Microsoft seeds Windows 7, 8.1 PCs with Windows 10 upgrade 'nag' notices

Microsoft has seeded Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 PCs with an as-yet-optional update that will pitch the free Windows 10 upgrade to customers.

According to, a March 27 non-security update aimed at Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) and Windows 8.1 Update -- the latter, the April 2014 refresh -- lays the foundation for a Windows 10 marketing and upgrade campaign. The update, identified by Microsoft as KB3035583, has been offered as an optional update, meaning that users must explicitly enable it by checking a box.

Microsoft was typically terse in the accompanying documentation for KB3035583, saying only that it introduced "additional capabilities for Windows Update notifications when new updates are available to the user.", however, rooted through the folder that the update added to Windows' SYSTEM32 folder and found files that spelled out a multi-step process that will alert users at several milestones that Microsoft triggers.

One of the files, "config.xml" hinted at how the Redmond, Wash. company will offer Windows 10's free upgrade.

The first phrase, marked as "None," disables all features of the update, but the second, tagged as "AnticipationUX," switches on a tray icon -- one of the ways Windows provides notifications to users -- and what was listed as "Advertisement." interpreted the latter as some kind of display pitching the upcoming Windows 10, perhaps a standalone banner in Windows 7 and a special tile on the Windows 8.1 Start screen.

A third phrase, "Reservation," turns on what the .xml code identified as "ReservationPage," likely another banner or tile that lets the user "reserve" a copy of the upgrade as part of Microsoft's marketing push.

Later steps labeled "RTM," "GA," and "UpgradeDetected" referred to Microsoft-speak for important development milestones, including Release to Manufacturing (RTM) and General Availability (GA). The former pegs code ready to ship to computer and device makers, while the latter signals a finished product suitable for distribution to users.

The upgrade won't be triggered until GA, according to the .xml file's contents.

Presumably, the messages displayed by the tray icon -- and when displayed, the ad banner or tile -- will change at each phase, with the contents drawn from an inoperable-as-of-now URL specified by Microsoft in the .xml file.

Not surprisingly, the Enterprise editions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 -- those are sold only to large customers with volume licensing agreements -- will not display the Windows 10 upgrade pitches. That's consistent with what Microsoft has said previously, that the Windows Enterprise SKUs will not be eligible for the free upgrade. By refusing to show the alerts and ads to Windows Enterprise users, Microsoft avoids ticking off IT administrators, who will, by all accounts, stick with Windows 7 for the next several years before migrating to Windows 10 as the former nears its January 2020 retirement.

Although Microsoft has often prepped existing versions of Windows for upcoming updates with behind-the-scenes code, the extent of the notification and "advertising" messages within the .xml file issued on March 27 would be a change from past practices.

Clearly, those messages signal that Microsoft will be aggressive in getting eligible users to upgrade to Windows 10 during the one-year stretch after the OS's official release, especially if the company reclassifies KB3035583 as "Important" at some point down the road. (The .xml file is pegged as "version 1.0," hinting that others are to come.)

"Important" updates are automatically downloaded, processed and installed by Windows Update if the device's user leaves the service in its default state.


Gregg Keizer

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