Automatic download of Windows 10 installation files

Last week some started bashing Microsoft for pre-downloading Windows 10 installation files and thus taking up to as much as 6Gb of precious disk space.

There are two main problems cited:

  • small hard drives

For someone using a 2-in-1 with 32GB of flash memory, that's a hefty chunk of their storage being clogged up with an OS that they might not want yet, if at all.

  • metered Internet connections

"I know of two instances where people on metered connections went over their data cap for August because of this unwanted download."

Microsoft responded with a statement saying that

For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade. When the upgrade is ready, the customer will be prompted to install Windows 10 on the device.

With that, let's stop looking for reasons for a rant and consider this from product and engineering perspective. It would not be a huge stretch to say that main driving forces there are:

  • new version is superior to older releases: better UI, improved performance, lots of new features. So, the faster we can get it to more users the better
  • new version it technologically more advanced: better hardware compatibility, improved security, lots of new system infrastructure for the developers to build upon. Again, the more users will have it the lower will be the support cost and the more resources can be allocated for new features

With that discussion now moves to the question of "how?" How to make the upgrade smooth and fast for most of the users.

If one has automatic download of Windows Updates enabled, pre-downloading the installation files does seem such a bad idea. Users already have part of their hard drive used by all the patches and service packs. If they did not turn this of by this time it have not bothered them. Why not save them from waiting for the update to be ready for installation, when they decide to do so?

But what if I have a device with as small as 32Gb disk drive. Well, we all can imagine what a disaster can happen when 15% (6Gb out of 32Gb) of already scarce disk space goes into a black hole. Now, let's put our engineering hat on.

I can imagine myself being a developer on Windows Update team. It would never occur to me that whenever new update becomes available I can go off use up all the available disk space for its files. I could not have foreseen this for the first release. But through all the years of Windows Update development, we, as a team, would have run into situations like this and do something smart about it.

Another thing, is that users of computers with small hard drives would try to do everything to get as much of the disk space for themselves as possible. And turning of automatic download of updates is one of the important steps to do so. Therefore, chances are these devices where not affected by this problem at all.

Same line of thinking goes for data caps on Internet connections. If you have one f those, you likely have automatic download of updates off.

What makes a great headline and a great theoretical discussion is not always a perfect match for reality.