New details emerge about forced Windows 10 upgrade -- and how to block it

There are still preventive measures available for users who want to resist Microsoft's latest Windows 10 upgrade offensive

True to yesterday's unofficial announcement,  Microsoft has started rolling out its latest Windows 10 upgrade offensive.

"Upgrade to Windows 10" has moved from an occasionally sighted Optional update to the much more common Recommended. Many Windows 7 and 8.1 users report the upgrade now appears as a checked item in Windows Update, clearing the way for the installer to launch automatically -- typically when the system reboots. 

Thanks to Josh Mayfield, creator of GWX Control Panel, and the Baker Street Irregulars on the site, a clearer picture of the upgrade has emerged, including some insight into one of Microsoft's more bizarre statements.

Microsoft sent a message to several industry analysts yesterday claiming, "We updated the upgrade experience today to help our customers, who previously reserved their upgrade, schedule a time for their upgrade to take place."

In fact, there appears to be no connection between the flood of recommended updates and the reservation system that was disbanded last October. An anonymous poster on AskWoody filled in the blanks:

Those who reserved the upgrade way back, but never received it, get it first. It will be BITS that will locate these PCs, so there will be no windows update presented. Maybe that is why you have seen nothing to date from WU. The files will just arrive and a reboot will install it.

(BITS is the Background Intelligent Transfer Service, which downloads updates from Microsoft's servers to your computer.) Apparently this resweep of outstanding but unfilled reservations was the first step in Microsoft's more aggressive upgrade campaign.

Mayfield, who has been through the wringer with many Windows 7 and 8.1 systems, confirms unequivocally that Microsoft kept its promise to avoid upgrading systems with the DisableOSUpgrade bit flipped in the registry. That's the Microsoft-sanctioned registry setting I wrote about last month -- the one that Microsoft documented in its Jan. 18 changes to KB 3080351.

If you have that bit flipped, "Upgrade to Windows 10" doesn't appear in your Windows Update list, either checked or unchecked.

That's the good news. The rest is ugly.

If "Upgrade to Windows 10" is checked in your Windows Update list, you're in for a rollicking good time. According to an anonymous poster:

After BITS completes the download, the install starts automatically usually on a restart or reboot. A few operations get underway then the EULA appears. If you reply 'yes' the install continues until W10 is installed. If you reply 'no' it auto reverts back to your previous OS.

Microsoft has long promised Windows 7 and 8.1 customers they would have a chance to opt out of the Win10 upgrade installation. It appears that accepting the EULA for Windows 10 is the only checkpoint -- if you accept the EULA, Windows 10 gets installed on your PC. Since most Windows users are accustomed to accepting EULAs (when's the last time you declined a EULA?), we're in for a flood of new Windows 10 users as systems reboot over the next few days.

Not accepting the EULA doesn't disable the upgrade, though. As best I can tell (these are still early days), the EULA comes back on every reboot, even if you turned it down previously. Once the "Upgrade to Windows 10" update appears as checked on your PC, you're stuck in an endless installer cycle that kicks in every time you reboot. All of the installation files stay on your system, and Windows 10 is ready to be installed, again and again.

Microsoft says that if you don't love Windows 10 you have 30 days to roll back to your previous version of Windows. That's a great safety net -- if the rollback works. Unfortunately, the Web is littered with people complaining about that the rollback breaks applications and sometimes eats data. The only reliable fallback is a complete copy of your hard drive.

You'll note that the "Upgrade to Windows 10" entry in the Windows Update list doesn't have a Knowledge Base number. Without a KB number, there's no way to uninstall the upgrade.

The easiest way to keep "Upgrade to Windows 10" from appearing on your system? Run Mayfield's GWX Control Panel. He describes the process in the section "How do I block Windows 10?" in his user guide. The key setting is the one he calls "Are Windows 10 upgrades allowed?" That's the one linked to DisableOSUpgrade in the registry. Alternatively, if you really want to use regedit, you can set DisableOSUpgrade by hand.

You can also try adjusting the Windows Update settings (set Windows Update to "Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them" and uncheck the box marked "Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates"), but the GWX Control Panel approach is easy and foolproof.

It isn't clear if GWX Control Panel will reliably release a PC from the endless Win10 installer cycle. For now, if you're stuck in the cycle be sure to decline when asked to accept the Windows 10 EULA, and wait for Mayfield to certify that GWX Control Panel can pull you out of installer purgatory.

To be clear, I'm not averse to upgrading to Windows 10. I use Win10 on my main systems, and it's working fine -- has been for a year. I wrote a 1,000-page book about Windows 10.

What I do object to is Microsoft's heavy-handed pushing. Many people -- and many organizations -- have good reason to delay moving to Win10, as my colleague J. Peter Bruzzese noted this morning.

Microsoft's unrelenting effort to force Windows 10 upgrades has alienated even its most ardent supporters. The ends do not justify the means.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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