Judging by the decibel level, this past weekend Microsoft opened the floodgates for many more forced Windows 10 upgrades. I have no idea how many are affected, but loud screams of pain are popping up all over the Internet.
If you are attached to a corporate domain and got updated this past weekend, complain loudly to your administrators. Chances are good that they're well aware of your predicament.
If you aren't attached to a domain, follow the steps I outline in this post.
But before you do that, first be of good cheer: There's a very good chance you can beat Microsoft into submission.
And second, no, you aren't going crazy, and no, you didn't do anything wrong. I had the same problem. On Saturday morning, one of my Win7 test PCs suddenly sprouted an error message, saying that the attempt to install Windows 10 had failed. It was an absolutely clean Windows 7 PC, and I hadn't done anything to draw Microsoft's ire (beyond the usual, anyway). Sitting there, overnight, it tried to install Windows 10.
How to detect a forced Windows 10 upgrade
Many of you know good and well what Windows 10 looks like. But for those who don't, there's an easy check: Look down in the lower-left corner of the screen, next to the Windows icon. If there's a box to the right of the icon, you're running Windows 10.
If you were running Windows 7 or 8.1, this new version of Windows won't act like your previous version. Click on the Windows icon and you see a Start menu that looks only vaguely like the one you're accustomed to. Many people find that some of their programs and/or some of their peripherals don't work. When you click on items, unfamiliar programs may appear.
How to prevent a forced Windows 10 upgrade
Very complex story, shortened: Many of you are running Windows 7 or 8.1 with Automatic Update turned on. That, combined with some very sneaky changes on Microsoft's part, has led to the mess we're in today.
I've been railing against Auto Update for more than a decade. Now, many of you are witnessing firsthand why you should curtail Auto Update's wayward ways. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you enable Automatic Update, Microsoft owns your computer -- it can make your PC do anything it likes. You've been pwned.
To scale back Automatic Update in Win7, using an administrator-level account, choose Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the Turn Automatic Updating On or Off link. (If you have Control Panel set to View by Icons, click Windows Update, then on the left choose Change Settings.) In the drop-down menu, select "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them." While you're here, uncheck the box "Give me recommended updates the same way I get important updates." Then click OK.
In Windows 8.1, the instructions are basically the same, although you have to right-click the Start icon to be able to choose Control Panel.
If you are using Windows 7 or 8.1 and want to keep using that version until you're ready to move to Windows 10, you need to take one more preventive step: Download and run GWX Control Panel. Use its buttons (see screenshot) to Prevent Windows 10 Upgrades, Delete Windows 10 Programs, and Delete Windows 10 Download folders. Then either put it in Monitor Mode, so it'll run itself every time Microsoft monkeys with your system, or keep it handy and rerun it every time you apply Windows or Office updates.
Remember: You have until July 29, 2016, to get your free upgrade to Windows 10 -- and it may well stay free after July 29. There's no reason to feel pressured to move to Win10 now. Windows 7 will be supported until Jan. 14, 2020; Windows 8.1 will be supported until Jan. 10, 2023.
What to do if the forced Windows 10 upgrade failed
Many people have reported that they're seeing "Windows 10 couldn't be installed" messages, like the one in this screenshot. That's what happened to me on Saturday morning -- I hadn't done a thing to encourage Microsoft to upgrade my test PC, but there it was.
If you see the Windows 10 End-User License Agreement (see screenshot), there is hope. Microsoft has changed how it's installing the Windows 10 upgrade. It now downloads and installs most of the upgrade, then puts this EULA on your screen. If you're the kind of person who clicks Accept on any old EULA (I'll raise my hand here) and clicks Start the Upgrade Now, your PC reboots and you have Windows 10.
On the other hand, if you have the presence of mind to click Decline, the Windows 10 installer slinks back into the darkness, aborts the reboot, and lets you continue with Windows 7 or 8.1.
Be watchful for that EULA, because there's no “OK to install Windows 10?” prompt, no “Please stop bugging me with this Win10 upgrade already” option -- this, in spite of Windows chief Terry Myerson's promise last October that there would be.
(Some of you have reported there was no prominent EULA screen and no upgrade warning, so you got upgraded without giving any permission. That's what happened to me last Friday. By Sunday morning the sequence changed, at least for me.)
What to do if the forced upgrade succeeded despite your wishes
If you have installed Windows 10, don't panic. Unless you feel an immediate urge to jump into Windows 10, you should roll your computer back to Windows 7 or 8.1.
There are good reasons for going back now. A big one: Many changes you make after switching to Win10 -- including documents that you create or change on your Desktop or in the Public Documents folder -- may not make it back to Windows 7 or 8.1. Another big one: If you don't remember your original Win7 or 8.1 login ID and password, you won't be able to open Win10 ... at all.
I take you through the rollback steps and its oddities and gotchas in my InfoWorld article “How to roll back your Windows 10 upgrade.” For most people, most of the time, rolling back from Windows 10 to Win7 (or 8.1) is as easy as choosing Start > Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. On the right, you'll see the entry "Go back to Windows 7" or "Go back to Windows 8.1," depending on the previous version of Windows installed. Click Get Started, then follow the instructions for "Keep my files." You'll likely end up with your old version of Windows.
Most of the time, that is -- as long as the forced upgrade reboot didn't mess up anything, all you're out is an hour or two or three, 3GB or so of unwanted Win10 downloads, and 21GB of space taken up in a tidal wave of Win10 upgrades.
If you're one of the unfortunate few who has problems with the rollback, look in my InfoWorld article about the rollback under the heading "What to do if the wheels fall off."
Note that rolling back does not protect you from Microsoft's efforts to turn your PC into a Windows 10 PC. The minute you get your PC rolled back, run GWX Control Panel to make sure you don't end up in the same briar patch tomorrow morning.
If you decide to move to Windows 10, that's great. I'm using Windows 10 on all of my main PCs right now, and I like it. I wrote a 1,000-page book about Windows 10. But I'm also willing to put up with the problems -- and there are plenty of problems. The problem here is that Microsoft isn't giving users a real choice as to when or if they move to Windows 10.