Wade into Windows 10

[Originally published on Slaw.ca, August 25, 2015]

The latest Windows operating system has started rolling out. Unsurprisingly, reactions to its new update method and privacy functions are mixed. If you were on Windows 7 like most lawyers, it will be an easy upgrade and – despite the negative early chatter – worth taking advantage of the free upgrade.

The Upgrade and Updates

If you have any version of Windows other than Enterprise or Windows RT, you can get the new operating system free. You may have been invited to register for a copy, in which case you’ll get a notification e-mail. You can also just grab your own copy and install it yourself.

This latter option – using Microsoft’s Media Creation tool – gives you a copy of the operating system installation files. You’ll need a USB drive with as much as 6 GB on it. Once you have it, you can re-use it on multiple PCs. During an upgrade, the installation will look to see if you already have a product key. If you do a clean install, which wipes out everything on the PC, you may need to have your Windows 7 or 8 product key. It’s often on a sticker on your PC; if it’s not, you might want to write it down and tape it there yourself. I like having the USB available since there’s no other way to get back to Windows 10 if anything unexpected happens.

Automatic updates are part of Windows 10 just as they were in Windows 7 and 8. The difference is that you can no longer opt out. This has caused some issues. In larger law firms, your technical team may select which updates to allow. Most lawyers will not have the technical expertise to determine whether a particular patch or update should be applied.

You may want to tweak the settings a bit, though. A couple of Windows Update settings to change:

  • Turn the Automatic Updates off in favor of Notify to Schedule Restart. You’ll still get the updates but your system won’t reboot until you’re ready for it.
  • Change the Choose How Your Updates are Delivered setting. A modern way of distributing updates takes a feather out of Bittorrent’s hat. Windows 10 updates will be distributed by Microsoft but also from other Windows 10 PCs. This will speed up updating but you may feel more comfortable limiting these other PCs to ones that are on your own internal network.

windows-10-advanced-options-windows-update

Privacy

No-one wants their private information hoovered up and sent off to a third party. This a particular issue for legal professionals with confidential information on their computers. When you install or upgrade to Windows 10, you will be shown a number of privacy settings. These will be new to Windows 7 users but are similar to ones Windows 8 users have seen. There has been some uncertainty about these settings but the hype appears to be overblown.

windows-10-privacy-settings

There are loads of options to review here. It is much more like using a modern phone, both from the number of options and the ability to see them. I appreciate being able to see what the potential privacy problems are. Turning off some will mean you can’t use some services. Cortana, Windows 10’s voice activated personal assistant won’t work without a location.

The Privacy Settings page isn’t the only thing to look at. I ended up going into Windows Firewall and turning off the rules that allowed a whole slew of Microsoft applications to transmit information. I went through the inbound and outbound rules and turned off the applications that I didn’t want sending information.

windows-firewall-microsoft-apps

Another one that you will want to proactively consider is whether you want your operating system user account to be the same as a Microsoft cloud account. If you do, then the default will include synchronizing your system information to the cloud. There are benefits to using cloud file sync but they need to be balanced with professional obligations. I ended up using my Microsoft account since I already use the OneDrive storage and it also gives you single sign on to Microsoft’s online apps, like Word and PowerPoint. A downside is that my Microsoft account password is in my password manager, which I can’t access when Windows is starting up. I’m looking for an alternative like SAASPass for Mac.  [Note:  since I originally wrote this, I discovered that you can turn on a PIN for your Microsoft account so that, in future, when you log in to your machine, you only need the PIN.  It seems less secure.]

Even if you decide to use (or create) a Microsoft account to work with Windows 10, you can disable OneDrive from syncing any folders. First, you can avoid putting any files or folders in the OneDrive folder. Alternatively, you can right-click on the OneDrive icon on the taskbar, go into Settings and proactively uncheck folders you want excluded from synchronization. If you use Dropbox or Box, there are free apps in the Store that you can install.

A Word About Apps

We are all familiar with apps. They work on Windows 10 the same way they work on your phone. One benefit that they offer is the ability to finally get rid of Adobe’s hack-prone Flash plugins. Ideally, you would uninstall Adobe Flash because of its perpetual patching due to security flaws. I did that and found that some services I’d used no longer worked. They weren’t critical and, in balance, it is better to have dropped Flash than to have access to them.

In my case, these services had Windows 10 apps. Like their tablet-based apps, they didn’t rely on Flash to deliver their content. The Windows 10 apps have given me the best of both worlds.

There’s much more to Windows 10 than I have covered here. It’s a positive improvement and small learning curve if you are coming from Windows 7. I’m no more likely to use Microsoft’s Edge browser than I was Internet Explorer, and there’re some hinky aspects (like apps not appearing on the Control Panel uninstall option, but only on the Settings > System > Apps menu). All in all, though, it’s a promising start.