Windows 10: The desktop goes to the cloud

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Some people are upset about how much data Windows 10 shares with Microsoft. What they don’t get is this is by design. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s first cloud-based desktop.

Sure, Microsoft  wants to get all the data it can on you. Guess what? So do Facebook, Google, Amazon, and any other technology company you care to name. Welcome to 2015, where your PC, smartphone, and tablet are online 24/7.

You can do things to protect yourself from Microsoft hoovering down your personal and corporate data. But keep in mind that Microsoft is not just gathering your data to better target advertisements, it’s also using it to give you a better desktop experience.

Nowhere does that show up more than with Windows 10’s voice-activated assistant Cortana. If Windows 10 has a killer feature, it’s Cortana. But Cortana is not a conventional Windows desktop program. It’s a hybrid cloud/desktop program.

As Microsoft explains, “When you use Cortana, Microsoft collects and uses information including your device location information and location history, contacts (People), voice input, searching history, calendar details, content and communication history from messages and apps, and other information on your device. In Microsoft Edge, Cortana collects and uses your browsing history. This information is saved on your device, in your Cortana Notebook, and in the cloud on the dashboard.”

Specifically, a Windows 10 “keylogger” collects your keystrokes and voice to improve Cortana and other Microsoft programs’ spell-checking and voice recognition. It then shares this data with Microsoft’s cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS) back-end. This data is kept locally as well, but it’s also kept and used remotely.

By default, Cortana watches pretty much everything you write, say and do on your PC. For instance, Cortana tracks your flights by reading your flight information from your messages. So, for example, if you’re sent an e-mail about your next flight to to New York on Delta, Cortana will “remember” this. It will then remind you of your trip on the day. In addition, you must keep your location services on for Cortana to work.

Cortana’s data isn’t just used for your personal benefit. With Microsoft’s SaaS enterprise application Cortana Analytics Suite, all your staff’s Cortana data is combined with business intelligence tools. So, for example, Microsoft claims that with this Azure-based service, you can “Recognize your users and customers with face detection, identification and verification.”

Creepy or useful? I think it’s both.

This underlines just how much Windows 10 is not a conventional desktop operating system. Yes, you can lock down your privacy, but you’ll be crippling its functionality at the same time.

You see, Windows 10 is is a hybrid cloud/desktop. As the operating system continues to develop, it’s not really mature yet; it will only become more so. For example, you can’t use Microsoft’s personal cloud storage OneDrive with the Windows Explorer file manager at the moment. I expect that to be fixed in the major fall update.

Windows 10 hasn’t gone as far as Chrome OS, Google’s Linux-based cloud desktop, but it’s heading that way. If you embrace Windows 10’s cloud-based functionality, it can be very useful. If you insist on forcing it to act like as merely a Windows update, you’ll be missing the point.

Finally, if you really want a desktop where you’re in control, and not Microsoft or another cloud company, what you need is a conventional desktop Linux such as Mint 17.2. Windows is heading to the cloud and it won’t be coming back.


  1. This article was paid in part by Microsoft


  2. Or use Linux as your Host-OS and run Windows 10 as a VM client. Since Cortana doesn’t even work in my country I have switched all these features off. Linux for real work and Windows 10 for experimenting and some games.

    Windows 10 Professional is running under Oracle VM VirtualBox 5.0 and runs like a charm.


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