As of July 30th Microsoft officially released Windows 10 to much fanfare. As I blogged before, upgrading to it is only for those who want to live on the bleeding edge. If you are one of those brave people who took the plunge you may have notice some hoopla around this latest Windows desktop release. As with all software there are some benefits and some clear limitations. Personally I see some rather annoying issues in the full release of Windows 10 that I had hoped to be remedied. In most cases, we cannot assume Microsoft will take action to resolve these in the future but one can hope. My focus in this post is to give you insights into how you can remedy them on your own.
To enable Cortana to provide personalized experiences and relevant suggestions, Microsoft collects and uses various types of data, such as your device location, data from your calendar, the apps you use, data from your emails and text messages, who you call, your contacts and how often you interact with them on your device.
Cortana also learns about you by collecting data about how you use your device and other Microsoft services, such as your music, alarm settings, whether the lock screen is on, what you view and purchase, your browse and Bing search history, and more.”
To many this goes a bit far and I have to agree. Privacy is important and users should not have to sell it in order to use their OS. This is far from a new industry trend and very common in with many other software companies but it is not a trend that is encouraging.
One can choose to not use, disable or reconfigure Cortana by going to the Search box and typing Corana home. Hopefully, in the future Microsoft should give users more control over their privacy.
Finally, 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.
Rather than residing as a static software program on your device, key components of Windows are cloud-based. In order to provide this computing experience, we collect data about you, your device, and the way you use Windows.
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.
The statements above are beyond egregious but all to common in our cloud focused computing world Most other cloud providers include similar language that is equally troubling. Users should not assume privacy and if they desire it they need to take steps to assure it. As users we should all embrace encryption technologies (always and everywhere), VPN’s, and if required anonymizing technologies like Tor. A full blown Linux based operating system known as Tails is also an option for those looking for enhanced privacy. There are a multitude of applications which also help improve your privacy stance that run on Windows and elsewhere. There is also a simple open source tool (Windows Tracking Disable Tool) that will help you make these changes. Another impressive freeware tool to tweak Windows 10 privacy (as well as many other) setting is 0&0 Shut Up 10. Shut Up 10 allows you to change your privacy setting, configure your security settings, disable several annoying “features”, control location settings and many other powerful options. GNU Privacy Guard represents a powerful encryption suite to improve the privacy of your communications. Unfortunately Windows 10 is now more in alignment with other cloud providers privacy polices. Alec Meer, Rock Paper Shotgun, says it best: “Microsoft simply aren’t making it clear enough that they’re doing this, how it might affect you and how to opt out – despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand’.
“There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes ‘real transparency’.” I have to agree. These policies need to be more clear and the settings need to be consolidated for easy access moving forward.
Unique Advertising ID/Location
Each Windows 10 install generates a unique advertising ID. This ID can be used by advertising networks or app developers to uniquely track you. Additionally, location services but they reveal your physical location for location aware applications and websites. Both features may seem a bit creepy to most desktop users but they have been standard fare for smartphones everywhere for years.
Turn both of these features off. Go to Settings >> Privacy General and Setting >> Privacy >> Location.
Lack of Key Applications
Microsoft Windows 10 has revamped some key applications such as Mail, Calendar and Photo (photo editing) to be cleaner and simpler. Noticeably missing from Windows 10 is a video editing application. Additionally, the drive to make these applications work across the Win10 ecosystem on both smartphones, tablets, etc. has dumbed down the interfaces and features. Most UI designers still miss that desktop users want different things than users on mobile devices.
Thankfully a HUGE ecosystem of both commercial and open source software exist to solve this problem. For example for email and calendaring there is Thunderbird and photo editing there is Paint.net, Gimp and Krita. For video editing there supernumerary options which you can explore. All are quality open source solutions and have vibrant solutions around them.
Some of the “free” applications that come with Windows 10 are “free” because they are ad supported. An example of this is the Microsoft Solitaire Collection which displays ads unless you pay a subscription fee of $1.50mth or $10/year. Embedded ads in a OS are unacceptable IMHO and have no place on a desktop of any kind. They blur the line of adware/badware or even malware and have no place existing there. Users should be made aware of the existence of them in simple non legalese and of alternative that they can install.
Don’t use these applications or uninstall them. Purchase commercial applications that serve the same purpose or look for open source applications that fill the same need without any additional cost. PySolFC for example is an open source solitaire alternative. Additionally, there are 1000’s of open source games that are available on Windows that are 100% free and open. Hopefully in the future Microsoft might embrace adding some open source applications to the core of the OS to provide these features at no cost.
Application Marketplace – Store
Windows 10 out of the gate offers little in the form of commonly used desktop applications. The move toward reliance on the Microsoft Marketplace mirrors Apple (App Store), and Google Play marketplace for applications. In theory this is supposed to make buying and installing apps easier but it seems to do the opposite. The limited number of available apps (vs. what is available elsewhere) make for a frustrating experience for users. Most users are already familiar with purchasing applications the old school way & see little benefit to this feature.
Purchase software from reliable software companies that you trust the way you always have. Don’t be limited by the Microsoft marketplace. Additionally, as I said before, look at the supernumerary open source projects on Windows which cost you nothing and often deliver much more than their commercial alternatives.
The Edge browser is the replacement for the notorious Internet Explorer. Edge integrates with both Cortana and offers some nice features such as Web Note it isn’t a browser I’d use or recommend. Firstly it integrates technology from Adobe (Flash and PDF Reader) that make it a juicy target for cybercriminals. Its underpinnings tie to the larger effort to monetize your use of the Internet in any form by tracking you. With the many powerful open source browsers that don’t do this why use Edge.
Use Firefox or Google Chrome. Both are open source an offer a variety of security and privacy options that don’t exist in Edge.
Wifi Network Sharing
Wi-fi Sense (or as I all it Wi-Fi nonsense) is a feature which connects you to suggested Wi-Fi hotspots and networks that your connections and contacts share with you. This feature allows your connections in Facebook, Outlook.com and Skype to share their Wi-fi password and vice versa. Generally I see no value in this feature and only an opportunity for some to mistakenly misuse it. For this reason, I recommend not enabling it.
Disable this by going to Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi > Manage Wi-Fi Settings.
Sync with Your Microsoft Account
A variety of features require a Microsoft account for syncing your data to the cloud. Windows 10 syncs your wallpaper, theme browser settings, passwords and then some. If you are like me these features are of little value so you can turn them off completely.
Disable this by going to Settings > Accounts > Your account. Once there, choose “Sign in with a local account instead.”
Microsoft’s disk encryption solutions Bitlocker come default with all versions of Windows 10. This is good news in general but not a perfect solution in Windows 10 Home edition. In the Home edition your recovery key is synced to your Microsoft Account/OneDrive.
If you are using Windows 10 Home you can use an alternative encryption technology such as the open source VeraCrypt or CipherShed. Additionally a multitude of commercial offerings exist that give you flexibility on how you manage your own key(s) without moving them to somewhere out of your physical control.
Fundamentally, I can see that many of these features and functionality are in alignment with Microsoft’s overall strategy. The goal of unifying windows, the focus on the cloud and the need to monetize with ever smaller margins & great competition are obvious trends. That said, I wish the paid version of Windows 10 were available without these glaring weak points. I’m sure I’m not alone in the desire for more sane privacy defaults and enhanced security.
Hopefully in future releases Microsoft will take to heart user feedback and make some of these changes the default. If not, they should make it easier for user to transparently address these issues with minimized technical hurdles. Simplifying legal agreements, centralizing configuration options
and offering consumer choice would boost my personal opinion on this release. One can only hope. Next time, I’ll review 10 things I actually like about Windows 10. What is your take on 10? Is it a 0 or a perfect 10?