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Warning: Windows 10 May Auto-Install On Your PC

Here's how to stop it.

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Email subject line: “Windows 10.” From my father. ‘Should I upgrade?’ he wanted to know, a question surely posed by a hundred thousand parents to a hundred thousand adult offspring across the land. I didn’t know what to tell him. I like Windows 10 well enough; I even think it’s the best operating Microsoft have ever made. There’s nothing about it I could say anyone on Windows 7 really needs, however, and when it’s a case of someone with only rudimentary technical skills running the OS upgrade gauntlet, I wouldn’t say it’s worth the risk.

Before too long, though, the decision may be taken out of his and my hands – I may end up fielding the post-disaster support phone call regardless, as it seems Microsoft are stepping up their attempts to waft Windows 10 on as many PCs as possible. Even to the extent that the OS is seemingly now automatically installing itself.

It’s no secret that Microsoft are pushing Windows 10 hard – if you’re still a 7 or 8 user you’ve likely been bothered by prompts trying to entice you into the free upgrade, and in some cases it’s even been speculatively downloaded and sits taking up hard drive space until you crack and click the install button.

People have been annoyed by it, more by the presumptuousness and the pestering than because they actively don’t want Windows 10 – but a combination of principle, privacy concerns and simply not wanting to run the risk of software and drivers going haywire post-upgrade has created understandable reluctance to take the plunge until one is good and ready.

I understand why Microsoft is doing it: their phone business is in disarray, PlayStation 4 has put Xbox One in the doldrums and Apple increasingly controls the portable computing conversation, so MS really need a big win. Said win being a Windows 10 install base in the high millions within less than a year. I worry that effectively forcing it onto people is only going to drive them all the more to the competition. There’s no doubt that Win 10’s install/upgrade process is smoother and safer than any prior Microsoft OS, but there are still huge risks, and people need to be able to choose and control what goes on.

My own upgrade was fairly straightforward, but I did end up with a no-longer-functional webcam, a soundcard which required uncommonly convoluted manual driver installation, a couple of glitchy games and all my default programs reset to Microsoft’s own applications. Nothing major went wrong, but I still had to spend half a day fiddling, and that’s as someone who broadly knows what they’re doing. For someone less PC-savvy who just clicked the Upgrade button and trusted all will be well, that stuff’s a frightening mountain.

In some cases, people have reported that their hard drive RAID arrays are no longer recognised, or come back to a completely bricked machine. No matter how cheerful the install menus, an OS upgrade is a huge, huge thing to do to your PC, and Microsoft absolutely should not force that onto anyone.

But that appears to be precisely what they’re doing. The latest outrage concerns the Windows 10 upgrade’s reclassification from an optional to a Recommended update in Windows Update, which they declared and tried to justify last October. Presuming you’d left Windows Update on its default settings, this meant that Windows 7 and 8 PCs would automatically download the upgrade files, but in theory should not install them until the user specifically agrees to. In theory.

In practice, default Windows Update behaviour means the PC begins installing any downloaded updates within a few minutes of acquiring them, unless the user clicks the pop-up prompts which tell it not to. Leave your PC on while you go to walk the dog, have a shower or become embroiled in an argument with your partner about why you never do the damn washing up and you might return to find it halfway through the installation of a new operating system. Or even on the other side of it, in which case you might find a crucial application or device no longer works as it should.

That 15-minute warning/opt-out prompt usually steals focus from whatever you’re doing, by the way, but every once in a while it might be not be able to minimise a game, you might click away by mistake or a bunch of other things which mean you simply don’t see it. And then bam, a sudden restart and Windows 10 starts installing. I.e. while Microsoft might argue everyone gets fair warning and the chance to decline the upgrade, the reality is that this can go wrong.

This Reddit thread contains many tales of woe and outrage, as well as a few extra fixes to try and stop this from happening to your PC.

The good news is that, if this happens to you, in theory you can roll back the upgrade relatively painlessly within a month of it happening. In theory. Settings – Update and Security -Recovery and Uninstall Windows 10 is where to go if you want to do that, but it’ll probably put your PC out of action for an hour or so, plus, like the Win 10 upgrade itself, it is not 100% guaranteed risk-free.

If you don’t want any of this stuff to happen in the first place, you’ll want to get yourself to Windows Update, opt out of Recommended updates and only into essential ones, and potentially even turn off automatic updates entirely – in which case you should run Windows Update manually on a regular basis, as getting the ongoing security fixes is pretty much vital on this wild, wild web of ours.

Other than the risk factor – inherent to any OS upgrade – and concerns regarding how much it may be monitor your usage and tailor ads, I don’t think there’s a solid-gold reason not to accept the Windows 10 upgrade. If you’re tempted and have everything vital backed up somewhere, I’d say go for it. But go for it on your time, at your specific request, not because its makers want a big number to wave at investors and aren’t sufficiently concerned by how much blood gets spilt in order to achieve it.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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