Microsoft released the Get Windows 10 upgrade free notification, and was Microsoft’s first “in your face” deployment mechanism for a major operating system upgrade.   It was met with mixed results, from enthusiastic early adopters to people who still haven’t upgraded and were still waiting for the Service Pack 1 to be released first.  The most noise was made by those whose upgrade did not go smoothly, often due to hardware and driver issues (remember, most of the devices weren’t Microsoft hardware).  But then that’s to be expected – how many people yell all over social media that their upgrade is flawless?

On release, the Get Windows 10 GWX icon was coded to not appear on an eligible Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro machines that were joined to a domain (Enterprise versions were also excluded).  In January this year, that all changed.  Now, domain-joined Pro machines will see the Get Windows 10 taskbar icon if they are configured to pull updates directly from the Windows Update service (WSUS & SCCM are still excluded), and the SMB IT Professional community is not happy about it.

If you’re used to managing Microsoft patches in a large Enterprise, you’ll be wondering what the big deal is.  Surely even in a small business (SMB) you’re using WSUS … aren’t you?  How is this different from a botched security patch that you need to block?

Windows 10 Upgrade Free – What the Small Business is Really Thinking?

Turns out things are not quite so simple in SMB land.  Search for “disable WSUS small business server” and you’ll get approximately 354,000 results.  That gives you some indication of just how common it is for WSUS to be disabled in a small business.  Why?

Well, there are two main reasons.   First, WSUS was notoriously problematic on Small Business Server 2003 and it consumed a ton of disk space.   When you have a small amount of machines to look after in one environment, the time you spent wrangling WSUS issues and reclaiming disk space (small business budget = small disks) lead to many people just turning the damn thing off.

The other reason is that many IT Pros in the SMB space look after more than one environment, each with its own requirements.  Every update has to be looked at within the constraints of that one customer and applied or denied to suit … across ALL of your customers. Depending on the polices of your own IT organization, you could be dealing with a mix of patch management solutions across your customer base – no WSUS, WSUS, SCCM or even third party patch management integrated with a remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool.  Yes, that’s a system admin’s nightmare but they’re not always the one in control of the sales process and the on-boarding.

Small Business typically doesn’t have Enterprise Controls

Most small businesses have completely different controls than large enterprises and often will not be as locked down as enterprise environments either.   Reason being is that many small businesses still want the flexibility of their staff being able to install software when they want to and often an SOE doesn’t exist.  Small business leadership and employees easily bring their computing habits from their home to their work desk.  They may feel that if they’ve upgraded to Windows 10 at home then they can just click on the icon at work, right?  After all, it wasn’t that hard to do the upgrade and they won’t need to call the IT guy.  If you do want to put your foot down and remove local install rights then they may pursue another IT provider.

So, when there are not controls in place the next thing you know is that the Windows 10 upgrade has likely installed, it’s suddenly preloading on their small business machines, and they’re maxing out their Internet quota.  Internet quotas are another SMB restriction that can be incurred depending on the country you reside, or the plan your organization chooses.  This creates an even more compelling reason to strongly consider using WSUS.

Ultimately though, the Get Windows 10 frustration is symptomatic of an IT Professional community that is time poor and billable hours driven.   As a consultant the time billed to the customer is usually for resolving a problem or implementing something new, you now have to tell your customer that this time the issue was due to Microsoft turning something on by default that had to be disabled.  It’s really easy for the customer to blame Microsoft for this one.   And I get it, to some extent.   We’re already busy and this has just landed on your to do list across all of your customers.

Would we see the same outcry if this was released by default onto Enterprise machines? Maybe. But hopefully their IT department only has one SOE and one patch management/group policy setup, so it’s not such a big deal to block.

Maybe this is a wakeup call for parts of the SMB IT Pro community who have placed things like WSUS and Group Policy in the “too hard & unnecessary” basket?  If you’ve only ever known the Small Business version of Windows server, some new skills may be necessary for working with the new Microsoft way of deploying updates and changes.

Concluding Thoughts

Being frustrated about the appearance of Get Windows 10 in your domain is understandable, but if the Windows 10 Upgrade free is interesting it may be worth modernizing your desktop. What’s harder to understand is running a domain without the control systems (and skills) in place to block it. If this announcement has forced you to look at your patch management processes across your customer base, that might not be such a bad thing.