For over a year, Microsoft’s “Get Windows 10” promotion was included as part of the updates served to Windows 7 and 8.1. The GWX.exe application didn’t consume much memory or cause outright problems, but it had a habit of “suggesting” you update that users often found annoying. As the year of free Windows 10 upgrades progressed, the number of people with an axe to grind grew. The app started acting more like malware, and the blowback was bad enough that Microsoft eventually walked back some of its changes.
Now, with the Windows 10 upgrade period officially over, Microsoft is removing the GWX.exe application altogether. A new, optional update (KB3184143) is available to “Remove software related to the Windows 10 free upgrade offer.” The KB article notes that it removes the Get Windows 10 application. The list of removed / updated files is as follows:
All of these previous updates are removed and replaced by KB3184143.
Officially, Windows 10 stopped being free on July 29, 2016. Unofficially, it’s still available. Various sites, including Paul Thurrott‘s, have reported Windows 7 and 8.1 keys are still accepted for update in Windows 10 installations, and the OS remains available to anyone who uses a screen reader or has any type of disability.
Microsoft has steadfastly refused to comment on this unusual loophole, beyond noting that the formal giveaway period has ended. I suspect that’s on purpose — and the ongoing availability is Microsoft’s way of quietly allowing people to upgrade if they want to, without appearing to back off on their one-year commitment.
Microsoft bungled its giveaway by being too aggressive and pushing the operating system at people who undoubtedly didn’t want it. But the company was trying to solve a genuine problem. The PC market has been in decline now for the past five years. No one knows when or if that’s going to change — and Microsoft’s previous business model relied on the idea that people bought new hardware (and were therefore running new versions of Windows) every 3-4 years at most. That’s no longer the case.
Windows 8 was Microsoft’s first attempt to solve this problem. The company attempted to build an OS that would capitalize on the tablet market and provide an upgrade path for the computer users who were moving away from desktops and laptops, but still wanted a familiar Microsoft operating system to take along the way. When Windows 8 failed to spark much interest from the PC users who were otherwise buying Android and iOS devices, it left Redmond facing a grim future. A declining PC market meant fewer and fewer people would be exposed to new products running the latest Microsoft operating system.
Back when Windows XP was new, I upgraded some friends and family to the new operating system specifically as a way of solving incompatibility and instability issues they’d experienced on Win9x operating systems. Contrast with a hypothetical future, circa 2020, in which an end user with an old Windows 7 PC sees iOS 14 or Android 11 with features their desktop or laptop computer lacks. Our hypothetical user “upgrades” to an iOS or Android device without ever realizing Microsoft has offered its own implementation of that feature for the past four years, all because the user was never exposed to that OS in the first place.
I can’t say how much this motivated Microsoft’s decision to give Windows 10 away. But I’d be quite surprised if it didn’t play a role. It may also explain the company’s decision to royally piss off a lot of people with forced updates, as bad an idea as that was. Pushing 350 million devices to Windows 10 helped Microsoft stave off an incipient upgrade problem. Now, with those same millions of people using the same OS with the same update cycle, Microsoft can guarantee features, bug fixes, security updates, and other improvements (and “improvements”) roll out in a more timely and effective manner — that is, once it wins back the goodwill it lost in the process.
Now read: Windows 10: The best hidden features, tips, and tricks