How to fix 5 Windows 10 headaches

Microsoft's Windows 10 OS is a lot better than its predecessor, but it still has some annoying quirks. We help you solve them

How to fix 5 Windows 10 headaches
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Microsoft Windows 10 has gone a long way towards fixing the problems that were endemic with earlier versions of Windows—notably Windows 8. But it’s still far from a perfect operating system and has its share of headaches.

Looking through various user discussions (and tapping our own experiences) we’ve identified five problems that a lot of people are complaining about: forced Windows 10 updates; the Cortana digital assistant (which some users want to get rid of and can’t); lost disk space; sluggish boot times; and problems with the Start menu.

But don’t worry—help is on the way. We’ve researched ways to take care of these issues (or at least make them a little less irritating). Here are some solutions that will make Windows 10 pleasanter to use.

1. Get around forced Windows 10 updates

We’re going to start with a biggie: Forced updates. For many people, this is the biggest Windows 10 headache of all. Unlike earlier Windows versions, Windows 10 doesn’t let you pick and choose which updates to install. Now when Microsoft issues an update, your machine installs it. Case closed.

Well, almost. There are a few workarounds that let you stop the updating process. One note, though: As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep Windows 10 current, because many updates don’t just fix bugs or add new features, but also contain security patches.

However, it’s your machine, your operating system, and your life. So if you want to halt forced Windows 10 updates, here are two ways to do it. I’ll also show you how you can uninstall an already installed update, and keep it uninstalled.

Use Wi-Fi metering

If you’ve got a PC connected to the internet via Wi-Fi, here’s a clever workaround to stop automatic updates. It uses Windows 10’s metered connection feature, designed to save you money if you pay for bandwidth use over a certain amount:

  1. Go to Settings > Network & Internet.
  2. Click the Wi-Fi network that you’re connected to.
  3. On the screen that appears, scroll to the Metered connection section and move the slider to On.

From now on, Windows 10 won’t automatically download and install updates. This works only for your current connection, though. You’ll have to do this for every Wi-Fi network that you connect to in order to stop the updates.

Windows 10 metered connection IDG / Preston Gralla

Telling your PC you have a metered connection will block automatic Windows 10 updates.

Turn off the Windows update service

Windows Update runs like any other Windows service—which means that you can turn it off:

  1. Go to Control Panel > System and Security > Administrative Tools. You’re then sent to a folder in Windows Explorer with a list of administrative tools, one of which is Services.
  2. Double-click on Services.
  3. On the right side of the screen that appears, scroll down to Windows Update and double-click it.
  4. In the Startup Type box that appears, select Disabled, then click OK.

The Windows Update service won’t run any more, and you won’t download and install updates automatically.

windows update service IDG / Preston Gralla

You can turn off the Windows Update service.

Keep in mind that if you use either of these solutions, you’ll block all Windows updates. You can’t pick and choose which to install, and which not. As a result, at some point you should turn off metering and turn Windows Update back on to get security patches. And when that happens, you’ll download and install all the updates, not just ones you want.

Note, though, that there’s still a good reason to use these techniques to turn off automatic updates, because if you stop them from immediately installing, you can then check for reports about problematic updates. If nobody complains, you can then let them install; if there are issues, you can wait until the fix is available.

And very soon, this process will get easier still: The upcoming Creators Update will allow you to either pick a time for an update to install or snooze the update for three days.

At that point, you may no longer want to turn off the update service entirely, because the Snooze feature will essentially accomplish the same thing—allow you to check for reports about problematic updates before allowing it to be installed on your system.

Uninstall and hide problematic updates

If you’re stuck with an update that is harming (or could harm) your computer, there’s another workaround for you: Uninstall the bad update, then hide it from Windows 10 so that it doesn’t automatically reinstall. That way, when the fix for the update shows up, you can install all the updates, including the fix.

It’s not hard. First download a free Microsoft tool that lets you hide any update so that Windows 10 won’t install it.

Then go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features > View installed updates. You’ll see a list of your Windows updates. Double-click the update that you want to get rid of. A screen will appear asking if you want to uninstall it. Click Yes.

After the update uninstalls, run the Microsoft tool you downloaded. It will list any available Windows 10 updates that have yet to be installed. The update you just uninstalled will be listed. Check the box next to it, click Next, and follow the instructions for hiding it. When you do this, you’ll stop Windows from installing it.

2. Kill Cortana

Not everyone is a fan of Cortana, Microsoft’s sometimes pushy digital assistant. Before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, that wasn’t necessarily a problem, because it was easy to turn Cortana off. All you had to do was to open Cortana, select Settings, look for the setting “Cortana can give you suggestions, ideas, reminders, alerts and more,” and move the slider to Off.

Now, however, there seems to be no way to turn off Cortana—unless you’re willing to get down and dirty with the Windows Registry.

kill cortana IDG / Preston Gralla

If you’re not shy about tweaking the Registry, you can still kill Cortana.

As always, when you’re dealing with the Registry, be careful when editing it—you can do major damage to your OS if you change the wrong setting. It’s also a good idea to create a System Restore Point before editing the Registry so you can bring your system back to the state it was in before you did your editing.

With those caveats, here’s how to kill Cortana:

  1. Type regedit into the Search box and press Enter to run the Registry Editor.
  2. Go to the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search. If you don’t have that key on your system, you’ll have to create it. To do it, right-click the Windows folder and select New > Key. A key will automatically be created with a default name, such as New Key #1. Then name it Windows Search by simply typing in the new key name. If for some reason the key name isn’t highlighted with a cursor inside it, right-click it, select Rename, and type in the Key name you want.
  3. Right-click the Windows Search key and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
  4. Name the value AllowCortana.
  5. Double-click AllowCortana and set its value to 0.
  6. Close the Registry Editor. Sign out and sign back in, or else restart your PC to make the change take effect.
  7. To turn Cortana back on, delete the AllowCortana value, or else set it to 1.

Keep in mind that if you turned off Cortana to protect your privacy by preventing Cortana from collecting data about you, you’ve still got work to do. That’s because the information Cortana has already gathered about you remains in the cloud. If you want to delete part or all of it, here’s what to do:

  1. Click the Search box and then click the Settings icon (it looks like a gear). This brings you to Cortana’s settings.
  2. Click “Change what Cortana knows about me in the cloud.” If you want to delete everything Cortana knows about you, scroll down to the bottom of the screen and click the Clear button.
  3. If you only want to delete some of what Cortana knows about you, click “Bing Maps” to view and delete what Cortana knows about your location information; click “Search History” to review and delete your Search history; and click the “notebook connected services page” link to turn off various services that Cortana connects with to share information, such as Dynamics CRM, LinkedIn and Office 365.

3. Fix Start menu woes

When it was first announced that Windows 10 would reinstate the Start menu, many users welcomed it. But after Windows 10 was released, some people began complaining about problems with the Start menu—it didn’t run when they clicked the Start button, or it froze, or random entries appeared or disappeared. If you’ve got Start menu problems, fear not; there are several ways to try and fix them.

Note: Before trying any of these, first restart your computer. Sometimes a mere reboot will fix things.

Run Microsoft’s Start menu troubleshooter tool

Before trying to fix any Start menu problems yourself, download Microsoft’s Start menu troubleshooter and run it.

start menu troubleshooter IDG / Preston Gralla

The Start menu troubleshooter can help fix a variety of woes.

The troubleshooter looks for Start menu problems and checks whether the problem is being caused by improperly installed applications, problems with the Registry, the database of Start menu tiles being corrupted, or difficulties with something called the application manifest. (The application manifest has settings that tell Windows how to handle a program when it starts.) After it checks for the problems, it does its best to fix them. If you want to see the results of what the troubleshooter finds, click “View Detailed Information” on the screen after the troubleshooter does its work.

Note that the troubleshooter won’t fix all problems. If it doesn’t solve yours, you’ll have to resort to other means.

Check for updates

There’s a chance that a Windows update will solve the problem—Microsoft continually squashes bugs in its updates. To make sure you’ve got all the latest Windows updates, go to Settings > Updates & security > Windows Update and select Check for updates. If it finds any, install them. You may need to restart your PC for the update to go into effect.

Use PowerShell to fix corrupted files

If the Start menu still has problems, the issue may be corrupted files. You can use a command-line tool called PowerShell that is built into Windows to find and fix them:

  1. Search for PowerShell in the Windows search box, right-click Windows PowerShell in the search results, and select “Run as administrator.” That will launch PowerShell.
  2. If for some reason the search box isn’t working, press the Windows key + R on your keyboard, type PowerShell and press Enter. That runs PowerShell, but not the administrator account, which you need to be using. That takes a few more steps: Right-click the PowerShell icon on the taskbar and select Pin to taskbar. Then close PowerShell. Now right-click the PowerShell icon on the taskbar and select “Run as administrator.”
  3. Once you’re running PowerShell as an administrator, type sfc /scannow and press Enter. PowerShell will scan your system for corrupt files. This can take some time.
  4. When PowerShell finishes scanning your system, it will tell you that it found and fixed corrupt files, found corrupt files but couldn’t fix them, or found no corrupt files. If it found corrupt files but couldn’t fix them, type this command and press Enter: dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth. That should fix the problem.

Create a new local administrator account or reset your PC

If none of this works, Microsoft has some last-ditch advice: Create a local administrator account and, if the Start menu works in that account, move all your files and settings to it; or reset your PC with Windows 10 recovery options.

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