How to block the Windows 10 May 2019 Update, version 1903, from installing

With the May 2019 feature update to Windows 10 (version 1903) almost ready to hit the fan, here are the best ways to ensure you install it when you’re ready — even in the face of recent forced updates from Microsoft.

Microsoft Windows 10 logo bandage data map
Microsoft / Thinkstock

Surely you remember how the first release of Windows 10 version 1809 turned out — deleted files, panicked users, yanked upgrades that were unyanked and yanked again. Heaven knows that the release of Windows 10 version 1903 couldn’t be any worse, but there’s every reason to wait and see.

For almost everyone, the new features in version 1903, known to some as the May 2019 Update — Cortana banished, a few anemic phone extensions, newly spry response to a failed update — just aren’t worth the bother of installing and setting up an entirely new copy of Windows. (Unless you really want Candy Crush Soda Saga installed for the umpteenth time.)

If you’re convinced that Cortana should sit in a corner by itself, your opinion may vary, of course. And there are undeniable benefits under the covers. But for 90% of us, I would guess, 1903 isn’t high on the priority list. It certainly isn’t worth thrusting yourself into the unpaid beta-tester pool at the earliest opportunity, while waiting for Microsoft to iron out its problems. Thus, for most Windows 10 users, it makes a whole lot of sense to wait and update to 1903 when you’re good and ready for it — not when Microsoft decides to push it on you. (Whatever you do, don't manually check for updates.)

Microsoft is about to unleash a new “Download and install” link in Windows 10 versions 1803 and 1809. At least in theory, if you avoid clicking “Download and install now” when the “Feature Update to Windows 10, version 1903” release appears in Windows Update, you shouldn’t have it pushed on your machine. As we went to press, the details were hazy — the only example we’ve seen doesn’t match what’s been promised — so, for now at least, you’d be well advised to take the old approach and avoid clicking “Download and install now.”

If the “Download and install now” option rolls out the way it’s been billed, and we’re able to verify that it works out in the real world, we’ll update this article.

The textbook approach (for Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise and Education)

For those of you running Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise or Education, there’s always the Microsoft Party Line. Here’s the official way to turn off Windows 10 “feature updates” (that’s the official name for a version upgrade):

Step 1. Click Start > Settings > Update & Security. Click the link marked Advanced options.

You see the Advanced Options pane. If you’re running the Windows 10 April 2018 Update, version 1803 (the most popular version) or the ill-fated version 1809, what you see is shown in the screenshot.

win10 1809 windows update advanced options Woody Leonhard/IDG

If you have Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise or Education, you can delay the installation of the current Windows 10 release. (Click image to enlarge.)

Step 2. Set the branch readiness (under “Choose when updates are installed”) to Semi-Annual Channel.

Microsoft has changed the Windows 10 update terminology so many times it’s hard to keep track of the settings, what they used to mean, and what they mean now. In this case, “Semi-Annual Channel” really means “wait an initial 60 days after the new version is released before applying the deferral” (explained in Step 3) — nothing more, nothing less.

Microsoft has a hand-waving explanation of how waiting for “Semi-Annual Channel” is, in effect, equivalent to waiting 60 days after release. That’s simply not true, historically — CBB and SAC time lapses have ranged from 45 to 150 days — but Microsoft doesn’t seem to be unduly influenced by the facts.

Step 3. Set the Feature Update deferral to 365 days.

In theory, this setting tells Microsoft that you want to wait for the next version of Windows, version 1903 in this case, to age for 60 days (“Semi-Annual Channel”) and after that you want to wait for an additional 365 days.

The setting’s the same for both Windows 10 1803 and 1809.

While you’re here, you should also tell Windows 10 to wait 30 days before installing cumulative updates (“quality updates”).

You can “X” out of the pane. There’s no Save button.

If you use Windows 10 Home

For those of you running Windows 10 Home, the situation isn’t nearly as straightforward. Many people recommend that you turn off the Windows Update service, wuauserv, but I’ve never been a fan of that approach — too many possible problems and undocumented side effects. (If you feel so inclined, though, just google “disable wuauserv.”) You can also use a third-party product, such as Windows Update MiniTool or O&O Shutup10, if you don’t mind putting your updates in another company’s hands.

My recommendation is to mark your internet connection as “metered” — telling Microsoft, in effect, that you’re paying for internet by the bit, and you don’t want to overload your connection. There’s no guarantee this approach (dare I call it a “trick”?) will always work, but, unlike the official settings mentioned in the preceding section, it doesn’t look like Microsoft has ignored them specifically to force upgrades on blocked machines.

Metered connections have some odd side effects, with selective downloading that’s occasionally hard to predict, but if you don’t have Pro, Enterprise or Education, it’s an easy way to dodge the forced upgrade bullet.

To set your internet connection to metered, click Start > Settings > Network & Internet. If you have a wired (Ethernet) connection, on the left, click Ethernet, click on the network icon, and slide “Set as metered connection” to On. If you connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, the instructions are the same (see the screenshot) except, on the left, click Wi-Fi.

win10 1809 ethernet metered connection Woody Leonhard/IDG

Setting your internet connection as metered can stop Windows 10 updates. (Click image to enlarge.)

Windows 7 and 8.1

If you haven’t yet made the leap to Windows 10, there’s nothing to worry about. The days of pushed Windows 10 updates are long behind us, and it’s unlikely they’ll come again. In theory, Windows 7 and 8.1 users have to pay for the Windows 10 upgrade. I’ve seen no indication that Microsoft will ever bring back the “Get Windows 10” debacle, in spite of the less-intrusive KB 4493132 nagware.

Microsoft’s propensity to forget its own settings

On three separate occasions in the past couple of years — in November 2017January 2018, and March 2018 — Microsoft forcibly upgraded Windows 10 Pro machines that have Advanced Options set to defer upgrades. Microsoft has, in effect, ignored its own settings. You can think of these incidents as accidents, or the result of overworked or overly zealous individuals. I, for one, am not so magnanimous.

These aren’t fly-by-night reports, or wails of pain from users who forgot to turn something on or off. All three have been documented by Microsoft as being Microsoft mistakes, in nooks and crannies of its various posts.

Oddly, it seems that the metered connection trick kept working in the face of all of those “oopsies.” You may well want to set your internet connection to metered, even if you use Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise or Education. Belt and suspenders and all that.

Microsoft’s official back door: The last, and most nefarious of the three “oops” events involves a, uh, feature called Update Assistant and its executioner program, updateassistant.exe. The poorly documented Update Assistant has been around for a long time, but its intrusive nature came to light when it started (erroneously, according to Microsoft) ignoring the Windows Update settings that were supposed to block installation of the next version of Windows 10.

Update Assistant has evolved. You may have seen KB 4023057, the “Update to Windows 10 Versions 1507, 1511, 1607, 1703, 1709 and 1803 for update reliability,” which has been released and re-re-re-released dozens of times (see Rick Corbett’s description). This “Remediation Shell” (formerly “WaaSMedic”) patch is intended to (in the words of abbodi86):

Fix and reset Windows Update-related parts to their “supported” configuration, i.e. restore registry settings, services status, schedule tasks, clear disk space, and launch UpdateAssistant.exe if installed. Mainly it’s meant to pave the way to receive the latest updates, whether quality updates, or feature update to latest Windows 10 version… it evolved from just fixing the Registry to restoring tasks and fixing the drivers DB, and compatibility for UAC management.. the main purpose or function did not change: re-allow blocked or disabled Windows Update.

Microsoft’s so gung-ho on blasting away your Windows Update blocks that it’s set up a regimen worthy of the finest malware. Of course, from Microsoft’s point of view they’re simply correcting any bugs that may have been introduced in the upgrade process. Defeating those who actively block the upgrade is just a bit of fortuitous collateral damage.

Wushowhide

When all else fails — or if you want to hold the Windows 10 1903 upgrade at bay while you install other updates — Microsoft’s wushowhide utility works great. You want to hide the “Feature update to Windows 10, version 1903.” The trick is that you can’t hide the “Feature update to Windows 10, version 1903” update until it actually appears on your machine — and it may not get pushed to you for days, weeks, or even months.

To prevent any nasty surprises, you should run wushowhide before you switch off any of the 1903-blocking techniques mentioned in this feature, or before you click “Check for updates.” If 1903 is being offered on your machine, wushowhide lets you “hide” the patch while you use Windows Update to get your other patches brought up to date.

Here’s how to run wushowhide:

Step 1. Go to KB 3073930 and download Microsoft's Wushowhide tool. (Click the link marked "Download the 'Show or hide updates' troubleshooter package now.") Drag the downloaded file, Wushowhide.diagcab, to any convenient location.

Step 2. Double-click on Wushowhide.diagcab to run it.

Step 3. This part’s important. Click the link marked Advanced. Uncheck the box marked "Apply repairs automatically." Click Next.

Step 4. Wushowhide will run for a long, long time. When it comes back up for air, click the link to Hide Updates. If you see a checkbox marked "Feature update to Windows 10, version 1903," as in the screenshot, check the box next to the item and click Next. (If you don't see "Feature update to Windows 10, version 1903," the upgrade isn't being sent to your box yet. “X” out of wushowhide and check again tomorrow.)

win10 1903 wushowhide Woody Leonhard/IDG

Microsoft’s wushowhide utility works great to hide selected Windows updates and keep them from being installed. (Click image to enlarge.)

Wushowhide is an odd bird. If it successfully hid the upgrade/update/patch, you’ll see a "Troubleshooting has completed" dialog with your 1903 patch marked as a “Problems found.” You did everything right.

Step 5. Click Close. You're done.

If you don't trust Microsoft's wushowhide tool, you can verify for yourself that it hid the version 1903 upgrade. Go back to Windows Update (Start > Settings > Update & security, then Check for Updates) your machine should show "Your device is up to date." The 1903 upgrade didn't get installed.

When you're ready to install version 1903 — you probably will, at some point — the reverse procedure's just as easy. Here’s how to unhide the update:

Step 1. Double-click on Wushowhide.diagcab to run it. This part’s important. Click the link marked Advanced. Uncheck the box marked "Apply repairs automatically." Click Next.

Step 2. Wushowhide will run for a long time. When it comes back up, click the link to Show hidden updates.

Step 3. Check the box next to "Feature update to Windows 10, version 1903," click Next, and click Next again.

Wushowhide will dutifully tell you it is "Resolving problems." When it's done, you see a "Troubleshooting has completed" dialog.

Step 4. Click Close.

Version 1903 will then get queued up again, and the next time Windows Update runs (you can check for updates manually, or let it run by itself, likely overnight), your machine will reboot into Windows 10 version 1903.

Your options

Nobody knows what kinds of dirty tricks (er, remediation techniques) Microsoft will employ to push Windows 10 users onto 1903 — whether we’ll have even more “oops” experiences. So it’s impossible to say definitively how you can block the upgrade to 1903, both now and in the future. The “Download and install now” option coming to 1803 and 1809 sounds promising, but I’m not ready to sing the “Hallelujah” chorus until I see it in action.

At this point, if you’re serious about staying on your current version of Windows 10, here’s what I would recommend:

  • If you’re running Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise or Education, follow the official instructions and set Windows Update’s advanced options to Semi-Annual Channel and 365-day deferral of “feature updates,” as shown in the screenshot. That should buy you 60 + 365 = 425 days of deferral.
  • No matter which edition of Windows 10 you’re using, set your internet connection to “metered.”

Work is under way to figure out how best to keep updateassistant.exe and Windows10Upgrade.exe at bay. We’ll be following closely on AskWoody.com.

Thx to MrBrian, abbodi86, and the other intrepid interlocutors on AskWoody.

Follow the update struggle on the AskWoody Lounge.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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