You are an “expert”, a so-called power-user. You rolled your eyes at the headline, said “dumb ass”, and thought about moving on.

Hear me out for a minute. And by a minute I mean like three, until I get around to making my point.

Everyone who might be called “an expert” knows Microsoft is pushing the boundaries of what it can do with its user base. Every new patch they push it just a tiny bit further. Not enough to get normal users to quit, just barely enough to explore what kind of backlash is received. “Is today the day we add the straw that broke the camel’s back”, it feels like the question Microsoft is asking patch after patch.

Most recently it’s ads in the file system.

It is the same, every single time. And similarly, every single time I hear from my similar skill level friends “You can turn it off”.

Ah, yes, “You can turn it off”. I’ve gotten so used to hearing that lately I stopped thinking about the connotations of it all.

In 2015 Windows 10 came out. I felt like Windows crossed a privacy threshold I didn’t feel comfortable with, so I left Windows. “You can turn it off”, my friends said. I didn’t disagree. You could! I mostly left out of principle. And mostly symbolically, I didn’t use it day to day but I still have a computer with Windows for video games.

I didn’t think much of it. After all, you can turn it off, right?

Something didn’t quite sit right, but well, you can turn it off.

Then I had a realization, Apple nowadays is getting a lot of hate, because the Macbook Pro doesn’t necessarily match the expectations of the Pro community. Hackernews mentions over and over again how this is a mistake, because the “Pro” community (Developers, designers, etc) essentially give the platform life. They create the applications we use, they write the blog posts we read, they inform our opinions in general. So the consensus I found is that even if the “Pro” community doesn’t purely monetarily justify the demand for “Pro” hardware, Apple should keep creating hardware for that niche.

That got me thinking of something I’ve never really considered before, that is, a “Pro” userbase, a userbase which is informed, and a subset of which will also inform the rest of the community, the “general” or “normal” userbase if you will.

And now, here is where I finally get to making the point:

What if Microsoft is boiling the userbase to death, by giving experts a way out

Wait— That’s basically the title. You might think to yourself. Well, yes, you’re not wrong. Turns out I’m not that bad at this whole “writing” thing.

No, but seriously, if experts inform the userbase one way or another. And Microsoft gives a way out to these experts, and ensures the process, while obscure, is not an absolute pain to go through, and only needs to be done once. I think that leads to the philosophy many of my friends have adopted:

You can just turn it off

Indeed, many of my friends mention: “Well, it’s annoying, sure. But every time I reformat it takes somewhere around 15 minutes and then I’m done”. And they really aren’t wrong, you do this once and you are done. It’s obscure, a normal user doesn’t really accidentally stumble upon the esoterically named options. And doesn’t really tick them either in fear of breaking something.

Doesn’t this process, then, ensure you have a healthy group of experts who aren’t in the middle of life-or-death feud against Microsoft, who don’t have that big of a stake in this whole game?

The opinion of experts matter— This probably isn’t a particularly controversial statement. Even if you don’t blog, or inform a large userbase you might still be the person your aunt and uncle ask for advice when buying something. If, by giving you the option to just “turn off” the things that annoy you you won’t completely turn people off Windows then that might make the addition of those options worth it.

If you are an application developer, a frequent blog writer, or another kind of influencer, and you have a way out your opinions might not be as scalding. You might stay for with the platform “other reasons”, because what Windows is doing does not cross your bottom line. After all, you can just turn it off. In fact in a recent ArsTechnica article one of the first comments was “How to turn it off”:

The way to opt-out of filesystem ads

There’s nothing wrong with that, per-se. I do think it mirrors our mindset currently, though. Sure, they added this stuff we don’t really enjoy, how do we remove it and get it over with?

And really, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not the duty of an expert to inform other users, there’s no need to suffer just so you’re more informed as to how Microsoft might be pushing their consumers boundaries, rather than just knowing what to Google to bypass it that one time.

But I do believe that there is an end effect.

Experts have essentially become the canaries in a coal mine, except the coal mine is either incredibly smart, or sympathizes with the plight of the canary. Thus, the coal mine no longer chokes the canary to death, instead giving it a way out. The canary keeps chirping, the miners keep trucking along as if nothing is wrong.

Am I imagining stuff? Or is Microsoft incredibly smart for doing this?

It’s quite possible it might not have been on purpose, it’s not fun to assume every company is out to screw you in some Machiavellian plot. It could’ve been pure goodwill to leave people with a way out. However, I believe the end effect doesn’t change. Experts remain in relative bliss, while consumers are slowly boiled to death.

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I leave you with a quote I thought of after writing this:

Always leave a way out, unless you really want to find out how hard a man can fight when he’s nothing to lose.
— Mat, The Wheel of Time