Windows 10: You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers

Summary: There’s more to Windows 10 than just the revamped Start menu. I’ve been fielding questions from readers about the new release. Why is it called Windows 10? Does it really contain a keylogger? And what happened to Internet Explorer?

Last week, Microsoft officially unveiled a preview version of the next Windows release, due in mid-2015.

Since then, I’ve been fielding questions from readers about the new release and how to deal with it. Here are some answers to those questions.

Why is it called Windows 10 instead of Windows 9?

Might as well get this question out of the way early.

Microsoft’s official responses to this question have been almost comically vague. It’s reminiscent of the decision to abandon the Metro name, which was also never explained in a satisfactory way.

So we’re left to speculate, and my best guess is that choosing the number 9 would imply that Windows 10 is just around the corner, followed by 11, 12, and so on. That’s a recipe for delay, as customers play a “watch and wait” game.

It’s likely that this really is the last big release of Windows, with future updates coming in incremental form. As a brand name to stick with for the long term, Windows 10 is numerologically satisfying.

Or, alternatively, there’s the “dad humor” explanation: Seven ate nine.

Where’s the Enterprise edition?

The Technical Preview version available to the public via the Windows Insider program contains the same features as Windows 8.1 Professional and can be used as an upgrade for that edition. The Enterprise edition is available to anyone with a current MSDN subscription.

The MSDN Subscriptions download page is also where you’ll find checked and debug versions for use by developers.

Why does the Windows 10 download include a product key?

The Windows 10 Technical Preview shouldn’t require activation, but it is a preview release, so not everything goes as planned. In my testing, upgrading an installation of Windows 8.1 Enterprise resulted in this prompt:

The solution was to look in the MSDN download area, where a product key is included in the product description (not in the product key field), with the text revealing that it’s “for mitigation purposes.” If you’ve installed the Technical Preview from the Windows Insider site, go back to the ISO download page to see the product key.

Enter the new product key on the activation screen and you should be back in business.

Does Windows 10 really include a keylogger?

Here we go again.

With Windows 10, Microsoft has adopted a rapid-update development cycle. Maybe that faster pace is affecting the tech press too, because it took less than a week for the first Windows 10-driven conspiracy theory to burst onto the scene.

It started with a Friday-afternoon article in The Inquirer, a tech tabloid known for its breathless headlines and factually challenged prose. In true Inky fashion, the headline declared that Windows 10 “has permission to watch your every move,” adding, ominously: “Its ‘privacy’ policy includes permission to use a keylogger.”

From a legalistic point of view, this headline is cleverly constructed. It doesn’t actually say that Windows 10 contains surveillance software that monitors your keystrokes and sends a log of those keystrokes to Redmond. In fact, the implication that there is an actual keylogger embedded in the Windows 10 code is contradicted by this key graf, buried near the end of the story:

In other words, in effect, you are giving permission for Microsoft to screen your files, and in effect keylog your keyboard input. [emphasis added]

“In effect.” Not in actuality. And in fact there’s little evidence that the author has enough background in computer science or security to tell a keylogger from a key lime pie.

But the story was picked up by a few other sources and fits neatly into conspiracy theories, so here’s a bucket of cold water to pour on the rumors.

The Windows 10 Technical Preview is an instrumented version. It collects information about your use of the product, including some text and voice input, and returns some of that data to Microsoft for use in tuning performance and improving voice recognition and spell-checking.

That’s a far cry from a keylogger, which is a surveillance tool that indiscriminately collects every keystroke on a PC and transmits it (usually surreptitiously) to a remote location.

The data collected by the Windows 10 telemetry tools is limited, but the process of collecting this information can result in inadvertent information disclosure. This isn’t a new problem: enterprise customers have to be careful to configure Windows Error Reporting properly when setting up released versions of Windows on production machines.

If you’re concerned that files you’re working with contain confidential information, you probably shouldn’t be using Windows 10 to open them.

For the record, Microsoft’s response to these allegations is as follows:

With Windows 10, we’re kicking off the largest ever open collaborative development effort that will change the way we build and deliver Windows. Users who join the Windows Insider Program and opt-in to the Windows 10 Technical Preview are choosing to provide data and feedback that will help shape the best Windows experience for our customers. As always, we remain committed to helping protect our customers’ personal information and ensuring safeguards are in place for the collection and storing of that data. As we get closer to a final product, we will continue to share information through our terms of service and privacy statement about how customer data is collected and used, as well as what choices and controls are available.

Full Story: Windows 10: You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers | ZDNet.