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How to fix six Windows 10 headaches

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Karlston

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

Microsoft Windows headaches
Thinkstock / Microsoft

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 six 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; annoying notifications; 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 more pleasant to use.

 

Note that we have updated this story for the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, version 1809. If you haven’t made the move to that version of Windows 10, things might look or work a bit differently for you.

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. Windows Update does give you some control over when updates will be installled, so they won't interrupt your work. And Windows 10 Professional, Enterprise and Education users can defer updates. Those techniques are covered in our story "How to handle Windows 10 updates."

Starting with Windows 10 version 1903, which is due to be released in May, Windows Update will let Windows 10 Home and Pro users delay installing twice-yearly feature updates until their current Windows 10 version is no longer supported with security updates — generally about 18 months after it was released.  In addition to that, Windows Home users will be able delay all updates by up to 35 days. (You’ll find instructions here.) But you won’t get that functionality until version 1903 is released and your computer is upgraded to it.

 

In the meantime, there are a few workarounds that let anyone 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 the metered connection feature

Windows 10’s metered connection feature is designed to save you money if you pay for bandwidth use over a certain amount, but you can use it as a clever workaround to stop automatic updates. By default, this feature is turned off for Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections, but turned on for cellular data connections. Here’s how to turn it on for Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections.

 

For Wi-Fi connections:

  1. Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi.
  2. Click “Manage known networks.”
  3. Click each Wi-Fi network to which you connect, and click Properties.
  4. On the screen that appears, scroll to the “Metered connection” section and move the slider to On.

For Ethernet connections:

  1. Go to Settings > Network & Internet > Status.
  2. Click “Change connection properties.”
  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, although at least one person has reported on my colleague Woody Leonhard’s AskWoody forums that some updates are still installed. You’ll have to follow the above instructions for every Wi-Fi and Ethernet network that you connect to in order to stop the updates.

win10 settings metered connection 1809
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

Telling your PC you have a metered connection will block automatic Windows 10 updates. (Click the image to enlarge it

 

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.
  5. Restart your PC.
windows update service
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

You can turn off the Windows Update service. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

The Windows Update service won't run any more, and you won't download and install updates automatically. If you ask Windows 10 to check for updates after you’ve turned off Windows Update, you’ll receive an error message.

Windows 10 update error IDG / Preston Gralla

Here’s the error message you’ll get if you turn off the Windows Update service and then tell Windows 10 to check for updates.

We reached out to Microsoft multiple times and asked the company to confirm whether this technique for turning off Windows Update works. Microsoft refused to confirm or deny it. However, we used the technique on multiple PCs running the latest version of Windows 10, and it worked in every instance. Other sources have reported the technique works as well.

 

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. The exception is security updates. If you're worried about security, the metered connection technique is a little safer, because it lets through important security updates, which you're not likely to get when you turn off Windows Update.

 

If you opt for turning off Windows Update, at some point you should turn it back on to get the security patches you’ve missed. And if you opt for the metered connection technique, you’ll likely want to turn it off eventually to get the feature or bug-fix updates. 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.

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.

 

Note that you won’t be able to uninstall every update, and you won’t be able to hide all updates that you’ve uninstalled. Still, it’s well worth trying, if you’ve got a bad update.

 

You can see all the updates that you’ve installed by going to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > View update history. A list appears, divided into five sections: Feature Updates, Quality Updates, Driver Updates, Definition Updates and Other Updates. The Feature Updates section shows the major semiannual updates — for example, the Windows 10 April 2018 Update. But you won’t see that written in plain English. Instead, you’ll see the version number Microsoft uses to refer to the upgrade, such as version 1809 for the October 2018 Update.

 

The Quality Updates section lists the more mundane updates to Windows that fix bugs, improve security and add minor features. Driver Updates shows the drivers that have been updated. Definition Updates lists all the anti-virus and anti-malware updates for Windows’ built-in anti-malware tool. Other Updates lists miscellaneous other updates, such as to the Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool. Click the update to get information about your updates. That way, you might be able to track down an update that has been causing you problems.

 

When you click to get details about a feature update, you’ll be sent to a page full of tips, videos and other content about the update. For quality, driver, and other updates, you’ll be sent to a web page with a detailed written description of the update.

 

If you want to uninstall a feature updates (such as Windows 10, version 1803), you’ll have to do it within 10 days of the upgrade being installed. After that, there’s nothing you can do to uninstall it. If you want to uninstall it in that 10-day time period, go to Settings > Update & Security > Recovery. In the “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10” section, click the “Get started” button, then follow the prompts.

 

Even if you want to uninstall the upgrade within the 10-day period, the “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10” selection might not appear. If that happens, you won’t be able to uninstall the update. The likely cause of the issue is that your Windows.old folder has been deleted. That folder holds the previous version of Windows, so if it’s not there, you can’t revert to the previous version. 

 

To uninstall other updates, back on the View Update History page, click Uninstall Updates. You'll see a list of your Windows updates — although you won’t see all of them. Not every update listed in the “View installed update history” will appear on the screen that lets you uninstall updates, and you can’t uninstall any that don’t appear there. And when you click some updates that do appear on the uninstall updates screen, the uninstall button vanishes. Double-click the update that you want to get rid of. A screen will appear asking if you want to uninstall it. Click Yes.

 

In some instances, you may be able to make sure that Windows 10 won’t reinstall the update you’ve uninstalled, using a free Microsoft tool to essentially hide it from Windows Update. To do it, go to this Microsoft support page, scroll toward the bottom and click the “Download the ‘Show or hide updates’ troubleshooter package now” link. Install the download, click Next, and follow the instructions for hiding the update you don’t want reinstalled.

2. Kill Cortana

Not everyone is a fan of Cortana, Microsoft's sometimes pushy digital assistant. Before the Windows 10 Anniversary Update was released in August 2016, 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. But the Anniversary Update removed that option.

 

You can still turn Cortana off, though. If you use any version of Windows 10 other than the Home version, you can use the Group Policy Editor to do it. Launch the Group Policy Editor by typing gpedit.msc into the search box. Then navigate to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Search > Allow Cortana. Set it to “disabled.”

 

If you use Windows 10 Home, you’ll have to get down and dirty with the Windows Registry. 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.

kill cortana
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

If you're not shy about tweaking the Registry, you can still kill Cortana. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

With those caveats, here's how to kill Cortana via the Registry:

  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. 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.

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:

 

Head to the Cortana’s Notebook section of Microsoft's Privacy Dashboard. You’ll see a variety of personal content, ranging from finance to flights, news, sports, and much more. Click any type of content, then follow the instructions for deleting it. If you want to delete all the data Cortana has gathered about you, click “Clear Cortana data” on the right side of the screen.

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 techniques, first restart your computer. Sometimes a mere reboot will fix things.

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.

win10 settings check updates 1809
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

Updating Windows 10 will sometimes fix Start menu woes. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

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:

 

Type powershell into the Windows search box, right-click Windows PowerShell in the search results, and select "Run as administrator." That will launch PowerShell.

 

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.”

 

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.

 

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 the command dism /online /cleanup-image /restorehealth and press Enter. 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.

4. Recover lost storage space

Windows 10 can be a hard-drive hog, especially if you've upgraded to it from a previous version of Windows, or after a major Windows 10 update. That's because when you upgrade or install a major update, Windows 10 keeps the earlier version of the operating system, just in case you want to revert to it.

 

But that old operating system version is taking up several gigabytes of storage space. If you've got a PC with plenty of storage, no worries. But if you're stretched for storage, it can be a serious problem.

 

For example, I have an HP Stream laptop with 32GB of storage, and when I tried to upgrade to the newest version of Windows 10 I couldn't do it — my old Windows version took up so much space, the new version of Windows couldn't install.

 

If you're sure you're not going to want to revert to your old version of Windows, you can easily delete it. It's stored in a folder called Windows.old that you'll find in the /Windows folder. Rather than deleting it manually, though, use the Disk Cleanup tool:

  1. Run the tool by typing Disk Cleanup in the search bar and clicking the Disk Cleanup search result that appears. The tool will take a few minutes to look through your system.
  2. When Disk Cleanup has finished, scroll down the list of files you can clean up and check the box next to “Previous Windows installation(s).” This entry will only appear if you've got a previous Windows installation on your hard disk.
  3. Click OK.

The old version of Windows will be deleted, and you'll get your hard disk space back.

5. Speed up Windows bootup

From the moment that Windows 10 was released, people started complaining that their bootup times were more sluggish than with previous versions of Windows. If you're being annoyed by a lethargic Windows 10 startup, here are two ways to speed it up:

Enable Fast Startup

Windows 10 has a feature called Fast Startup, which combines a normal shutdown with the Windows hibernate feature.

 

With Fast Startup, when you shut down your PC, it closes your applications and logs off all users, but loads the Windows kernel and drivers to a hibernation file on your hard disk. Then, when you restart your PC, Windows loads the kernel and drivers from the hibernation file, speeding up startup.

 

Fast Startup may already be enabled on your PC. Here’s how to check whether it is and what to do about it if it’s not:

  1. Right-click the Start button and select Power Options from the menu that appears.
  2. Click “Additional power settings.”
  3. Click "Choose what the Power buttons do."
  4. Look in the “Shutdown settings” section of the screen that appears. If there’s a check next to “Turn on fast startup (recommended),” you don’t need to do anything else.
  5. If there’s not a check next to it, click “Change Settings that are currently unavailable.”
  6. Check the box next to “Turn on fast startup (recommended)” and click Save changes.

That's all it takes. Note that on some machines fast startup isn't enabled. If that's the case with yours, you won't see the "Turn on fast startup (recommended)" entry.

Windows 10 system settings fast startup
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

It's easy to turn on Fast Startup in order to speed up your bootup time. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Use the Task Manager to speed up startup

The Windows 10 Task Manager is a great tool for managing your PC's startup. With it, you can to disable programs that run on startup:

  1. Right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager.
  2. If the Task Manager runs as a small window and only shows the applications that are currently running on your system, click the "More details" link at the bottom of the screen. This opens up an expanded view, with multiple tabs across the top of the screen.
  3. Click the Startup tab. It lists all the applications that run on startup.
  4. Right-click each application you don't want to run on startup and select Disable. You'll still be able to run the program by launching it in the usual way — it just won't run on startup.
Windows 10 task manager startup tab
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

You can use the Task Manager to disable applications in the startup listing. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

Some additional tips: To help decide which programs to disable, look at the "Startup impact" column. That shows whether the program has no impact on startup time, a low impact, a medium impact or a high impact.

 

Many of the programs on the list may be unfamiliar, and you won't be sure whether to disable them or not. Right-click any you don't recognize and select "Search online." That will launch an online search of the filename. Go through the results; they'll usually tell you exactly what the program does, and help you decide whether to have it run on startup.

 

You can also right-click any program on the list and select "Open file location." That will open Windows Explorer to the folder where the program's .exe file is found. That's another clue to a program's purpose, and whether to disable a program to run on startup.

6. Turn off annoying notifications

The Windows 10 Action Center sends you notifications about your email, social media, software updates, system messages and much more. That can be useful or intensely annoying, depending on your personality and how many notifications you get.

 

There’s an easy way, though, to turn off the notifications on an app-by-app basis, or to stop them all in one fell swoop:

  1. Go to Settings > System > Notifications & actions.
  2. You’ll see five types of notifications you can turn off: notifications that appear on the lock screen, reminders and incoming VoIP calls that appear on the lock screen, “Windows welcome experience” tips that appear after updates and occasionally when you sign in, tips and tricks that appear as you use Windows, and notifications from apps and other senders.
  3. Turn off any types of notifications by sliding the button next to them to Off. The two most persistent types are those from apps and other senders and the Windows tips and tricks, so consider turning them off.
  4. If you want to keep some notifications from apps and other senders but not others, don’t turn that slider to Off. Instead, go to the “Get Notifications from these senders” section below and move the slider to Off for any apps and services from which you don’t want to get notifications.
win10 settings notifications 1809
 
IDG / Preston Gralla

Here’s where to turn off notifications on an app-by-app basis. (Click the image to enlarge it.)

This story was originally published in March 2017 and most recently updated in April 2019.

 

Source: How to fix six Windows 10 headaches (Computerworld - Preston Gralla) [Requires free registration]

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The AchieVer

We will find the ways to fix them and MS will invent new ways to provide the issues 😁

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