Stop & Control Windows Updates

Stop & Control Windows Updates Stop & Control Windows UpdatesMicrosoft has been causing chaos recently with its flawed updates for Windows. Jane Hoskyn explains how to regain control of your PCWindows Update are two words guaranteed to strike fear into the heart of any PC user. You’ve already spent what seems like half your life staring at the message “Installing update 1 of 128… Installing update 2 of 128” before you can actually use your computer. Then there’s a second wave of updates to fix all the bugs in the first wave.Microsoft has now surpassed itself with Windows 10’s first big update, which has horrified many users. The automatic update – codenamed Threshold 2 and now known as the somewhat more prosaic ‘November update’ – arrived on the 12th of that month. An early Christmas present for your shiny new operating system (OS), you may think. But once the wrapping was off and the update installed, many users found they lost far more than they gained.
As we reported, the November update gave with one hand and took away with the other. The stuff it gave wasn’t what you wanted, and the stuff it took away included third-party software you’d relied on for years. Microsoft’s arrogance was astonishing. Perhaps it felt Christmas needed a goodwill antidote?Of course, Microsoft’s impertinence is nothing new. The company has spent months funnelling unwanted gigabytes of Windows 10 files on to Windows 7 and 8/8.1 computers. And while Windows Update problems go back to 2008 and beyond (see the SevenForums site,, it seems to be getting much, much worse. At least you could switch off automatic updates in Windows 7 and 8/8.1; you can’t in Windows 10, unless you disable Windows Update completely (tip: don’t!).
You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see where this is heading. It looks to us like a warm-up for Microsoft’s grand plan: automatically installing Windows 10 on all Windows 7 and 8/8.1 PC’s next year. Now we don’t know that for sure, but all signs currently point that way.
Over the next few pages we’ll show you how to fight back and regain control over Windows Update, whatever version of the OS you’re using.
The apparent deletion of third-party programs from users’ computers may be the most disgraceful side-effect of Windows Update we’ve ever seen.
Actually, “side-effect” is too polite a term. This was an assault on Microsoft’s rivals. The programs weren’t removed for compatibility reasons either – users who’ve reinstalled the tools since the November update have found that they run without a hitch.
Moreover, there were no release notes or explanations at all with the November update, just a self-congratulatory blog (
Now for some good news. We’ve found the programs you thought you’d lost. They’re no longer fully installed, so you can’t run them from ‘All apps’ or by searching from the Start menu. But their essential remnants are stashed in a system folder, created by Microsoft during the November update.
The folder is easy to find. Open File Explorer, hover over ‘Windows (C:)’ in the list of folders and drives on the left, then click the tiny arrow that appears. You’ll now see folders it contains, including Program Files, Users, Windows – and a new one called ‘Windows.old’. Click this folder and you’ll see another Users folder, where you should find the “old” programs Microsoft decided to shuffle off into obscurity.
It is possible to recover programs from ‘Windows.old’, but we’d recommend installing them afresh instead. This way, you can be sure you’re getting the latest versions, and that Microsoft hasn’t interfered with any settings. We’ll go into more detail on replacing missing or hidden programs later in this feature.
Windows 10’s November update is only the latest Windows Update scandal to infuriate you this year. Following an uninvited visit from Windows Update in September, millions of Windows 7 and 8/8.1 users found a whopping hidden system folder containing Windows 10 files. And we mean whopping – the files took up 6GB of space, which is bigger than many portable hard drives.
As mentioned in our report on the first 100 days on Windows 10, the folder was merely a pre-emptive gift from Microsoft, containing files you might need one day. It didn’t do anything other than hog space and slow down users’ PCs. Just like the November update, this was an automatic, uninvited download. It arrived whether you’d registered your interest in Windows 10 or not.
That’s so arrogant it actually made us laugh, but it’s seriously damaging behaviour by Microsoft. Older PCs, especially those running Windows 7, may be unable to cope with a sudden influx of data. Even if your PC is in great condition and you do intend to upgrade to Windows 10 at some stage, you don’t need these pre-emptive downloads – all the files you need are online (, and our sister site Alphr has full instructions for downloading and installing them (
To see if you’ve got the rogue folder, first you’ll have to un-hide system folders in Windows Explorer. You can do this via the Control Panel. Click ‘Appearance and Personalization’ and then, under Folder Options, click ‘Show hidden files and folders’. In the window that opens, click the View tab, scroll down the list under ‘Advanced settings’ and click ‘Show hidden files, folders, and drives’, then click OK. If you see the folder ‘$Windows.~BT’ in your C: drive, you’ve got the pointless Windows 10 files.
Removing the folder and its contents is no easy business, because Windows Update downloads it again the next time it runs.
Littering PCs with junk isn’t a new hobby for Windows Update. It’s been at it for years. If you’ve been using Windows 7 on the same PC for a while, there could be several gigabytes of useless Windows Update leftovers clogging up your hard drive.
It’s not just temporary files, caches and the like. Windows actually keeps copies of all installed updates from Windows Update, even after it’s installed newer updates or newer versions.
To see how much update junk you’ve collected, and to obliterate it for good, use Disk Cleanup. This useful and often overlooked tool is built into 7, 8/8.1 and 10, and works in the same way in all versions. Better still, it’s recently been updated to include a new Windows Update Cleanup tool that deletes old updates your OS doesn’t need.
To get started, type disk cleanup into Start and click Disk Cleanup in the results. In Windows 7 and 8/8.1, the tool automatically starts scanning your local hard drive (C:). In Windows 10, you’ll need to choose the drive (‘disk’) you want to scan. When the scan is done, you’ll see a list of CCleaner-style tick-boxes that represent dispensable Windows junk.
There’s no ‘Windows Update Cleanup’ box – until you create one with a couple more steps. Click the ‘Clean up system files’ button (you’ll need admin privileges on the PC), and the initial scan will run again, but it’ll be more thorough and take longer. Eventually the tick-box window will open again – and this time you’ll find a Windows Update Cleanup box included (scroll down to see it).
To its right you’ll see how much space old, obsolete updates are taking up on your computer. On our relatively clean, recently wipedWindows 7 PC, old updates  were already taking up 1.97GB.
Tick the box, along with any other junk you want to clear (some are pre-ticked, such as ‘Temporary files’), then click OK. Restart your PC for the clean to complete.
It’s annoying – even a little scary – to delete a program or file, restart your computer and find that the “deleted” item is still there. This is the kind of behaviour we often see from browser hijackers and other dodgy files, and we recommend using the powerful free tool AdwCleaner ( to get rid of them.
Microsoft gave no hint whatsoever that its November update would automatically restore Microsoft apps you’d uninstalled, so their return was disconcerting.
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘Ctrl+Z’-style way to undo Windows Update (oh, if only) and restore the customisations you’d set but Microsoft wiped out. For example, to get rid of the rebounding default apps you’ll just have to uninstall them again.
Some Microsoft apps, including Office, Money, Skype, Windows Media Player and News can be uninstalled simply by right-clicking them in the ‘All apps’ list and then clicking Uninstall. This should also work for apps that were pre-installed by your PC maker.
Other Microsoft apps – such as Mail, Messaging and Xbox – need a more persuasive approach. You have a couple of options. First, use the free portable tool 10AppsManager ( We mentioned the program, but unfortunately it seems to have disappeared from the site we mentioned on that occasion – the apps directory UpToDown ( Worry not – it still exists and still works. Download it from its developer, The Windows Club ( Scroll down the page and click the blue Download File button.
Save and extract the ZIP, then rightclick the program file (‘10AppsManager.exe’) and select ‘Run as administrator’. Click Yes when prompted by Windows.
The simple, square program window contains a grid of Microsoft apps, including some – Xbox, Mail and Calendar – that you can’t uninstall by right-clicking in the ‘All apps list’. In 10 Apps Manager, click the app you want to remove, then click Yes.10AppsManager can’t remove all built-in apps, however. An even more powerful option is to use Windows PowerShell and the Command Prompt (find instructions here: Microsoft’s TechNet site also has information and tips on using PowerShell with the Command Prompt to get more control over Windows 10 and its updates (
But even that strategy won’t edge out Edge or drive out Cortana. You could dig deep into Reddit ( for Registry hacks that may get rid of these irritants, and they may even work. But we’d bet our last tuppence that they’ll be back with the next automatic Windows 10 Update.
The only real solution to keeping unwanted Microsoft apps off your PC, at least temporarily, is to tweak your Windows 10 Update settings. We’ll show you how in the next few pages.
November update saw Microsoft move some of your favourite programs to the mysterious ‘Windows.old’ folder.
It is possible to restore programs from this folder. Microsoft hasn’t yet updated its site to explain how to do this in Windows 10, just Windows 8.1 ( Funny how Microsoft is so eager to impose dramatic OS updates but can’t update its own website with vital information.
Luckily, the steps used to restore programs in Windows 8.1 seem to work in Windows 10 as well – up to a point. In short, open the Windows.old folder, open Users and then open your username folder. Find your missing program files and copy and paste them back into Program Files or on to your Desktop.
We tried this and found it hit and miss at best. You can’t just make a program work again simply by pasting it on to your Desktop. Instead, we recommend emptying the Windows.old folder completely and reinstalling your lost programs from scratch.
We recommend reinstalling your missing programs from their developers’ sites rather than messing around with Windows system folders. But first, you should completely uninstall them and their leftovers.
Uninstalling previous versions of programs – and their leftover files – is always a wise move before you install software. But it’s especially important in this case, because you have no way of knowing what Windows Update did to the programs it moved.
Install and run the free tool IObit Uninstaller (, then scroll through its list of your installed programs and plug-ins. If you spot one of the programs that was kidnapped by Windows Update, click the Uninstall (or ‘Quick Uninstall’) button next to it. Wait a few moments for the program to be removed.
IObit will then automatically check for leftovers in your Registry. If there are none, you’ll see a box saying so. That’s it, job done.
If there are leftovers, tick the top box in the window that opens – this automatically ticks all the sub-boxes as well – and then click Delete to get rid of them all.
No-one outside of Microsoft (or perhaps even inside Microsoft) knows what the next big update – codenamed Redstone and due in spring 2016 – will bring. You’d be forgiven for assuming it’ll just remove all your reinstalled programs and put back all those unwanted apps – again.
To help ensure the next update makes you slightly less angry, keep portable versions of the programs Windows Update seems to dislike.
CPU-Z, Speccy, HWMonitor and SpyBot all have portable versions. Find all the download links in the box below. These portable programs can be run directly from the program file (usually an EXE file, which may need to be extracted from a ZIP file first).
You can then copy and move this EXE – or the ZIP, which may include helpful extras such as release notes and help files – to useful storage locations such as a USB stick, external hard drive, Google Drive and more.
USB sticks are the most useful option because they let you run the tools easily and safely on older computers, such as your old XP laptop, without the need to go online.
The main downside of portable programs is that they can’t be patched automatically, so you’ll need to make sure you’re using the latest version. It’s also good practice to upload portable program files to the free web tool VirusTotal ( to check they’re malware-free before you run them.
The upside is that Windows Update can’t touch them. The next big Windows 10 update can sweep away as many installed programs as it likes – but it can’t take away the portable tools you’ve stored on your USB.
Missing programs, resurrected apps, and unwanted reinstalled drivers are just some of the things you didn’t ask for in Windows 10’s major update, but you got them anyway. It all suggests that Microsoft wants to crack down on user control – and can leave you feeling that it’s not even your computer anymore.
However, it is possible to restore many of the settings affected by November’s update. The simplest method is by going to Settings in the Start menu, then clicking System. Click links in the menu on the left to configure items including ‘Default apps’, ‘Notifications and actions’ (where you can get rid of unwanted ‘tips about Windows’) and Display (where you can adjust brightness, text size and so on).
You can remove any driver that’s surplus to your needs in Windows 10 by uninstalling it along with its associated software. Right-click the Start button (Windows 10 logo), then click Device Manager in the list that appears. You’ll also find useful system tools such as Command Prompt and Run in this list.
Device Manager contains a list of driver types. Click the little arrows next to each type to see the drivers, then right-click an unwanted driver and click Uninstall. When the uninstall box opens, tick ‘Delete the driver software for this device’.
It’s just as easy (though potentially risky) to uninstall an unwanted Windows update. Type installed into the Start search box and click ‘View installed updates’. Here, you’ll see a list of updates, including security updates and the November update. You may need to scroll to the right of the window to see the installation dates. You can uninstall an update by right-clicking it and clicking Uninstall.
Note that security updates are vital for keeping your PC safe, so please don’t uninstall them unless you have hard evidence for doing so.
As you’ll have gathered by now, the trouble with removing unwanted items is that they’ll bounce back with the next big Windows update.
However, you can “hide” certain items from incremental updates, which happen regularly between the big updates like the one we saw in November. You can do this using a tool made by none other than Microsoft itself. Go to the relevant Microsoft Support page (, click the blue ‘Download the “Show or hide updates” troubleshooter package now’ link towards the bottom of the page, and then open the file, which has the catchy name ‘wushowhide.diagcab’.
The program window opens automatically. Click Next to scan for installed updates, then click ‘Hide updates’ and tick any you want to “hide” from Windows Update.
Now for the bad news. This tool was first launched during the Insider Preview testing phase, and while it still exists and works, it’s not as effective as it was. Now, if you hide an item, it will be blocked from reinstalling – but only until, in Microsoft’s words, “a new driver or updated fix is available”. So you can hide unwanted updates – but the next incremental update may force them back on to your PC.
In Windows 8/8.1 and more so in 7, you have plenty of control over the drivers you update – which drivers, where to download them from and when to install them. In fact in Windows 7 the default setting was (and still is) ‘No, let me choose what to do – Never install driver software from Windows Update’.
Windows 10, by stark contrast, sets all drivers to install automatically by default. You can remove and hide them, but like the Terminator they’ll be back. Microsoft is now your boss.
Your only alternative to full automatic driver updates is to switch them off altogether, which we think is meanspirited of Microsoft and potentially hazardous. To do this, type installation in the Start search box and click ‘Change device installation settings’ (same goes for Windows 7 and 8/8.1). In Windows 10, you’re then asked: ‘Do you want to automatically download manufacturers’ apps and custom icons?’. ‘Yes (recommended)’ is selected by default; no surprises there. The only other option is ‘No (your device might not work)’. Click it, and then click Save Changes.
That’s it – all or nothing. If you change your mind, repeat the steps above and click ‘Yes (recommended)’ to restore automatic driver downloads.
The screenshots at the bottom of the page compare the default download options in Windows 7 (left) and Windows 10 (right). We’ve not changed any options, typifying the differences between update settings throughout Windows 7 and Windows 10.
You can switch off Windows Update in Windows 10, as suggested by our angry friend in Reddit. Here’s how, if you really want to. Open the Control Panel, type services in the search box and then click ‘View local services’. In the box that opens, scroll to Windows Update, right-click it and click Properties. Then open the ‘Startup type’ dropdown box, click Disabled and then OK.
That’s it – you won’t get any more updates, and your PC will turn into a playground for cybercriminals. At the risk of repeating ourselves, we strongly advise against doing this. Instant, automatic security updates are a huge advantage of Windows 10.
Instead, tweak Windows Update to give you a little more control. In the ‘Startup type’ dropdown box, select ‘Automatic (Delayed start)’ to ensure your PC doesn’t suddenly do a restart while you’re in the middle of something.
Alternatively, open Settings, click ‘Update & Security’, ‘Advanced options’, and then select ‘Notify to schedule restart’ from the dropdown box. Next time an update is due (major or otherwise), you’ll get an alert offering you to change to delay restart, so you’ve got time to save your work.
You may notice an option to ‘Defer upgrades’ in Settings – this is only available to members of the Insider Program. You can still join the free Program ( to get beta updates in advance, to defer your updates – and to get the chance to tell Microsoft exactly what you think.

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