Fearing forced Windows 10 upgrades, users are disabling critical updates at their own risk

Some Windows 7 and 8 users would rather chance a malware infection than an involuntary Windows 10 upgrade.

Microsoft stepped on the gas in its quest to drive Windows 7 and 8 users to Windows 10 over the past couple of weeks, rolling the upgrade out as a Recommended update. Watch out! The only behavior that could deny the Windows 10 upgrade before—closing the pop-up by pressing the X in the upper-right corner—now counts as consent for the upgrade, and worse, the upgrade installation can automatically begin even if you take no action whatsoever.

It’s nasty business, and it’s tricking legions of happy Windows 7 and 8 users into Windows 10. Over the past week, I’ve received more contact from readers about this issue than I have about everything else I’ve written over the rest of my career combined. But beyond merely burning bridges with consumers, these forced, non-consensual upgrades could have more insidious consequences.

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“I fear some segment of consumers will turn off Windows Update as a result,” Wes Miller, research vice president at Directions on Microsoft, told me. “Which is a very bad side effect.”

Indeed it is. Windows Update delivers critical updates to your PC, plugging holes in the operating system and slamming the door on potential hack attacks. Keeping your operating system patched is a crucial part of staying secure on the modern web. That’s why PCWorld and many other technology experts advise users that the best course of action is usually to leave the Windows default intact, letting the OS download and install Recommended updates automatically. Doing otherwise is dangerous, unless you’re an expert yourself.

Using that critical avenue to push Windows 10 on people—pardon, “make it easier for consumers to upgrade to Windows 10”—violates the trust people hold in the sanctity of Windows Update. And, yes, as a direct result of Microsoft’s actions, at least some people are disabling Windows Update on their Windows 7 and 8 PCs.

Here are just a couple of the readers who reached out to me directly to say they’ve disabled Windows Updates to avoid being forced into Windows 10.

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Reddit and other forums around the web hold more tales of woe and disabled updates…

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…and users explicitly encouraging other people to disable Windows Update.

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Ironically, improved security is one of Windows 10’s selling points. But by pushing it on users in such a heavy-handed way, Microsoft is encouraging users who have very valid reasons to stick with Windows 7/8 to perform actions that leave their machines open to attack. That’s bad. Very bad.

For the record: Don’t disable Windows Updates unless you’re an advanced user who wants to parse and manually install Windows patches. Instead, leave them active but also install GWX Control Panel or Never10, free tools that block the Get Windows 10 pop-ups and behavior. Microsoft’s been known to push out new patches that work around those tools in the past, however—again, violating Windows Update’s sanctity to push its new OS. Be sure to read the fine print if a GWX pop-up does appear in order to avoid being tricked into Windows 10.

Or you could try this clever trick if you have old hardware lying around collecting dust.

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Further reading: How to escape the Windows 10 update you mistakenly agreed to and How to go back to Windows 7 or 8 after an unwanted Windows 10 upgrade

Windows 10 updates

While the decision to abuse Windows Updates is clearly burning goodwill with numerous Windows users, the people who suddenly find themselves on Windows 10 won’t be able to prevent actions like this from occurring in the future.

The consumer versions of Windows 10 don’t allow you to disable or manually install Windows Updates. If Microsoft pushes out a Windows 10 update, you will receive it eventually. Some versions of Windows 10, including Windows 10 Pro, allow you to defer feature updates—though not security updates—which bumps your computer off the consumer update path and onto the Current business branch, effectively delaying new features from hitting your PC for “several months.” How-To Geek has an excellent write-up explaining Windows 10’s deferred updates.

That’s likely part of the reason Microsoft’s willing to take this dangerous roll of the dice. A significant portion of average users won’t have the technical knowledge to roll back to Windows 7 or 8 after a surprise upgrade. If you’re a standard, non-technically inclined PC user pushed into Windows 10, there’s no way to cut off Windows Updates even if you don’t trust them anymore.

But angry Windows 7 and 8 holdouts certainly can, and some are. Microsoft’s aggressive Windows 10 upgrade push began by adopting malware-like tactics to deceive users into upgrading, and it’s evolved into something so annoying that users are now willing to risk malware infection in order to make the pop-ups and non-consensual upgrades stop.

And they should stop. Windows 10 is the best Windows yet and can speak for itself. Please, Microsoft. End this madness. Your users are begging you.

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