a departure from the regular semiannual updates to this point. There are some interesting new features:
- Choose between Light, Dark and Custom modes.
- Cortana is no longer combined with the search box.
- Several of the utilities are updates including Snip & Sketch and you can remove more of the pre-installed apps including 3D Viewer, OneNote, Skype and Voice Recorder.
- More help troubleshooting problems with Windows.
- You can now backup and sync user folders (Desktop, Documents, Photos) to OneDrive.
Win10 version 1909 is an odd beast. The first of its kind. Billed as a feature update (read: version change) disguised as a quality update (read: pedestrian cumulative update)… — ComputerWorld
Windows 10, version 1909 is available for any user on a recent version of Windows 10 who manually selects “Check for updates” via Windows Update. The recommended servicing status is Semi-Annual Channel. — Microsoft
- The best features in Windows 10 version 1909.
- What we know about the Win10 version 1909 upgrade — and what you can do about it.
- What's new in Windows 10's November 2019 Update, available now.
- What's new for IT pros in Windows 10, version 1909.
Windows 10 continues to be updated. Check out the following resources to learn more:
Trouble Updating Windows 10?
Edge Now Default
Support for third-party browser addins such as ActiveX, Java, etc. are not available in Edge because of the vulnerabilities they introduce. Flash (a vulnerable and dying technology) can be disabled in Edge's settings.
Bing Default Search Engine
Bing is the default search option and many find it difficult to change (you need to load the alternative search engine before you're offered the ability to change the default from Bing). While you can replace Bing as the default search engine for Edge, you cannot remove it as an option.
Internet Explorer Replaced but Not Gone
Internet Explorer is best described as a compatibility solution (a way to view obsolete websites that cannot be viewed on modern browsers). Microsoft's security chief tells users,
Edge Going Chromium
Microsoft has decided to rebuild Edge with Google's Chromium. This move greatly reduces the non-Chromium options and dangerously places Google in control of the browser which is now used for much more than simply surfing the Web.
If Continuum recognizes that a keyboard is installed Windows 10 automatically switches to the desktop mode. In Windows 10 desktop mode, apps can be windowed and resized (unlike Windows 8 which ran everything full screen).
Microsoft Default Apps Reset
Unlike in Windows 7, choosing to make email, maps, music player, photo viewer, video player and web browser something other than the Microsoft defaults from the settings within those apps no longer works. Microsoft resets them to their defaults (at least they are gracious enough to notify you when they do so).
You need to open Settings, select Apps then Default Apps from the list on the left. You can now choose your preferred alternative from the drop-down list. If you change your mind, there is a reset button to restore the Microsoft defaults.
The integration of Xbox with Windows 10 will allow gamers to play their Xbox games on their PC. It cannot be fully uninstalled. For those of us that aren't mainline gamers, it means that system resources are taken up by feature we don't want.
Xbox is the portal to all of Microsoft's entertainment offerings: the movies you can rent or buy and the Groove music services they hope you'll subscribe to. Ka-ching!
Like Windows 10, Xbox is tied to an online account using your Microsoft ID and provides the ability to play online with friends. Playing “as a guest” serves video ads lasting up to 60 seconds between games (but you can pay to disable them).
You'll probably find you'll want to get rid of a bunch of the bundled software that comes pre-installed on Windows 10. Not everyone is thrilled with Candy Crush or even many of the Microsoft apps.
These instructions on removing Windows 10's bloatware include links to two freeware apps (10AppsManager and WXAR) that can remove Xbox and other unwanted Win10 apps. Your mileage may vary.
I've also been able to remove unwanted apps via CCleaner, but this may have created an issue with the May 2019 Update which required me to reinstall Windows from the 1903 Build installer downloaded from Microsoft.
Future updates to Windows 10 may reinstall Microsoft apps and restore defaults to those apps.
Getting Started Guides
- Windows 10 help topics.
- Shortcut keys for Windows 10 (MS Word document).
- Tips, tricks and shortcuts: Ed Bott makes Windows 10 work for you.
Personalizing Windows 10
You'll want to make Windows 10 your own. Personalization has options to change your desktop and lock screen background, how the Start menu is configured and more.
Click on the Start button then Settings then Personalization (or right-click the desktop and choose Personalize).
There are two basic modes: desktop mode and tablet mode. Your choice is going to be based upon your hardware and personal preferences but you can switch back and forth.
The primary difference is that tablet mode has a simplified Start menu with larger icons (similar to Windows 8's menu) and the desktop is not available to place icons. I'm going to focus on the desktop mode because that is what I use.
The Start menu is an improvement from the Windows 8 experience but not as flexible as the traditional Windows Start menu (Windows 7 and earlier). Even desktop mode is clearly more optimized for touch than a traditional Windows desktop:
The open Start menu in desktop mode.
As touch becomes more common on computers, this feature will become more useful.
The open Start menu in tablet mode.
The open Start menu has changed slightly since Windows 10 launched but the various programs are listed in alphabetical order on the left beside a series of “folder” icons (power, settings, pictures, documents, account).
In addition to the alphabetical listing, Windows 10 allows you to pin apps to either the taskbar or to the Start menu. Pinned apps can be resized and live tiles turned on or off. Most Used and Recently Added apps are options.
While Windows 10 is aimed at touch-screen users, it is friendlier to keyboard and mouse users than Windows 8 was. You can resize and reorder these icons as well as enable/disable live status or uninstall most unwanted apps (Xbox and some other Microsoft programs don't have that option).
Uninstalling a built-in Windows 10 Universal app removes it from your user profile, but it doesn't remove the source files for the app from the system. If you set up an additional user account, you'll need to go through the uninstall routine for that account. — ZDNet
Early versions of Windows 10 didn't treat most non-Microsoft icons very well, but that is no longer the case. Many keyboard/mouse users have opted to ignore these pinned apps (even removing the default pinned icons) and placing their favourite program icons onto the desktop.
Start Menu Alternatives
If you don't like the default Start menu, third-party options are available:
- Start10 from Stardock ($6.99 — included with Stardock's Object Desktop suite at $40.99) recreates the Windows 7 style menu in Windows 10.
- Classic Shell (free) provides Windows 10 with a Start button plus other enhancements but is no longer being developed as of December 17, 2017.
- Open Shell provides a classic style Start Menu for Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 based upon Classic Shell.
- 6 ways to hack & customize the Windows 10 Start Menu.
- Windows 10 Apps worth keeping; ones you should dump.
- Has your Windows 10 Start menu stopped working? How to fix it.
The Lock Screen
The lock screen can be configured with images from Windows Spotlight, theme pictures or images on your computer as well as various apps such as time/date, weather, etc. The lock screen is shown below:
The taskbar can include the Start Button, Cortana/Search, Task View, Pinned Apps, People, hidden icons, Network, Speakers, Windows Ink Workspace, Touch Keyboard, Language, Clock/Date, Notifications (Action Center). Many of these settings can be removed or modified by right-clicking the taskbar or via Windows settings and may be different in desktop and tablet modes.
I recommend pinning only your most frequently used apps on the taskbar. Unpin the Microsoft defaults that you don't use then pin the apps you use frequently.
There are several new icons on the left side of the taskbar including Task View and even more on the left side including People, Windows Ink Workspace, Touch Keyboard, Language (a new way of displaying the language bar) and Notifications (which brings up the Action Center).
There are 3 settings for Cortana (available by right-clicking the Taskbar): Hidden, Show Cortana icon or Show search box. I chose the Cortana icon to allow for more apps to be pinned to the Taskbar. I don't use Cortana (or any virtual assistant) because of privacy concerns.
Windows 10 uses Settings to manage much of what was contained in the Control Panel in earlier versions of Windows, including Personalization.
The Settings panel includes System, Devices, Network & Internet, Personalization, Accounts, Time & Language, Ease of Access, Privacy and Update & Security categories.
The majority of settings are found under Settings (in the Start menu).
Searching for Advanced Options
If you don't find the setting you're looking for, try searching using the “Find a setting” search box. Windows 10 will provide suggestions but if you don't know what it is called, searching for it may be a challenge.
I found that I needed to search for “advanced printer setup” when installing a networked printer when the default Devices settings couldn't locate it.
Right-clicking the Start icon allows you to see a list of useful configuration options like Apps & Features, Device Manager, Disk Management, Network Connections and System without searching for them. Again, this listing is subject to change as Windows 10 evolves.
- 5 ways to make Windows 10 act like Windows 7 (registration required).
In Windows 10 you have much more control over how your computer starts and the transition is much smoother. You can switch between tablet mode and desktop mode.
- In tablet mode the appearance and function is much like Windows 8.1 with the large “Modern” touch interface dominating the look and feel. The desktop is unavailable.
- In desktop mode the Start menu uses a combination of some Windows 7 features but pinned apps are displayed on the right as smaller (and configurable) “Modern” style tiles.
I'm a keyboard and mouse user and don't run Windows on a touch-enabled device. I neither like the “Modern” interface nor find is useful. I've noticed many users that use the touch option are more likely to search for programs and settings than to look for them in a menu. You'll need to customize your experience for what works best for you and your hardware.
The Action center (click on Notifications) includes a series of options for autoplay and program alerts as well as several settings. It is the highlighted taskbar icon located at the bottom right in the image below:
Taming Windows 10
These resources offer more help in personalizing various aspects of Windows 10:
- Hidden tricks inside Windows 10.
- 10 Tricks and Tweaks for Customizing Windows 10 (registration required).
- Windows 10 Settings menu: The Personalization tab.
- How to master the all-new Windows 10 Start Menu.
- Get to the task at hand with these Windows 10 taskbar tips.
If you have more than one computer or want to share files such as videos, photos, documents, etc. with other computers or other people, you will need to set up your network to allow this.
Windows 10 initially supported HomeGroup, the method of sharing files used by Windows 7. However, HomeGroup is no longer available although you may see it listed as you make the necessary changes to view files and folders across your network.
The easiest method to share specific files, folders or drives (be careful with this one) is Simple Sharing. Ensure that you have allowed Private Sharing (go to Network & Internet in Settings and select Sharing Options to make sure Network Discovery and File & Printer Sharing are turned on in Private Network then choose the Media Streaming Options under All Networks).
Now you can right-click on a file or folder, select Give Access To and choose Specific People (ignoring HomeGroup). You can click the arrow to add Everyone (recommended for most users on private networks) then choose either Read or Read/Write for the Permission Level then click on Share to complete the process.
- Read provides the ability for everyone on your network to read documents or play videos or music in the shared folder.
- Read/Write provides the ability to edit or delete the contents of the shared folder, so you'll want to be careful with that one or your kids might delete an important document.
You may need to restart all your computers before the settings are visible.
Adding Windows Credentials
I also had to go into the Control Panel and add the credentials for the other computer(s) on the network. In the following I assume that the networked computer is Main-PC and the user is Joe:
- Open Control Panel
- Search for “Manage Windows Credentials”
- Under Windows Credentials, click on Add a Windows credential.
The following dialogue box appears:
Enter the following information (based upon our example system and user noted above):
- Enter the network address in the first box (e.g. Main-PC)
- Enter the user name in the second box (e.g. Joe)
- Enter the user's computer password in the third box (i.e. Joe's password).
Be sure that you pay attention to how you enter these. Network addresses and user names are case sensitive.
When you've completed this for each computer that you want to access over your network, you should be able to see whatever files are being shared on that computer by that user. Unshared files will not be visible. Try rebooting all the affected computers if you still cannot see the shared files and folders.
You can open File Explorer then replace the text in the address bar with \\localhost to see a list of shared items on your computer.
Online Networking Resources
- Share your network printer.
- Share files in File Explorer.
- Changes to file sharing over a network in Windows 10 describes the removal of HomeGroup and how to share files now that it is gone.
- Share files in File Explorer.
- File sharing over a network in Windows 10 (YouTube).
Privacy is too often misunderstood and many people have bought into the “I have nothing to hide” mantra. Remember, the corporations and governments culling this information use anti-hacking laws to jail people that return the favour.
Like many tech companies, Microsoft gathers certain information about you—what you do in Windows and on the web, how and where you use your devices, and what type of content and data you access. — PCMag
Most people end up not really caring about such corporate spying because they don't understand the harm, but enough do where it becomes an additional justification to stay away. —InfoWorld
Your Microsoft Account Tracks You
Microsoft requires a Microsoft account for access to the Microsoft Store and for other services like playing games in Xbox.
This requires that you accept the Microsoft Services Agreement, a 12,000-word document where you essentially agree to give up your privacy.
Even the “free” Microsoft Solitaire Collection entices you with the following if don't sign in (play as a guest):
By signing in with a Microsoft Account, you earn Xbox Live Achievements, view Leaderboards, and save your game data in the cloud. Are you sure?
You can allow a family member or other user to use your computer with assigned access. They need to sign in with their Microsoft Account which provides access to their own data (assuming the user's data is in the cloud or on a removable device attached to your device).
Even if this isn't a big deal to you, Microsoft is still using your bandwidth to upload all this telemetry data.
Don't believe what Microsoft tells you — Windows 10 is not an operating system. Oh, sure, it has many features that make it look like an operating system, but in reality it is nothing more than a vehicle for advertisements. — BetaNews
Continuing cash flow for Microsoft is an obvious plus and consumers will always get the latest and greatest without making a major purchase.
Like mobile phone contracts, it assumes that you'll gladly trade in your computer every two or three years and that you're willing to sacrifice your privacy for very little in return.
Free Apps Now “Freemium”
Many of the Microsoft Windows 10 apps could more accurately be called “freemium” rather than free. Advertising is built into the Microsoft Solitaire, News, Money and Weather and other apps.
Cortana ramps up Bing's market share with every search you make. OneDrive backs up everything to the cloud, and of course you can buy more storage space if you need it.
The Video, Groove Music, and Xbox apps encourage entertainment purchases through Microsoft.
The new Edge browser and the very operating system itself track you to serve targeted ads. The free Office apps encourage paid Office 365 subscriptions to unlock full functionality.
Underneath it all, the Windows Store is the repository for all of Microsoft's vaunted universal apps (and plenty of other things to buy).
Significant Privacy Issues
The fact that Windows 10 collects a lot of personal information has significant privacy issues, particularly in how your private information is used.
Privacy is a basic human need and has nothing to do with having something to hide.
Unlike an erroneous credit card purchase, you can't simply undo the loss of privacy information. Once it is collected, it is extremely unlikely that it can be expunged.
Microsoft has been reluctant to get too specific about the sorts of data it collects and the mechanisms used. Maybe they have something to hide.
Here's what one source says Microsoft collects:
- Search queries submitted to Bing
- A voice command to Cortana
- Private communications including email content
- Information from a document uploaded to OneDrive
- Requests to Microsoft for support
- Error reports
- Information gathered from cookies
- Data collected from third parties
Default Settings Turn Everything On
If you purchased a computer with Windows 10 pre-installed or chose the default options when installing Windows 10 then chances are every privacy protection is disabled by default.
The alternatives are displayed second and warn you that you'll lose some functionality.
More than once when updating Windows 10 (now mandatory) these low-privacy defaults have been restored along with restoring the Microsoft apps as default rather than your chosen (and probably safer) alternatives.
Remember, Microsoft is planning on making money the same way Gmail and other free Webmail vendors do — by culling and marketing your profile to advertisers.
Details are Sketchy
Because the details of what is collected and under which conditions it is used, there has been a lot of speculation running from “its what everyone else is doing” to “they vacuum up every detail about you.”
Whether or not you might be considered a “privacy nut,” this should alarm you at least a little. Windows 10 opts you into a number of iffy tracking features by default, and it's up to you to go in and opt out. — BGR
With Windows 10, Microsoft has failed to be completely transparent with users about just what is going on in the background. Sure, the information is out there, but it is hidden away, difficult to interpret, and — let's face it — not something that the vast majority of people are going to spend the time to hunt down and digest. — BetaNews
[Windows 10] is fundamentally insecure and scoffs at privacy, Windows is an open window onto you. — The Free Software Foundation
Here's a non-exhaustive list of data sent back: location data, text input, voice input, touch input, webpages you visit, and telemetry data regarding your general usage of your computer, including which programs you run and for how long. — Electronic Frontier Foundation
But Perhaps Improving
More recently, Microsoft has tried to be more forthcoming with Privacy at Microsoft and Windows 10 and Your Online Services. These pages indicate how Windows 10 collects information and what it is used for.
But European Union privacy watchdogs say Windows 10 settings still raise concerns:
Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes. Without such information, consent cannot be informed, and therefore, not valid. — European Union privacy watchdogs
I suspect that the data you share online and keep in your OneDrive is more vulnerable to this, but Windows 10 is a “mobile-first, cloud-first” operating system and will try to store information there first.
By default, Microsoft sets all the privacy settings to ON, collecting everything and allowing apps to have access to your contacts, mail and more.
- Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are spying on you — here is the proof!
- Windows 10 stores data on app use even if you disable activity history.
- Is Windows 10 still telling Microsoft what you're doing even if you don't want it to?
- 5 privacy settings you should change in Windows 10.
Microsoft doesn't necessarily retain your privacy choices when installing updates.
Spybot Anti-Beacon allows you to make significant choices about your Windows 10 privacy settings including many that are hidden or not easily altered. It immunizes your computer so you can check then reset your privacy settings after rebooting your computer (particularly after a Windows Update).
Microsoft has begun to respond to these issues. On January 10, 2017 a new web-based privacy dashboard was released where you could manage your browse data, clear your search history on Bing, review and clear your location data and edit Cortana knows about you.
We want you to be informed about and in control of your data, which is why we're working hard on these settings and controls. And regardless of your data collection choices, we will not use the contents of your email, chat, files, or pictures to target ads to you. — Microsoft Blog
The following articles shed more light on Microsoft's data collection:
- With Windows 10, Microsoft blatantly disregards user choice and privacy — Electronic Frontier Foundation.
- Windows 10 personal data collection is excessive, French privacy watchdog warns.
- 30 ways your Windows 10 computer phones home to Microsoft.
- Microsoft's Windows 10 and privacy.
- Even when told not to, Windows 10 just can't stop talking to Microsoft.
- The real price of Windows 10 is your privacy.
- Windows 10: How much of my personal information can Microsoft access?
Microsoft Not Alone
It is likely that much of this information is already collected on your mobile device under your current terms of service.
Corporations have taken advantage of our ignorance to gather our personal information for profit. Many ask for access to your contacts, even if there is no functional reason to do so (flashlight apps in Apple's iOS are an example).
We Didn't Complain
It is partly our own fault for blindly accepting the sorts of privacy invasions that Facebook, Gmail and other services extort as the price for their “free” products.
Information on PCs More Sensitive
However, many of us keep much more critical and private information on our PCs than on our mobile devices. As such, leaks can have much more serious repercussions.
Governments Also to Blame
To their credit, Microsoft successfully fought the U.S. government's attempts to obtain non-U.S. customer data stored off-shore in Ireland. This may have had more to do with meeting tougher European privacy rules than protecting North American customers. However, there is much pressure world-wide to gather information stored on computers located outside the government's control.
Whatever you allow Microsoft to store or process for you may be provided to the government. The vetting process (i.e. court order requirements) are often circumvented or simply rubber stamped by a secret court. Even Congress has no real knowledge of how the process works and what is actually being collected by their spy agencies.
Cortana: Your Personal Assistant
Cortana, like Siri and Google Now, is a surprisingly effective virtual assistant.
However, accuracy comes at a price — your privacy.
Accuracy requires a lot of very personal information about your calendar, contacts, habits, relationships, current location, likes, dislikes, etc. If you're signed into your Microsoft Account (anything but a local account), then nothing is anonymous.
Cortana's built from the ground up to get you using Bing — even if you aren't aware you're doing so — and to create a remarkably detailed profile about you for Microsoft. — PCWorld
Changing Privacy Settings
So how do you protect your privacy in Windows 10?
One of the first things you'll want to do is to make changes to the default settings. Some of these settings are chosen during the installation process. The others can be modified.
You might not be able to control all the privacy settings but you should reset the ones that you can.
As with Facebook, updates to Windows 10 may change the way you control privacy or even undo privacy choices you've made in the past.
Open Settings (look under Start) and click on Privacy. You'll want to turn off at least these two privacy settings (click on Privacy in Settings):
- The advertising ID is a unique identifier that helps to provide “personalized” ads (i.e. ads that are based upon sites you've visited, etc.). You're more likely to click on personalized ads than random ads.
- The “about how I write” allows Microsoft to track your keystrokes.
You'll also want to click on the “Manage my Microsoft advertising and other personalization info” link and look at the settings for each of the browsers installed on your Windows 10 computer to change those privacy settings.
By default, Microsoft will obtain Windows Updates not just from their servers but can also share them from other computers on your network or the Internet. The latter is not a good idea from a security point of view.
- Click on Settings then open Updates & Security.
- Click on Advanced Options then Choose How Updates are Delivered.
- Turn off Updates from more than one place.
If you're using wireless you can also limit the downloads of Updates by indicating that you're on a metered connection. This won't work for LAN (non-wireless) connections.
Cortana requires a lot of personal information to be most effective, but it comes at a cost. Taming Cortana became harder after the Anniversary Update.
The data you provide will be used to personalize advertising. The term “personalize” is a euphemism for profiling. This data will make it more likely that you'll click on ads (and your personal profile data can be sold to others).
Change Cortana's settings to reduce what you provide or turn it off altogether.
- How to share more (or less) personal data with Cortana.
- How to Fix the Most Annoying Things in Windows 10— 9. Kill Cortana Dead. This involves editing the Windows Registry. See warnings.
Other Privacy Guides
The following articles provide more information about restoring some of your privacy:
- How to disable Windows 10 data collection.
- How to reclaim your privacy in Windows 10, piece by piece.
- Fixing Windows 10's privacy problems.
- How to reclaim your privacy in Windows 10, piece by piece.
- The Windows 10 privacy settings you need to change right now.
- How to stop Windows 10's prying eyes.
- How to secure Windows 10: The paranoid's guide.
- Windows 10 doesn't offer much privacy by default: Here's how to fix it.
- Digging into and understanding Windows 10's privacy settings.
- How to configure Windows 10 to protect your privacy.
- Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do: here's how to opt out.
- Want Windows 10 to stop tracking you? Now there's an app for that.
These Microsoft sites offer insight into setting privacy preferences:
A Local Account Helps to Preserve Privacy
I'd recommend that you can sign in with a local account unless you need to move your work between multiple devices (and have considered the privacy implications).
I'm seeing security warnings based upon the fact that my main computers are not signed into my Microsoft account and am not sure what the implications are yet.
Should you use a local or a Microsoft account in Windows 10? is a tutorial that can help you evaluate your choices.
A local account limits or removes many of the capabilities of Windows 10 including personalized searches, effective use of Cortana and the ability to continue your current work on another device even if the data is stored in the cloud.
You will probably find that you don't need all these features but you will better preserve your privacy.
Microsoft tells you how to create a secondary Local Account (one in addition to your Microsoft Account) but that still leaves you vulnerable, at least when logged into the Microsoft Account.
- Windows 10 doesn't make it easy or obvious to create a secondary local account, but all it really takes is looking for the fine print (PCWorld).
- How to make your Windows 10 user account local (PCWorld).
- How to create a local account in Windows 10 (PCWorld).
- Create a local account In Windows 10.
To preserve your privacy you'll need to do a clean install with only a local account after you've obtained your Windows 10 upgrade.
- Install Windows 10 with a local account.
- How to set up a local account in Windows 10 during or after installation.
After Microsoft's “Scroogled” campaign, they proceeded to do exactly what they accused Goggle of doing.
As invasive as it is, Microsoft does allow Windows 10 users to opt out of all of the features that might be considered invasions of privacy. Of course, users are opted in by default, which is more than a little disconcerting…. — BGR
Google Also Ignores Your Privacy
If you have a Gmail account and use Google Chrome as your default browser, then you've already given up much of your privacy, particularly if you're signed into your Google Account while browsing.
Remember, unlike Gmail and similar services where you're exchanging your information for a free service, Windows 10 is NOT free. Even if you took advantage of the “free” upgrade from Windows 7 or 8.1 you'd already paid for those versions of Windows even if it was included in the purchase price of your computer.
Your Data “In the Cloud”
Apps like Mail and Calendar can access other cloud services like your iCloud or Gmail accounts.
The Nature of Mobile Access
Microsoft is responding to the demand for “anywhere, any time, any device” access but will benefit greatly by monetizing the data they'll collect as a result.
Cloud based information is accessible from anywhere with anyone having your login credentials. More significantly, once data is in the cloud you no longer completely control what happens to your personal information or how it is used.
You should also be aware of issues with security when using free WiFi unless you're using a VPN (more about VPNs). Windows 10 now has a VPN button in the Action Center that appears when you click the Notifications button.
The companies collecting your personal data paid little or nothing for it, so they are unwilling to spend much on securing your data — certainly not what they spend protecting their own data. This won't change until the cost of being hacked is more than the cost of the necessary security upgrades.
Windows 10 Security
Windows 10 is touted as the most secure Windows yet.
Better Security at What Price?
Microsoft boasts that Windows 10 is the most secure ever, but part of that may be its ability to know exactly what is running on your computer — your applications and data.
Data Collection Disturbing
The sort of information that Microsoft collects is disturbing and can be shared with “unnamed partners” according to the Microsoft Services Agreement.
Microsoft is collecting user account information, credit card details and passwords following the installation of Windows 10, according to an updated privacy statement. — The Telegraph
- Debloat Windows 10 shows you how to remove telemetry, which is unnecessary and drains system resources.
“Trusted Partners” Unnamed
Who are the unnamed “trusted partners” referred to by Microsoft?
- How Windows 10 data collection trades privacy for security.
- U.S. agencies said to swap data with thousands of firms.
- The Free Software Foundation's statement on Windows 10.
- Microsoft's new small print — how your personal data is (ab)used (June 17, 2015).
You Need a Security Suit
Antivirus programs are no longer sufficient. You need a suite of security products to protect your computers and devices from the blended threats present today.
After many years of substandard protection, Windows Defender now provides sufficient protection for many users.
After years of lagging behind competitors, Microsoft Windows Defender has earned a coveted AV-Test "Top Product" award. The free, built-in antivirus software in Windows 10 performs just as well as — or even better than — many of its paid competitors. Your Windows PC can now repel the vast majority of malware threats right out of the box. — Tom's Hardware
While Windows Defender now provides excellent protection for home users right out of the box, I still prefer the comprehensive protection and privacy offered by ZoneAlarm Extreme.
Continual (non-optional) updates greatly improve overall security but can also force updates that are undesirable because the engineers at Microsoft count on a uniform platform in a Windows as a Service environment.
Windows 10 may even evolve to have undesirable features without your permission.
Potential Problems with This Model
Because Windows 10 Updates are an all-or-nothing deal, there are a couple of problems.
- Microsoft has released disastrous updates in the past (even on Windows 10 — consider the cases of loss of personal data following the October 2018 Update).
- A bad update cannot be singled out for removal. You can't uninstall only one update component from the monthly updates.
- Major updates can take considerable time to download and install. If this happens in the middle of your workday or an important project that could be much more than inconvenient. Even though your settings determine when the computer restarts, the download and installation can affect your computer's performance.
- Microsoft insists on restoring their apps as defaults after some major updates. Not cool. Users wanting to use third party apps should be free to do so unless there is a verified security risk in doing so (in which case Microsoft should disable the app and provide information about the vulnerability). If a simple update fixes the problem, there is no need to uninstall or disable the third-party app.
- Granted, apps available in the Microsoft Store can be vetted much easier than those downloaded from the Internet, but not everything is available that way.
You can use System Restore to recover from a bad update, but you'll have to turn on System Restore in Windows 10 before that happens.
Ability to Delay Updates
Depending upon the version of Windows 10 you have and on changes brought about by the major updates, Windows may allow you to delay updates for up to a year. Delay longer than that and you risk having your computer or device labelled as no longer supported.
Complex Passwords Necessary
Because the Microsoft ID is an online login ID, a very long, random and complex password is necessary.
This makes logging in prone to “fat finger” errors. The option to reveal what you've typed can guard against entry errors but doesn't help your memory.
The PIN Option
Thankfully, an option to use a 4-digit PIN is available. The PIN only works on the current device (it is not a universal replacement for your password).
Hello's Biometric Verification
Windows Hello provides a secure method of replacing passwords with biometric verification — provided you have the supporting hardware.
Unfortunately, that hardware was rare on consumer-class computers at Windows 10 launch except for Microsoft's Surface machines. Newer hardware is appearing and that capability is much more common now.
Microsoft is requiring two-factor verification when accessing certain information from your Microsoft Account such as:
- when doing a clean install and registering it to your Microsoft ID;
- when making changes to your Microsoft ID; or
- any suspicious activity leads Microsoft to believe someone else might be using the computer or signed into your account.
The two-factor verification includes options to email or text special codes to an already-registered email address or phone number for your Microsoft Account.
Two-factor verification is only available when signed in with your Microsoft Account (but not to Local Accounts).
See About two-step verification for more information.
Protecting Your PC
Learn more about protecting your PC while running Windows 10.
- Microsoft's Protect Your PC.
- Windows 10: three security features to know about.
- The Windows 10 security guide: How to safeguard your business.