Category Archives: Windows 8.x

Relief for Windows 7 update headaches

As if in response to my recent post about the joys of updating new Windows 7 installs, Microsoft has just announced a solution. It’s effectively Service Pack 2 for Windows 7, but Microsoft is calling it the Windows 7 SP1 convenience rollup.

The new package will install all post-SP1 updates up to April 2016. After you install Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, you need only install the April 2015 servicing stack update for Windows 7 (KB3020369), a prerequisite for the rollup, then install the rollup, then install any updates published after April 2016.

I haven’t yet tried the new rollup, but it’s difficult to imagine how it could fail to be an improvement.

Microsoft also plans to provide monthly non-security update rollups for Windows 7 and 8.1.

Privacy-related updates to avoid on Windows 7 & 8.1

If you use Windows 7 or 8.1, by now you’ve no doubt noticed that Microsoft is trying to push you to upgrade to Windows 10. In my opinion, Microsoft is doing this because Windows 10 includes a lot of features that track your activities, and the information gathered is extremely valuable for the purposes of advertising. Windows 10 doesn’t have a lot of advertising yet, and Microsoft denies that this is what they’re planning, but it seems clear that Microsoft is jealous of Google’s enormously lucrative ad-supported empire.

But what about all those people staying with Windows 7 and 8.1? Microsoft’s solution is to retrofit those versions, via Windows Update, with some of the privacy-invading features from Windows 10. And of course, because we’re talking about Microsoft, they’re trying to hide what they’re doing by obfuscating the true purpose of these updates. The language used to describe these updates tends to include phrases like “This service provides benefits from the latest version of Windows to systems that have not yet upgraded.”

We’ve discussed the KB3035583 update (and how to remove it) before. That’s the update that adds all those annoying upgrade prompts to Windows 7 and 8.1. But you should be aware of (and watch for) a few other sneaky updates. These have been generally categorized as ‘telemetry’ updates; a reference to the way they monitor what’s happening on your computer.

Telemetry Updates

If you want to avoid these telemetry updates, check to see if they are already installed. If they are, uninstall them, and use the ‘hide’ feature of Windows Update to prevent them from reappearing. If you see these updates listed in Windows Update, make sure to de-select them, then hide them.

Varying interpretations

Woody Leonhard is getting a bit of a reputation as a Microsoft apologist. You may recall that he refused to believe that Microsoft would push Windows 10 onto Windows 7 users, and later had to admit he’d been wrong. Woody’s analysis of the telemetry updates is predictably pro-Microsoft.

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a project on Github that consists of a batch script that automatically removes all of the telemetry updates from Windows 7 and 8.1. It actually removes twenty-one updates, many of which are shady for other reasons besides privacy.

A more balanced analysis is provided by the GHacks site. This article identifies the most problematic (telemetry) updates and explains how to get rid of them.

Windows 10 now classed as ‘recommended’ update for Windows 7 and 8.1

As expected, Microsoft recently changed the status of the Windows 10 update for Windows 7 and 8.1 computers, from ‘optional’ to ‘recommended’. If your PC’s Windows Update settings are configured to automatically install recommended updates, Windows 10 will be downloaded, silently consuming multiple gigabytes of bandwidth and hard drive space.

Thankfully, the Windows 10 upgrade won’t actually be installed without your consent; users will be given a chance to skip or reschedule the upgrade. You can also avoid the update completely by making some changes to the Windows registry, or by using the excellent GWX Control Panel.

Remove those annoying Windows 10 upgrade prompts

If you run Windows 7 or 8.x, you’ve probably seen for yourself the many ways in which Microsoft is trying to get people to upgrade to Windows 10, or at least to add unwanted Windows 10 features to your O/S. I wrote about my own experiences with this back in October. Here are a few observed examples:

  • ‘Get Windows 10’ icon in the notification area.
  • Windows Update installs tracking features from Windows 10.
  • Windows Update shows messages and special highlights encouraging users to upgrade.
  • Windows 10 installation files are downloaded to your hard drive.
  • Windows 10 upgrade runs without your approval.
  • Windows Update stops letting you install updates, and only lets you upgrade to Windows 10.

If you’re like me, you plan to upgrade to Windows 10 when you bloody well feel like it, and not when Microsoft decides you should. And, like me, you’re looking for ways to prevent all this annoying behaviour on your Windows 7 or 8.x computer.

One of the more annoying features of the ‘Get Windows 10’ icon is that even if you remove it (using instructions I posted earlier) it typically reappears for no apparent reason. This makes it seem more like a virus than anything helpful.

Microsoft’s own instructions for removing the ‘Get Windows 10’ icon, published only grudgingly after many user complaints, are poorly written and needlessly complicated. But rather than try to present a simpler guide here, I will instead point to a small utility that does all the work for you: GWX Control Panel, available as freeware from Ultimate Outsider.

GWX Control Panel
GWX Control Panel

GWX Control Panel shows the status of the ‘Get Windows 10’ app, whether Windows Update O/S upgrades are enabled, and whether there are any Windows 10 installation files on your computer. Buttons let you disable ‘Get Windows 10’, disable O/S upgrades in Windows Update, and clear the Windows 10 download folders (which, by the way, are typically huge). It’s totally safe and simple to use.

Sadly, Windows 10 will start appearing as a ‘Recommended’ update in Windows Update on Windows 7 and 8.x computers at some point in 2016. Hopefully the update will be clearly labeled and easy to ignore and/or hide.

How-To Geek has additional information.

Only Windows 10 on new PCs after October 2016

Microsoft has confirmed that OEMs will no longer be allowed to sell new computers with Windows 7 or 8.x after October 31, 2016. If you buy a new PC after that date, you won’t have any options besides Windows 10.

Support for Windows 7 – including security updates – will continue to 2020, so it’s still a perfectly viable operating system. But it’s unclear whether you will still be able to purchase Windows 7 OEM separately, from Microsoft or any other seller, after October 31, 2016. I certainly hope so, although it seems unlikely. So if you’re planning to build any new Windows 7 computers between October 2016 and 2020, you should stock up on Windows 7 OEM licenses now.

If you don’t want Windows 10, disable Automatic Updates

Microsoft is really ramping up the annoyance factor lately. The latest is that some time in 2016, Windows 7 and 8.x computers will start seeing Windows 10 as a ‘Recommended’ update in Windows Update. If you have Windows Automatic Updates enabled, your computer will be upgraded to Windows 10 on some arbitrary night in early 2016, while you’re asleep.

This is bad for several reasons. Here are a few:

  • For anyone not interested in upgrading to Windows 10, this renders Automatic Updates unusable. Yes, there are people who want to use Automatic Updates, but don’t want to upgrade to Windows 10. Lots of them. Including a lot of grandparents.
  • There have already been reports of problems with Windows 10 being installed when it wasn’t wanted. If Microsoft messes this up somehow, a lot of people are going to be mighty annoyed when they wake up to Windows 10 on their computer.
  • There are loads of reasons not to upgrade to Windows 10, including incompatible software and hardware. An unwanted Windows 10 upgrade could mean a lot of time wasted downgrading or looking for alternatives.
  • Microsoft has started talking about Windows 10 in business and education settings, saying they’ll provide workarounds for these types of problems. But it can’t be very encouraging to business IT folks to hear announcements like this.

The Verge has more.

Microsoft breaking Windows 7 & 8 so you’ll upgrade to Windows 10

In the couple of months since the release of Windows 10, there have been plenty of reports of strange, unexpected, and unwanted behaviour on Windows 7 and 8.x computers. At least one high profile writer dismissed these reports, but recanted after witnessing the behaviour themselves.

I ran into one such problem yesterday when I tried to install October’s Patch Tuesday updates on my Windows 7 computer. Although auto updates are disabled on that computer, I had previously decided to install all updates flagged as ‘Important’. The idea was to see what happened if I allowed Microsoft to push whatever they wanted to that computer, putting myself into the same situation as most typical users.

The first thing I noticed was the ‘Get Windows 10’ icon that started appearing in the notification area. At the time, I provided instructions for uninstalling the update that caused this icon to appear, and did that myself as well. But the icon – and the update that enables it – kept appearing. Even ‘hiding’ the update (KB3035583) in Windows Update could not prevent the damned thing from reappearing.

Fast forward to yesterday, and when I tried to install updates on that Windows 7 PC, I was able to check for updates, and see the pending updates, but there was no way to install them! Instead, all I could see was a panel urging me to upgrade to Windows 10 and a ‘Get Started’ button.

The borked Windows Update screen on my Windows 7 computer.
The borked Windows Update screen on my Windows 7 computer.

I eventually discovered a rather amusing article on The Inquirer’s site, which provided some useful insight into the problem. Besides singling out the writer who had previously pooh-poohed claims of this unwanted behaviour, the article pointed to a Microsoft Knowledge Base article that provides instructions for getting rid of all the Windows 10 upgrade prompts.

I followed the procedures in that KB article, and sure enough all the upgrade prompts vanished, the KB3035583 update stopped reappearing, and Windows Update once again allowed me to install updates.

That's better. The normal Windows Update screen.
That’s better. The normal Windows Update screen.

Anyone using Windows 7 or 8.x who is seeing any of this unwanted and unwelcome behaviour is urged to follow the instructions in the KB3080351 article. If you’re unwilling or unable to do so yourself, ask your friendly local support person to do it.

Meanwhile, a message to Microsoft: are you serious? Are you so eager to push everyone to Windows 10 that you are now literally trying to trick or even force users to upgrade? This is not acceptable. You need to step down from this or the backlash is going to get serious. There is already discussion around the idea of a class action lawsuit.

Update 2015Oct18: I’m not the only person seeing this kind of thing. Some Windows 7 and 8.x users have reported the Windows 10 upgrade installing without any confirmation at all.

Windows 10 upgrade process now running on Windows 7 & 8 desktops

There’s a new process running on my Windows 8.1 desktop. I first noticed it just now, when I logged in for the first time after installing the June updates from Windows Update. Microsoft has confirmed that this new process was installed via the optional/recommended Windows Update KB3035583, which sports the somewhat misleading title “Update enables additional capabilities for Windows Update notifications in Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 SP1”.

The process name is GWX.exe. It appears in the notification area (aka system tray) as a white Windows logo. Right-clicking this icon shows the following options:

  • Get Windows 10 – pops up a dialog with some explanatory text (see below).
  • Reserve your free upgrade – pops up a dialog that says ‘Great, your upgrade is reserved!’ (see below)
  • Go to Windows Update – does exactly that
  • Get to know Windows 10 – opens a browser window and navigates to the Windows 10 FAQ

Reserve your free upgrade

On my computer, just before the upgrade reservation dialog appeared, another dialog flashed briefly on the screen. That dialog seemed to show information about the compatibility of the computer with Windows 10. All I managed to see was a bit of text that said something like ‘Windows 10 will work on this PC’.

Here’s the upgrade reservation dialog:

Get Windows 10 - Upgrade Reserved

In case you can’t read that, it says:

Once it’s available on July 29th, Windows 10 will be downloaded to your device. You’ll get a notification when it’s ready to install — install right away, or pick a time that’s good for you.

As you can imagine, I was somewhat alarmed at seeing this, since it seems to be telling me that I’ve agreed to upgrade my Windows 8 computer to Windows 10, or at least that Windows 10 will be automatically downloaded to my computer. I don’t actually want either of those things to happen; at least not that soon, and certainly not automatically. So I skipped the email confirmation step and simply closed the dialog, hoping that canceled the ‘reservation’.

Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to help. The notification icon’s menu changed from ‘Reserve your free upgrade’ to ‘Check your upgrade status’. Selecting that option just performs the compatibility check and shows the upgrade reservation dialog again.

Get Windows 10

Selecting this option displays another dialog, this one consisting of a series of five panels that explain ‘How this free upgrade works’. This again confirms that Windows 10 will automatically download when it becomes available. That’s a 3 GB download, which is apparently unavoidable at this point. Thankfully, I will apparently be given an opportunity to decide at that point whether I want to actually install Windows 10.

Another panel trumpets the fact that the Start menu is back in Windows 10. Thanks a lot, Microsoft. How about adding it back to Windows 8, you know, like you promised? Other panels mention Cortana and the new web browser in Windows 10.

Also on this dialog is a small ‘hamburger’ menu at the top left. Clicking it shows a menu that includes an option to ‘Check your PC’ (see below). Running that shows the compatibility checker that I previously observed flashing past when I clicked the ‘reserve’ option.

Another option on that menu is ‘View confirmation’. Clicking that shows yet another dialog, and this one includes a ‘Cancel reservation’ link. As you can imagine, I clicked that link. After confirming my decision, it was indeed canceled (hopefully). The notification icon’s menu reverted to ‘Reserve your free upgrade’ in any case.

Check your PC

According to the compatibility checker: ‘This PC can be upgraded but there may be some issues.’ It goes on to say:

  • Windows Media Center will be uninstalled during the upgrade. It isn’t available in Windows 10.
  • You’ll need to reinstall language packs after the upgrade is complete.
  • These apps will need to be reinstalled after the upgrade: Microsoft Network Monitor 3.

Details and limitations of the free Windows 10 upgrade

Much has been made of this free upgrade. Clearly, Microsoft wants to get everyone to upgrade to Windows 10. Especially if you’re running Windows 7 or 8, apparently. But if Microsoft was really serious about this, they would offer the free upgrade to users of Windows XP and Vista as well.

Here’s what you need to know about the reservation and upgrade:

  • You only have until July 29, 2016 to take advantage of this offer.
  • This is a full version of Windows, not a trial or introductory version.
  • When you reserve, you can confirm your device is compatible with Windows 10. Between reservation and when your upgrade is ready, the files you need for the upgrade will be downloaded to your PC to make the final installation go more quickly.
  • The only requirements are that a) your device is compatible, and b) you’re running genuine Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (SP1) or Windows 8.1 (Update).
  • There’s no obligation and you can cancel your reservation at any time.
  • Get Windows 10 is an app that’s designed to make the upgrade process easy push users to install Windows 10. It checks to make sure your device is compatible, and it reserves your free upgrade; it also has information to help you learn about the features in Windows 10. For devices running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update with Windows Update enabled, the app shows up automatically as a Windows icon in your system tray at the bottom right-hand side of your screen.
  • The easiest way to get the free upgrade is to reserve, but you can upgrade even if you don’t reserve. Just open the Get Windows 10 app to schedule your upgrade.
  • You can get a free upgrade for each of your eligible Windows devices. Again, ‘eligible’ means ‘legally obtained and licensed’.
  • PCs that cannot run Windows 10 will not see the Get Windows 10 app before July 29, 2015. After July 29, 2015, the icon in the system tray will start to appear.
  • When you upgrade, you’ll stay on like-to-like editions of Windows. For example, Windows 7 Home Premium will upgrade to Windows 10 Home.

Getting rid of the upgrade app

Needless to say, I’d like to remove the Get Windows 10 app from the Windows startup process on my computer. If I want to upgrade, I’ll do it in my own time, thank you very much. I don’t need Microsoft constantly yelling at me to upgrade. Removing the app involves uninstalling update KB3035583 via Control Panel > Programs and Features.

Related articles

Update 2015Jun12: The KB3035583 update first became available from Windows Update in April 2015. I only started seeing it after I installed the June updates because I explicitly selected it from the list of optional updates, thinking it was actually something else. Mea culpa.