Close up of a wall clock

“Active Hours” in Windows 10 emphasizes how you are not in control of your own devices

No edition of Windows 10, except Professional and Enterprise, is expected to function for more than 12 hours of the day. Microsoft most generously lets you set a block of 12 hours where you’re in control of the system, and will reserve the remaining 12 hours for its own purposes. How come we’re all fine with this?

Windows 10 introduced the concept of “Active Hours”, a period of up to 12 hours when you expect to use the device, meant to reflect your work hours. The settings for changing the device’s active hours is hidden away among Windows Update settings, and it poorly fits with today’s lifestyles.

Say you use your PC in the afternoon and into the late evening during the work week, but use it from morning to early afternoon in the weekends. You can’t fit all those hours nor accommodate home office hours in a period of just 12 hours. We’re always connected, and expect our devices to always be there for us when we need them.

A future version of Windows 10 will grant the Professional (a 99 EUR/USD upgrade from Home) and Enterprise editions up to 18 active hours instead of the 12 hours they currently share with Home users. This still leaves 6 hours of the day unaccounted for.

So what happens in the remaining hours of the day? Assuming your device has sufficient power and is not on a metered network connection, the remaining time is reserved for installing updates and device maintenance. Within this period, the device may close everything you’re doing without notice and reboot to install updates. Whether you’re using the device or not doesn’t seem to matter much to Windows.

I find it incredibly disrespectful that Windows assumes it can throw out my work session, close every program I’m using, and then move on to keep my device occupied for an unspecified amount of time. Since Windows 8.1, users aren’t in control of this very disruptive process any longer. I’ve literally walked away from my computer while doing some work to take a a bathroom break in the middle of the day, only to return and find that all my work had been thrown out the window.

I’ve ranted about the interruptive nature of software updates before, but my feeling on the matter still stands as strong as ever: Software updates have become way too frequent and interruptive, and software vendors have to do more to minimize their impact on users. Given how disruptive they are, I find it absolutely incredible that I can’t turn them off and that when the reboot time arrives there’s not even a confirmation dialog.

You don’t own the copy of Windows that you’ve paid for. Microsoft is making that perfectly clear in the Windows License text. I’m sure all users have already read the 5 270 word document plus all the linked attachments, but I’ll refresh your memory with the most important quote:

“The software is licensed, not sold. Under this agreement, we grant you the right to install and run one instance of the software on your device (the licensed device), for use by one person at a time, so long as you comply with all the terms of this agreement.”

Nowhere in the license does it say that Windows will only work for half the day, but it does expressly state that you can’t work around limitations or restrictions in the software. It is a troubling development for the future of Windows licensing that Home users can only expect their devices to work for 12 hours of a day whereas Professional and Enterprise customers get 18 hours.

The problem I’m having with how this works isn’t really the software updates themselves; it’s more the assumptions Microsoft makes about how people use their PCs. I run with a ton of windows, all neatly organized and stacked, each holding some tidbit of information I dug up and am in the process of using for some purpose or the other. It may take a day or five before I know that I’m done with a reference document and close it. In the meantime I expect it to be where I left it until I tell it to go away. Having Windows arbitrarily shut down and force me to start clean just doesn’t go down well with me.

The vast majority of software written for the Windows platform assumes that the user’s session won’t be interrupted. Programs haven’t been, and new software isn’t written, with the assumption that the program may be terminated at any time. Mac OS has a broad set of libraries and APIs for supporting suspension and restoration of application sessions. Apps that integrate with these system-provided functions can quickly save and restore their state, leaving the operating system and user free to quit and restart the program at will. On the Windows side, however, even Microsoft’s own programs, including the new “modern apps”, don’t remember where their windows were placed on screen, yet alone what the user was doing inside those windows. Not even the new Calculator app remembers the user’s last calculations or how many calculators I had open prior to the interrupted session.

These days, I’m using less and less time with Windows PCs in favor of Linux. I’ve admitted to secretly being a Windows fanboy in the past, but my patience with how Windows is treating its users has started to really put me off using Windows. I hope Microsoft realize that their platform isn’t built for this type of forced rapid update cycles and will tone down the aggressiveness of updates and reboots. Otherwise they’ll just push their last customers to either get Macs or learn more about this Linux alternative everyone is talking about … .


Note: When referring to the Windows 10 Enterprise edition, this also includes the special-purpose Windows 10 Education edition for everything mentioned in this article.