Microsoft has a communications problem

Martin Brinkmann
Aug 21, 2015
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Microsoft

When Microsoft announced that Windows 10 would be freely available for a year, one focus of the discussion that ensued afterwards concentrated on the company's attempt to lure users with the free offer to introduce subscriptions later on.

The whole drama could have been avoided with a simple clarification but it took Microsoft months to get a statement out that clarified the issue. Up to this day, comments are being made that Windows 10 is not really free and that users will have to pay for the operating system after the first year.

The next big thing that blew up in Microsoft's face was a revised end user license agreement (EULA). In it, Microsoft reserved the right to block counterfeit games and disable unauthorized hardware.

The EULA went viral and many sites reported that Microsoft had added a killswitch to Windows 10 that allowed the company to block pirated games on systems running the operating system.

It is still widely debated if that is the case and whether Microsoft will make use of it. The company could put an end to this easily by issuing a simple statement that clarifies the issue.

The third PR nightmare is just around the corner. Microsoft released the third cumulative update for Windows 10 recently. Unlike before, it did not reveal what changed in it but used the ambiguous "This update includes improvements to enhance the functionality of Windows 10" instead.

windows cumulative update

The Register wanted to know more about it and received word from Microsoft that it won't post relevant KB articles for all updates that it delivers with Windows as a service.

It is a tough nut to swallow for privacy or security conscious users as well as business customers, especially when you consider that updates may break systems and Windows 10's incredible hunger for telemetry data.

The change will be reported widely and it is likely that at least some reports will criticize Microsoft heavily for it.

Better communication

Microsoft should have realized by now that everything it says, or not says, will be analyzed in detail. Some users will pick the most negative interpretation and run with it while others may be confused instead.

The effect of being tight-lipped is that negative comments spread even if they are not true. While Microsoft may not see this as overly dramatic or problematic, it does paint the company in a bad light.

While some criticism is certainly justified, part of it could have been avoided easily by the company.

Microsoft is not the only company that could do better PR-wise. Mozilla for instance falls into the trap occasionally as well.

Microsoft has a communications problem
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Microsoft has a communications problem
A look at recent communication-related issues and Microsoft's reaction, or lack of reaction.

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  1. Dave said on August 24, 2015 at 10:09 pm

    Martin could you do a feature on how Windows 8 compares to Windows 10 for cautious users who may be looking to upgrade from 7? I’m sceptical about 10 for now, so is 8.1 OK? Does it spy on me? Why is it banned by some governments?

    And if I upgrade my unused 8 licence to 10, do I have to use 10 or can I roll-back to 8.1 effectively giving me an anytime upgrade for 10 in the future? 8 seems to be the sweetspot right now, once you turn off all the new stuff. It even has Media Centre :)

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 24, 2015 at 10:20 pm

      Dave, there is nothing wrong with using Windows 7 until MS stops supporting it (in 2020).

      If you upgrade from 8.1 to 10, you have 30 days to go back and keep the 8.1 license, if you don’t, it is gone.

      1. kalmly said on August 25, 2015 at 8:07 pm

        And you can use it whether Microsoft supports it or not.

  2. Ann said on August 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm


    Mother, do you think they’ll drop the bomb?
    Mother, do you think they’ll like this song?
    Mother, do you think they’ll try to break my balls?
    Ooooh aah, mother, should I build a wall?

    Mother, should I run for president?
    Mother, should I trust the government?
    Mother, will they put me in the firing line?
    Ooooh aah, is it just a waste of time?

    Hush now, baby, baby, don’t you cry
    Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
    Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
    Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
    She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
    Mama’s gonna keep baby cosy and warm

    Ooooh, babe, ooooh, babe, ooooh, babe
    Of course Mama’s gonna help build the wall

    Mother, do you think she’s good enough for me?
    Mother, do you think she’s dangerous to me?
    Mother, will she tear your little boy apart?
    Oooh aah, mother, will she break my heart?

    Hush now, baby, baby, don’t you cry
    Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you
    Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through
    Mama’s gonna wait up till you get in
    Mama will always find out where you’ve been
    Mamma’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean

    Ooooh, babe, ooooh, babe, ooooh, babe
    You’ll always be a baby to me

    Mother, did it need to be so high?

  3. marc klink said on August 23, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    What nearly every commenting person, the majority of the press, and anyone else rendering an opinion seems to be unaware of is that Microsoft is purposefully being obtuse, it is PRECISELY what they wish, so as to give wiggle room, if needs be.

  4. bawldiggle said on August 23, 2015 at 8:56 am

    … and then there is Linux ,.,

  5. kalmly said on August 22, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Sadly, (IMO), the vast majority of people will simply jump on 10 because it is the NEW thing, because it is FREE, and because they’ve already been indoctrinated.

    I don’t think Microsoft’s PR people are idiots. I think they are doing exactly what the company wants them to do. Like politicians, they hem and haw, and mislead, and skirt around the issues. Why don’t you get it people, MS doesn’t want you to know what they are doing. They are playing Mother May I, sneaking up on you, taking more and more control of your computers. When you scream loudly, they stop moving forward momentarily. “No, no. No plan to charge subscription fees. No, no, that little service is just there for your convenience.” And when you look away, they take another step. You are being assimilated.

    Sadder yet, what mariustm said above is absolutely true. They can do whatever the d*mn h*ll they want and, there is no decent alternative. My heart is broken. I did so love Windows when it was mine to do with what I chose.

  6. mariustm said on August 22, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    What a bunch of whining over something that’s pretty clearly stated in the EULA,Microsoft reserves it’s right to terminate pirated games from the Store and installs on forbidden hardware,is it’s own OS and can do what ever the f**k it wants,don’t like it change the product…oh I’m sorry the majority of PC games won’t run on other alternative OS’es,the majority of good commercial software won’t run on other alternative OS’es,the majority of hardware won’t run,or run wonky on other alternative OS’es,tough luck;”guess we’ll continue whining some more cause if Windows is cheaper like 8 it’s no good ,if 10 it’s free,again no good” geez you internet spoiled brats are never happy!

    1. hirobo said on August 24, 2015 at 7:23 pm

      Lol, this is clearly targetted at XBox1 where piracy is a real threat. So what if you can’t play the most popular games on a Windows system (XB1). There are other alternatives like the PS4…

  7. Trevor said on August 22, 2015 at 4:47 am

    Microsoft’s “killswitch” is for pirated games and apps from the Windows Store. Not programs that you download from the net.

    1. Corky said on August 22, 2015 at 9:32 am

      Again showing Microsoft’s poor communication skills, other than the Microsoft Service Agreement we also have the following statement,,,
      “The Microsoft Services Agreement allows Microsoft to change or discontinue certain apps or content where we deem your security is at risk,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement provided to GamesBeat. “This section of the Microsoft Services Agreement is consistent with language in former Terms of Use agreements, which carried over with the introduction of the unified services agreement on August 1. Software that is pirated or botted places the safety and security of our customers at risk, including a higher risk of malware, fraud, public exposure of personal information, and poor performance or feature malfunction. We remain committed to protecting our customers from the risks of non-genuine software and protecting the intellectual property of developers of all types of content.”

      As you can see Microsoft have failed (again) to specify what the Microsoft Services Agreement does NOT apply to, we know it applies to the services that are listed at the end of the MSA, but does that mean the MSA also applies to software that come bundled with those services? Such as windows 10.

  8. Maou said on August 21, 2015 at 10:20 pm

    Micro$oft should fire their entire PR department, it’s almost like they are not from this planet.

    1. Flyer said on August 22, 2015 at 1:16 am

      LOL, definitely not. It is the company strategy. People get the system for free it means many people d/l and install the new system without thinking is it needed for them indeed. Updates are obligatory and can’t be switched off (in the pro version they can be delayed but honestly nobody knows yet what is going on in the background) plus nobody knows what is inside. There are found many controversial privacy issues and I am sure it is just the beginning. If you put all these things together conclusion seems to be clear I suppose ;)
      Anyway it is funny to see how the mirage of free Windows makes people blind.

      1. Nebulus said on August 22, 2015 at 9:27 am

        I really don’t understand why people see Win10 as being free… Yes, there is the partially free upgrade (but only from 7 and 8.1, not XP for instance), but if I don’t own Windows there is no free Win10…

  9. louis said on August 21, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    I have been saying this forever. Thank for finally writing this article. At least I know now that someone else notices.

    Microsoft, or rather, the people who communicate on the company’s behalf, have never been able to express themselves in a proper manner. It’s as though they are suffering from some mental block. Almost every time someone makes an announcement I am flabbergasted at their ability to make a mess out of the simplest thing. It’s quite sad to see this from one of the World’s biggest corporations.

  10. Jeff said on August 21, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    This is why you don’t jump in head first on a new OS, even if it’s “free”. Especially in this day & age where privacy is being eradicated at every turn.

    1. Tim said on August 21, 2015 at 9:11 pm

      I think someone from Microsoft has been reading ‘Sycamore’ by Craig A. Falconer and using it as an instruction manual, oblivious to the fact it’s actually a Dystopian novel.

      1. Hy said on August 22, 2015 at 3:41 am


        Thanks for the book tip! I’m on it…

    2. BeeMer said on August 21, 2015 at 7:38 pm

      It won’t be free and is already right now [not wait for a year], rammed into your face and on the Hard drive under the guise of their flood of PATCHES. MS already has privacy totally eradicated with No.10.(The last one needed as always stated) It appears Redmond believe 80% of their “customers?” won’t notice. And here we thought Balmer was arrogant.
      And Martin: there was no communication possible, as it took their legaleese team until the 17th. instant to finalize the stranglehold.

  11. Adithya FRK said on August 21, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Wow windows 10 and Microsoft is indeed getting better this week.
    Do they want my door keys to make sure it is gong on well?

  12. Gonzo said on August 21, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    This isn’t surprising. Their KB descriptions have always been vague and communication has always been bad (remember Vista?).

    Is IT expected to run an Insider build just to play whack-a-mole later? The Windows lure was that is was unchanging with a long support cycle.

    I expected MS to truly differentiate their Enterprise version like RHEL does with Fedora. Use the consumers as QA to deliver a stable product to their Enterprise customers. I honestly don’t understand what MS is doing.

  13. DontHateTheDinosaur said on August 21, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    This jab at Mozilla was uncalled for! Mozilla is the best at releasing changelogs and it has a public bug tracker!

    For example, here are the release notes for “humans”:

    And here are all the “bugs” (which may be real bugs or new features) fixed for those releases (there is a link on the release notes):

    Mozilla is actually the gold standard on how release notes and bug reports should be handled!

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on August 21, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      I agree with what you said and my “jab” referred to PR in general, e.g. making it clearer to users what something does and its impact (e.g. the sponsored tiles/advertising/tracking controversy).

  14. Corky said on August 21, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    It could be me or Microsoft, maybe I’ve missed it or have Microsoft not yet stated HOW you transfer Windows 10 to different hardware that was upgraded from a retail copy of Windows 7/8.1 after the first year “free” upgrade period.

    AFAIK We’re told an upgraded retail license remains a retail license for Windows 10, along with the right to transfer that license to different hardware, but unless I’m missing something they still haven’t said HOW that would be done after the 29th of July 2016.

    1. Corky said on August 22, 2015 at 3:58 am

      Thanks for the answers Decent60 and seeprime :)

      That you’ve both come up with two different answers kind of proves my point on how Microsoft have failed to communicate to the public how the transfer of an upgraded retail Windows 10 is handled after 29th of July 2016, one of you says phone them to get a new activation code, the other says it can’t be done.

      1. Corky said on August 22, 2015 at 3:53 pm

        Don’t take what I said as disagreeing, it was intended to highlight the communications problem Microsoft seems to be having, that you (seeprime) is having to tell people how it works just goes to show how poor things have become, it should be Microsoft telling people, not Microsoft partners, MVP’s on Microsoft support forums, or any other person.

        Without official answers from Microsoft anything anyone says, even if it’s Gabe aul via Twitter, opens up what they say to both interpretation and doubt.

      2. seeprime said on August 22, 2015 at 1:03 pm

        Corky: I’m a Microsoft partner. The information I shared was provided during a Windows 10 webinar for partners the week before Windows 10 was generally released. I suggest that you try it for yourself to see if the answer is yes you can move the free upgrade to new hardware, or no the activated upgrade is tied to the motherboard used at the time of the upgrade.

    2. seeprime said on August 21, 2015 at 9:07 pm

      Your free upgrade uses a newer technology called hardware based digital entitlement that saves a hash of your motherboard info on Microsoft servers. The upgrade is tied to your motherboard. You can clean install Windows 10 on a PC that previously had an activated upgrade to Windows 10, and it will automatically update when you’re online. But, you cannot move the license as it is tied to specific hardware. Change the motherboard and you must pay for a new license of Windows 10. Or, if it’s before July 28, 2016, reinstall your original OS and get the free upgrade again. The free upgrade cannot be moved to a different machine unless you also moved the motherboard. A paid for OEM or Retail Windows 10 with a product key sticker can be reactivated just like Windows 7, with a call.

    3. Decent60 said on August 21, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      KInda like how it was done with Windows 7 Upgrade to Windows 8….you call them, they’ll unlock the the OS from being registered to that PC and issue you a “new” activation code.

  15. Spiff said on August 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    And don’t forget this fourth nightmare:
    Users that did not ‘reserve’ the upgrade to Windows 10, nevertheless automatically get more than 5 GB Windows 10 setup files in C:\$Windows.~BT as a silent push download, and Windows Update update history shows failed silent attempts to upgrade to Windows 10!
    Again, this is on computers on which the upgrade to Windows 10 was never reserved!
    Requisite seems to be that in Windows Update “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates” is checked (which is default). And changing the setting “Install updates automatically” (default) to “Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them” will stop the records in update history of silent attempts to upgrade to Windows 10.
    There is information here:
    And there is my extensive thread in Dutch, here:
    Luckily for Microsoft, there seems to be not a lot of attention to that forced Windows 10 upgrade push download issue.

    1. Anonymous said on August 21, 2015 at 5:58 pm

      It’s not the first time they forced through an update. They reportedly did the same with the smaller upgrade from Win 8 to 8.1 last year. They can’t be relied upon to respect the end-user’s choice.

  16. Nebulus said on August 21, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    So basically, Microsoft wants to know everything about their users (see telemetry data) but they want to give nothing in return (not even information about their own product). This is getting better and better!

    1. fokka said on August 22, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      nothing, except an entire operating system. not that i’m ok with increasing privacy violations, but come on.

    2. Womble said on August 21, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      You have a very back and white way of looking at things.

      1. BMO said on August 23, 2015 at 9:49 am

        Might be black and white but it’s in almost all likeliness, the truth. They’re a corporation with stockholders. They are all that matters to the corporate leadership. They were pushed to increase profits, and collecting as much data as possible about their users is a great and very easy way to do that. Sure, some people will complain, but complaints don’t mean anything to corporate leadership, and the less you tell those people about what you’re doing, the less chance it will turn into a complaint big enough to actually warrant change.

        Micosoft’s problem as far as I see it is they didn’t sneak these features in slowly, over a longer time. Do that and the backlash isn’t even a problem. Kinda like how the NSA did things. People used to be called crazy tin foil hat wearers if they said the government was watching you. Yeah, well, feature creep it in slowly and sneakily enough and no one cares.

      2. Nebulus said on August 21, 2015 at 8:16 pm

        Yes, it happens to me sometimes :)

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