Is Windows 10 right for libraries?

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The last week of July Microsoft released Windows 10. This began the countdown clock for the free upgrade for the next year. I’m sure there are a lot of libraries in the process of upgrading. Free certainly is appealing. But is it right? With technology it is best to try and stay up to date as much as possible. My library is in the process of migrating computers to Windows 10 and there are some real pitfalls, points of concern, and annoyances for libraries (and really anyone who manages public access machines). I have long encouraged moving patron/public access computers to Linux. My recent experience of updating machines to Windows 10 has more firmly supported the idea*.

The positive

Windows 10 is visually more appealing. Most of the screens appear more polished and cohesive. The user experience is familiar, so the learning curve is pretty short. Thank goodness the start button is back. Our printers worked right away without any effort, a nice surprise. The Edge browser is a huge improvement over Internet Explorer, though it pretty much looks and behaves like Chrome.

That is about all the positive I can find.

Pitfalls

There are different versions of Windows 10. You can only upgrade your machine to a similar version. If you have Windows 7 Home, then you can only upgrade to Windows 10 Home. This simple change removes flexibility with scheduling updates, and forcing updates when and how Microsoft chooses. For most users this is probably not a problem, but for a library that presents a problem when a patron is using the machine and then gets a notification that the machine is restarting to finish installing updates. This is further complicated if the machine has Deep Freeze causing the machine to go through a cycle of updating and restarting over and over. To gain control over this, you will need Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise, which costs more.

To monetize this OS, Microsoft automatically turns on a lot of services like it’s cloud storage, app store and live tiles. All these things have to be turned off and removed for a public access machine. The last thing you want is Cortana or a live tile to show potentially offensive content in the start menu. In addition Microsoft makes it incredibly difficult to set up local accounts because they prefer a user to sign up for a Microsoft Account. I had to jump through all kinds of backhanded somersaults to setup a local account only to discover you can’t use the Windows Live Family Account Internet filters with a local account, it must be a Microsoft Account with a password. A step I was trying to avoid for library staff who turn the computers on in the morning.

Microsoft is also moving to a subscription based service for Microsoft Office creating an ongoing cost for libraries. I looked at the product page and I could not make heads nor tails out of the pricing. It appears to be based on number of users and machines, though it was very confusing! There is supposed to be a discounted option for schools and libraries, but if it was there I couldn’t find it. If you move to the cloud based service, then each user will need their own Microsoft Account. Not such an easy task if all they want to do is type up a resume 10 minutes before their interview. My solution is to ditch Microsoft Office and install LibreOffice. It will do just about everything the average user will need and will even work with most Microsoft Office templates.

Point of Concern

Privacy. This is a big deal. Microsoft is pretty upfront about how they are snooping on their users. They are keylogging, aggregating user activity, and storing your documents on their servers to be parsed and analyzed. You are automatically opted-in to these supposed services. If you blindly upgrade your machines to Windows 10, you are exposing your patrons to being spied on and their documents automatically backed up to the cloud. This is a big enough concern to turn me permanently away from Microsoft forever.

Here is one video tutorial on how to turn off a lot of this stuff. The only caveat, there is no way to know when or if Microsoft will turn something back on with one of their updates.

Annoyances

Honestly, I could go on for quite a while on the little annoyances I did find. The update system is probably the most annoying. It takes me 30-60 minutes per machine to download and install updates. Almost each update requires restarting the machine. So with deactivating Deep Freeze, download, install, and reactivate Deep Freeze, I’m having to restart the machine about 20 million times while mind numbingly staring at the install wheel. Within 24 hours I’ve had all our machines try to automatically force install updates (even with the option set to notify and schedule first). I spent 2 hours updating all the machines (mind you we only have 5 public access machines) only to receive a notice an hour later that there were more updates to install. <head on desk>

What does the future hold?

In 3-5 years, I’m looking at having to do this all again with our next technology upgrade. I’m fairly certain at that time we are going to ditch the traditional desktop with Windows and go with something else entirely. Windows is just too difficult to maintain and manage in this environment. My experience in the last few weeks has been one constant aggravation and annoyance after another. In fact, it’s been awful. I don’t think I can recommend Windows 10 to anyone for any reason.

I’m watching other libraries. There have been some that have migrated completely to Linux due to cost and privacy concerns. A library in New Hampshire has done this and found the experience for both patrons and staff very promising. Another library is installing Chromeboxes instead of the traditional desktop. While I have some concerns about this as well, the idea of the big bulky boxes going away is appealing, not to mention the ease in management at a lower cost.

*My previous experiment was unquestionably a success. Still, the people in charge make the decision they feel is best for the most users. We’ll see how it goes.