I don't know why Microsoft would want to destroy trust in Windows 7 and 8.1, but it's sure doing a good job of it.
Microsoft has already proved conclusively it can install any program it wants on your Win7 or Win8.1 PC and have it do whatever it wants. Now the folks at Microsoft are now demonstrating they can push massive amounts of crapware to hundreds of millions of PCs -- using customers' bandwidth and taking up real estate on customers' main drives -- without a wink, nod, or notification, much less a request for permission.
Last week I wrote that I was skeptical of early reports that Microsoft was pushing 3GB to 6GB of data onto Win7 and Win8.1 PCs completely unbidden. Microsoft isn't that stupid, is it?
Man, was I naïve. I got my comeuppance over the weekend, as people who would absolutely never click on the "Reserve your free upgrade" or "Schedule your free upgrade" button told me they have a hidden C:\$Windows.~BT folder full of Win10 crapware that weighs in at 3GB, 6GB, or even 10GB.
By early this morning I'd received reliable reports from every continent ("except Antarctica," as my son loves to say) showing that Windows 7 and 8.1 customers are getting clobbered with unwanted data, apparently pushed through the Automatic Update mechanism.
I say "apparently" because the systems that seem to be getting the gunk:
- Are running Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 8.1 Update 1
- Are running with Windows Automatic Update turned on
- Are not connected to a Windows Update server or, if they are connected, they can access Windows Update directly; that may happen if a user on a domain-attached PC has admin rights, or if they're setup to access Windows Update directly while, for example, on the road
If you have a counterexample, please let me know in the comments.
Since I have Windows Update turned off on all of my PCs -- go ahead and scoff, but I still say that's the best way to keep from getting clobbered -- none of my PCs received the payload. Heaven help the folks who have to pay dearly for Internet bits.
Microsoft warned us about the impending download early last month -- sorta, but not really. On Aug. 7, Rod Trent at Windows IT Pro posted an announcement from Microsoft that seemed innocuous (if garbled) at the time:
For those who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help customers prepare their devices for Windows 10 by downloading the files necessary for future installation. This results in a better upgrade experience and ensures the customer's device has the latest software. This is an industry practice that reduces time for installation and ensures device readiness. For organizations, IT professionals can manage and control downloads on their networks.
A month later -- after Microsoft started pushing 6GB bombs out the Windows Update bay -- Chris Merriman at The Inquirer posted a subtly different version, also from Microsoft:
For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they'll need if they decide to upgrade. When the upgrade is ready, the customer will be prompted to install Windows 10 on the device.
On Sept 11, Computerworld's Gregg Keizer posted yet a third, subtly different version, again attributed to Microsoft:
For those who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help customers prepare their devices for Windows 10 by downloading the files necessary for future installation. This results in a better upgrade experience and ensures the customer's device has the latest software. This is an industry practice that reduces time for installation and ensures device readiness.
Excuse me, but can you name one major operating system upgrade (iOS 7 excepted) that's staged on existing customers' PCs when the customer has shown absolutely no interest in upgrading? Granted, some upgrades are staged in preparation for a reboot -- Chrome is an obvious example. But they're small and the recipients almost always want them. This is an entire 6GB upgrade on PCs where the owners have obviously said they don't want the lousy thing. It isn't being staged in anticipation of a reboot -- it's being staged so that Microsoft can get it to install faster.
That part about "prepare their devices… by downloading the files necessary for installation"? Yeah, we've seen Microsoft patch (and patch and patch) the Windows installer in preparation for Windows 10. The installer takes maybe a few megabytes of real estate. So why 6GB -- does it take 6GB "to prepare their devices"? Gimme a break.
Let me put my tinfoil hat on: If Microsoft has decided it can push its own advertising onto your Windows 7 and 8.1 PCs, and has decided to push 6GB of unwanted crapware onto your PCs, what's to keep the company from accidentally running the file setup.exe in C:\$Windows.~BT?
People who don't normally think about Windows are asking me if it's true that their Windows 7 PCs now have spying software and are bogged down with Windows 10 crapware. I used to be able to laugh that concern off with a clear conscience. Now all I can do is affirm it and steam.
I have no idea what the people at Microsoft thought they were accomplishing, but that Redmond Reality Distortion field has done some serious damage to the company's credibility -- and rightly so.
Here's how to see if your PC has that nasty little package waiting to burst onto your PC:
Step 1. Tell Windows to show you hidden files and folders. This is one of the first steps every Windows user should take, as I explain in all of my Windows books since WinXP.
In Windows 7, click Start > Documents, then hold down the Alt key, click Tools > Folder Options > View tab. Under Hidden files and folders, choose the button to "Show hidden files, folders and drives." (While you're there, uncheck the box that says "Hide extensions for known file types.")
In Windows 8.1, click (or tap) the Windows Explorer icon in the taskbar -- it looks like a set of file folders -- and click the View tab. Check the box marked "Hidden items" (and while you're there, also check the box marked "File name extensions").
Step 2. See if the payload is on your PC. In either Win7 or 8.1, navigate to the C: drive (or whichever drive you use to boot Windows), look for a file called $Windows.~BT and if you find it, right-click on it and choose Properties. If the folder's only a few hundred megabytes in size, breathe a sigh of relief -- the resident alien isn't yet on your PC. But if it's around the 5GB to 6GB mark, you have almost the whole enchilada sitting there ready to upgrade your PC.
Don't try to delete the folder yet. If you have $Windows.~BT and try to delete it through normal means, you'll quickly discover that Windows won't let you -- it's being held by a trusted installer. If you delete it and don't go to extraordinary lengths to block the installer, you'll find it's re-installed, automatically, by Microsoft.
Microsoft, of course, hasn't issued any instructions for getting rid of the payload package. Fortunately, Josh Mayfield, an independent programmer who runs the Ultimate Outsider website, updated his free Windows 10-update killing program, and it now works in every instance I've seen.
Here's how I recommend you use it:
Step 1. Set Automatic Update to check but don't download. In Windows 7, using an administrator-level account, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the "Turn automatic updating on or off" link. In the drop-down box, select "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them," then click OK.
In Windows 8, while looking at the old-fashioned Windows desktop, hold down the Windows key and press X, then choose Control Panel. Then follow the instructions for Windows 7.
Step 2. Turn everything off in GWX Control Panel. Hop over to Mayfield's download page and get GWX Control Panel. You don't need to install anything. When the download's over, double-click on GWX_control_panel.exe to launch it. Accept the End User License Agreement, then go through the options at the bottom, one at a time:
- Click "Close 'Get Windows 10' App (temporarily remove icon)." That pulls the GWX icon from your system tray.
- Click "Disable 'Get Windows 10' App (permanently remove icon)." That takes out the KB patches driving the update nags, and marks them hidden, so they won't bother you again.
- Click "Disable Operating System Upgrades in Windows Update." That goes one step further and eviscerates the entire upgrade mechanism.
Then click Yes to reboot your computer.
Step 3. Manually delete the $Windows.~BT folder, if necessary. Now go back to see if the $Windows.~BT file is still there (Steps 1 and 2 above). If it is, right-click on the drive (probably C:), choose Properties. Click the button marked Disk Cleanup. In the resulting dialog box, click on the box that says "Clean up system files" then wait and wait. Make sure the box next to "Temporary Windows installation files" is checked, then click OK.
That should get rid of the payload and the horse it rode in on.
Step 4. Carefully consider whether you want to turn Automatic Update back on. I've been railing against Windows Automatic Update for almost a decade, and there are people inside Microsoft who think of me as the devil incarnate because of my stance. Bah. If you're sophisticated enough to be reading this post, you're sophisticated enough to check from time to time to see if it's safe to install Microsoft's patches (hint: watch AskWoody.com).
If you decide to turn Automatic Update back on, be very aware of the fact that Microsoft might download another version of the same nagware, perhaps using a different KB number. All it takes is a new Recommended patch with the same obnoxious behavior to put you back in your current mess.
To turn Automatic Update back on, reverse the items in Step 1.
As far as I know, that's the easiest, most thorough way to get the Windows 10 crap off your Windows 7 or 8.1 PC. I have no idea what the brass at Microsoft were thinking last weekend when they pushed that payload down the Automatic Update chute.
The lesson is quite simple: If you have Automatic Update turned on, Microsoft owns your PC, and it can and will install anything it likes.