Windows 10 uses customers' computers to distribute updates

A couple of surprises have been found under the bonnet of Microsoft's latest operating system.
Shannon Stapleton

A couple of surprises have been found under the bonnet of Microsoft's latest operating system.

Microsoft has confirmed that people who switch to its latest Windows 10 operating system may find their internet connection is then used to upload Microsoft updates to other Windows 10 users.

Another feature of Windows 10 that has raised red flags with some computer users is the inclusion of advertisements in one of its "native" apps, popular game Solitaire.

The use of "peer-to-peer" technology to help distribute software is controversial, in part because it can push computer users through their broadband data caps.

Microsoft does not appear to advertise the fact that Windows 10 will harness people's internet connections to distribute updates, at no advantage to those users whose bandwidth is being consumed.

Microsoft New Zealand marketing director Frazer Scott said he expected the amount of bandwidth used would be small, but conceded he could not quantify how large the files that might be uploaded from people's computers would be.

United States online music service Spotify also used peer-to-peer technology in the past to distribute music tracks between customers, without making it clear it was doing so, though it stopped the practice last year.

Microsoft has published instructions on how to turn off the feature, which is called Windows Update Delivery Optimization, but Owen Williams, a technology writer at TheNextWeb, criticised the company in a blog for "burying the settings" behind an "advanced options menu" in Windows 10.

Peer-to-peer technology can speed up the distribution of software but also saves organisations that use it money, by taking load off their own servers and putting it on to customers' computers.

Microsoft said Windows 10 would not use Windows Update Delivery Optimization if it detected consumers were using a capped broadband connection. But it has published instructions on how to tell the operating system an internet connection is metered, suggesting that feature is not foolproof.

InternetNZ chief executive Jordan Carter said it appeared to be a good use of peer-to-peer technology but if users were on a slow internet connection, or one with low data caps, they might want to check their Windows 10 settings to ensure they did not run out of data.

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Windows 10 has received generally positive reviews from information technology experts since its launch on Wednesday, supporting the popular adage that every other Windows release is a winner, separated by duds.

Windows XP, 7 and 10 have each been well received, with Vista and Windows 8 broadly criticised.

READ MORE 14 million computers now on Windows 10

The advertisements in Solitaire are believed to be the first time Microsoft has chosen to deliver advertisements through a software application that is included by default with its operating system.

Some commentators have suggested that may be a thin of end of a wedge and that Microsoft might be testing the water with a view to using advertising and the information it collects about people through their use of its software as a major means of monetising its consumer operating system, which is currently being offered as a free upgrade.

Scott downplayed that suggestion. "Is it our objective to monetise consumers' data? 'No' and I think we have been very clear about how we approach privacy and how we give people the right to turn a lot of things off," he said.

"We try to make amazing software; we are not an advertising company and that is not how we approach the business," he said.

 - Stuff

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