Hey, Microsoft, Enough with the Shady Tactics. Enough.
The company's latest Windows 11 choices expose its hypocrisy, it's high time it comes clean on all fronts
Seemingly learning absolutely nothing from their mistakes during the Windows 11 reveal week — actually even making some new ones — Microsoft executives chose to confuse consumers further in the last 48 hours. On one hand, there’s a long, detailed, vaguely misinforming (look at all those cherry-picked percentages!) anonymous post in the official Windows Insider blog. On the other hand, there’s an official company statement to The Verge that seemingly contradicts the whole point of the post, with some caveats that create even more problems. In any case, the lack of clarity and honesty on Microsoft’s part regarding Windows 11 is yet again infuriating. And the matter has come to a head.
First things first: the actual system requirements a Windows 10-based PC needs to meet in order to be eligible for the free Windows 11 upgrade do not change. Microsoft has added a number of supported CPUs to the list and they are all 7th-gen workstation or server Intel processors (Core-X series or Xeon-W series), while AMD’s first-gen Ryzen processors remain unsupported.
Amazingly Microsoft now includes the Intel Core 7820HQ — yeap, one specific consumer 7th-gen CPU — to the list of supported CPUs because, well, it happens to be the chip that its own expensive Surface Studio 2 computer, still available for purchase, is based on. The nerve of some people.
Want to draw a hard line? Explain why and then stick to it
What’s more important than this self-serving move is that Microsoft keeps doing a terrible job explaining in simple terms why it’s drawing such a hard line at 8th-gen Intel processors and 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen processors with its Windows 11 system requirements (Secure Boot and TPM 1.2 are present in a lot of motherboards much older than these CPUs). Curious consumers have had to figure that out for themselves and answers vary from “virtualization-based security features” to “modern subsystem drivers” to “invulnerability of recent CPUs to exploits used in the Meltdown or Spectre attacks”. But it’s all highly technical, conveniently hazy and Microsoft is acting as if it wants to keep it that way — and that is in itself suspicious.
The thing is that the company is not doing itself any favors by not being transparent. It would have been much better for everyone involved if Microsoft executives had simply stated their case in a clear-cut way from the start: “Look, we want Windows PCs to be secure and, in order to achieve that, we need processors that have this and this and that feature. So Windows 11 requires processors that offer all those features”. That’s it. That is all. Be exact and open about it, let those requirements be evaluated by tech journalists and analysts freely, let them verify this officially supported list independently.
Chances are that very few people would have argued because, well, security and system integrity are absolutely essential. Everyone understands that. But the company would have to draw a hard line and stick to that. Not leave the door open for speculation on its officially supported CPU list. Not let Windows Insiders just install the Windows 11 beta on any old PC. Not make exceptions like the Intel Core 7820HQ one. Inextricably link the new Windows operating system to those requirements and be done with it. There was always bound to be some criticism, but a strong position is defensible. A weak one isn’t.
Unofficial upgrades and support caveats
This brings us to Microsoft’s statement published by The Verge: the company will let people whose PCs do not sport CPUs included in that “whitelist” to actually upgrade to Windows 11 after all. But it will be “unofficial” (just as upgrading a Windows 7/8 PC to Windows 10 today theoretically is). Consumers will also have to do it themselves, meaning that — since the option will not show up in Windows Update — they will have to download the ISO file containing the Windows 11 installer and files, use the Media Creation tool and perform either a “clean install” or an “in-place” upgrade manually.
Microsoft is quick to note, though, that it will not be recommending this route to anyone and that it will not be responsible for any computer malfunction that might ensue during or after an upgrade of this type. Furthermore, the company is openly threatening consumers who take this path that “systems upgraded this way are unsupported PCs that will not be entitled to updates, even security and driver ones”.
This is in and of itself a new problem. So experienced enough people who own older but powerful PCs can upgrade to Windows 11 despite their machines being “unsupported hardware”. Great. But what’s the point of doing that if these upgraded computers do not get the security, driver and feature updates that the officially-supported PCs do in a timely manner? It may be a scare tactic, sure, but it may also be Microsoft pre-emptively washing its hands clean of any responsibility: should any of these updates be broken, it will be consumers’ fault for installing them on an unsupported system in the first place, no? Of course it will.
Never mind the fact that, with this company’s track record, even officially-supported PCs are not safe from problematic updates, but hey. Let’s pretend that the last four or five years never happened, right?
More problems down the road, a time for tough choices
The problem with this “unofficial route” and Microsoft’s “unsupported upgrades” is that it creates the exact opposite of what Microsoft is supposedly trying to achieve with Windows 11: a better-protected, safer computer platform for the future. Will we end up having officially-supported Windows 11 PCs, regularly and properly updated, and unofficially upgraded ones that are… not? If that’s the case, won’t the latter become targets for hackers at some point? Won’t they become a liability in the Windows ecosystem as Windows 7-based PCs are now? Is it ever a good idea to fragment the userbase of a given operating system anyway?
The way Microsoft is handling all of this is not just ineffective, it’s downright insulting. On one hand, it seems as if it’s been trying to please everyone, which in this case is absolutely impossible: in order to make actual progress in security and system integrity, a significant portion of the current active PCs will have to be left behind. There’s no way around it. On the other hand, it seems as if the company wants to strong-arm people into buying new PCs so badly, that it doesn’t mind the PR disaster these shenanigans lead to. This is unacceptable on so many levels, that even people not interested in Windows 11 initially are now furious with Microsoft. Nobody likes to be bullied. Nobody likes to feel manipulated. And this company’s track record of consumer-hostile choices exactly like this one is already shamefully long.
Microsoft, you have made a mess out of the Windows 11 pre-launch period already. Some might say that there’s now no way that you can make things right without drawing the ire of even more people. But you can try. There’s still some time left. Come forward with a clear, provable message that justifies the hard line you chose. Stick to that on all fronts. If meaningful progress is to be made, change is necessary. What is definitely not necessary, is trying to shove change down people’s throats. We’ve had quite enough of that.
Transparency or arrogance, Microsoft. What’s it going to be?