Windows 10 may already be on your PC even if you don't want it

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 10, 2015
Updated • Jul 5, 2017
Windows, Windows 10

Microsoft is betting big on Windows 10 and the operating system's adoption rate in the next few years. The company mentioned more than once that it plans to deploy Windows 10 on more than one billion devices in that time.

The operating system is off to a good start thanks to the free-for-nearly-everyone offer that Microsoft announced to the surprise of many.

While the offer is seen by some to consolidate the fragmented Windows installation base (not nearly as fragmented as Android but still) it is seen by others as an attempt to gather information about as many Windows users as possible for advertisement and marketing purposes.

It is clear though that Microsoft wants users to upgrade previous versions of Windows 10. While most users assume that the offer is opt-in, there is apparently another side to the story that has not been mentioned yet.

Windows 7 and Windows 8.x users who have automatic updates enabled may have received notifications to reserve and install Windows 10.

Windows 10 installation files are downloaded to the system if the offer is accepted, but what happens if the offer is ignored?

Turns out the installation files may be downloaded anyway to those systems. Considering that the total file sizes of the data is between 3.5 and 6 Gigabyte on the computer after the download, it is a questionable practice at best

Tip: You can find out by yourself if Windows 10 has been downloaded already to your system. Check the drive Windows is installed on and see if the folder $Windows.~BT exists. If it does, Windows installation files have been downloaded already even if you did not explicitly accepted the offer. This is a hidden folder so make sure you enable the option to view hidden files and folders in the Folder options.

The practice is bad for a number of reasons but most notable bandwidth, storage and trust. Bandwidth and storage should be clear as Gigabytes are transferred to the system and stored on it.  That's particularly problematic for users on slow connections, users who pay for transfers either all the time or after they have crossed a monthly limit, and systems where storage space is of a premium.

Lastly, it is a matter of trust. One would not necessarily expect Microsoft to send Gigabytes of data to systems that have not accepted the upgrade offer but that is exactly what the company does currently. There is really no excuse for that as it is like preloading huge amounts of data to make sure it is there if the user ever wants to use it but without any indication that this will ever be the case.

Tip: Check out the following instructions to block upgrade notifications to Windows 10 in earlier versions of Windows. Doing so prevents the downloading of the installation files on those systems. (via The Inquirer)

Windows 10 may already be on your PC even if you don't want it
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Windows 10 may already be on your PC even if you don't want it
Windows 10 installation files may have been downloaded to eligible Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs even if users did not opt-in to receive the update.
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  1. BillC said on February 3, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    I’m done with Microsoft’s unethical behavior.
    When I accepted the 8.0 to 8,1 update, my laptop became extremely slow. It was unusable.
    I replaced windoze with Linux Ubuntu and have been very satisfied.
    The tablet runs Android and it just keeps working without issue.
    The desktop has the annoying windoze 10 popups that just won’t go away even after disabling them.
    I will be trashing windoze on it soon and make it like the laptop.
    I just don’t need this headache in my life.

  2. Arby said on September 20, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Here’s the capitalist model on display: ‘Dominate, dictate, take’. And the capitalists’ motto: ‘Take what you get whether you like it or not and even if it hurts you’.

  3. anon said on September 15, 2015 at 9:43 pm

    From the same shitty company who believes you’re not a human if you don’t live in a place with unlimited internet access.


  4. JR said on September 14, 2015 at 6:38 pm

    The only question to ask is “How does Microsoft make its money with Windows 10?” I remember when Gates bought DOS for $25,000 a lot of money then but not for a very rich lawyer dad. It has been a non-stop cash cow since.

  5. Mojo said on September 14, 2015 at 5:58 am

    Well, I seem to have this $Windows.~BT folder on my drive, to the tune of about 6GB (and several dollars of excess bandwidth usage… I wonder if I can demand reimbursement for them secretly using up my bandwidth).

    My question is, can I delete this folder? I have NO interest in Windows 10, and I don’t have the space to waste on something I don’t want or need.

    1. Corky said on September 14, 2015 at 10:43 am

      That’s the question isn’t it, while it’s safe to delete the $Windows.~BT folder if you have no intention of upgrading to W10 the question is can you, from what I understand Windows doesn’t let you just delete it either due to permissions or the folder being in use.

      Contrary to Microsoft shills like Rob Trent claiming this is a non-issue, that the size of the downloaded files are ONLY 3GB (a very sizable download) even though people are reporting 6GB, that nothing has changed from when W10 was launched, that it only applies to Pro or Enterprise domain-joined version of Windows, and claiming that Microsoft have been very clear about it from the beginning.

      They’ve not been clear, it is an issue, it’s not just preparatory files, not just Pro or Enterprise domain-joined version of Windows, Microsoft is (afaik) seeding peoples PCs with W10 whether they like it or not, and contrary to Rob Trent saying it’s a non-issue editing the registry to prevent an operating system upgrade is not simple, obvious, or something that your average user would be comfortable doing.

  6. peerer said on September 13, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    is there anything about this in win7 EULA?

  7. Hans van Aken said on September 12, 2015 at 8:48 pm

    On patchday I found the updates shown but was unable to download them.
    So I tried to get them via WSUS, by which 2 GB were used (the updates
    should have used approx. 100 MB). Is it possible that I got Windows 10
    by that though I have taken all means not to download it: no automatic download,
    BlockWindows etc. My bandwidth per month is limited to 5 GB (UMTS), thus
    2GB of it are gone in less than one day. Does anybody believe Microsoft is
    thinking about these problems? I think it’s time to leave a company you can’t
    trust any more. I do not want do be spied or tricked and think of
    Microsofts dirty play the whole day long. It’s enough.

  8. Adithya FRK said on September 12, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    @ klarkkent

    so MS really did delete your NO-CD File?

    Gosh i thought this whole Microsoft anti piracy thing was just a mere licence agreement.

    If MS did delete your file yes you are right No-Cd’s are considered as a crack file.

    Also your antivirus might have also done that

  9. klarkkent said on September 12, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    This post is a little off topic, but Microsoft (via Win10) got on my hard drive and deleted the startup file and some other game files, for Far Cry 3. It’s an old game, I know, but I still like to play it once in a while. I paid for it and have the cd (it’s not pirated). I was using a nocd file to start the game so I didn’t have to put the store bought cd in my drive each time I wanted to play. So I guess this makes Microsoft think the game is pirated, when it is not. What makes them think it’s ok to do this, the license agreement? What’s next my mp3’s? It’s time for me to go back to Windows 7 (clean install with sp1) and shut off all updates in services, Sorry fo the rant, but i’m pretty fed up with Microsoft and Win10.

  10. Robert Gagne said on September 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm
  11. Adithya FRK said on September 12, 2015 at 1:40 pm
  12. ilev said on September 12, 2015 at 7:34 am

    You haven’t mentioned that these Windows 10 files are being shared and distributed with other Windows users.

  13. Robert Gagne said on September 12, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I think GWX Control Panel (formerly GWX Stopper) is a possible solution. I’ll test it in a couple of days, I’m busy.

  14. Robert said on September 11, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    It would be nice to see a new company startup with a new O.S. that respected privacy. Seems to me that their would be quite a niche there to profit from.

  15. Ingo said on September 11, 2015 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks Vrai ! 4 restoring my sanity!!!
    Exactly my tried and tested method on update-settings for years. Observed the same on my 8.1 and thought I might possibly be getting senile.

  16. Vrai said on September 11, 2015 at 7:41 pm

    What annoys me the most is very recently Microsoft changed my update setting on 8.1 from “check but notify before downloading or installing” to “automatically install”! That’s just not right.

    I never, ever run any of my Windows PC’s with automatically install updates enabled. I ALWAYS set them to check but notify.

    Changing this setting behind my back is a bit too much.

  17. Bob said on September 11, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    I have the folder but is only 27 KB.

  18. Maou said on September 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I used Win10 for a while (gaming purposes), most of my old games did not run properly without tweaks, some still don’t run no matter what, a little bug here and there, bullshit updates, etc…

    After 4 weeks I decided to go back to Windows 8.1, if you remove all the metro crap including the store, you have a awesome O.S on your hands.

    Micro$oft was too eager to release Win10, I don’t think it’s ready for prime time.

  19. uRwhatUr said on September 11, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Yep – it’s there on 2 of my Win7 systems and 1 Win8 system – about 6 gigs each- I had ignored the offer. Have a data cap and was blaming my sons gaming for the high data usage showing in my router settings.

    Thanks for the article.

  20. yoav said on September 11, 2015 at 7:30 am

    Wow. I believe this is the first operating system to double as malware. What’s M$ thinking? How much money is enough?

  21. Asok Asus said on September 11, 2015 at 7:07 am

    A class action lawsuit needs to be filed against MS for this: 7-10GB can wreck a lot of lower end systems. Plus, MS has made it nearly impossible for the average user to delete this folder. Almost the only way it can be deleted is with cleanmgr using the System Files option.

  22. dan said on September 11, 2015 at 5:57 am

    Unbelievable. Or all too believable. Either way, it’s awful.

  23. Travis said on September 11, 2015 at 4:25 am

    I don’t see why everyone has a problem with Windows 10! It’s literally the greatest OS Ever!! It is by far the most feature rich OS from Microsoft by far! If you don’t want Windows 10 or the files, Just simply use CMD to get rid of them! I’m 14 and know how to do this :/

    1. DVD Rambo said on September 12, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Travis: I’ve seen the same comment posted elsewhere, possibly by you, and almost word for word. You don’t come across as credible. we run Windows 10 on half of our 6 PC’s. The others are Windows 7 and I want them to stay that way.

      No OS is the greatest ever. The function of an OS is to run applications, not to be the star of the show. Windows is #1 on the desktop because it runs the most applications, not because it’s the greatest. It’s good. In fact, it’s immensely better than older versions were. Still. it’s what you do on your PC that matters. If someone wants to use Windows 10 Cortana, super. I don’t care to talk to my desktop computer. I do talk to my phone, however.

    2. JohnMWhite said on September 11, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      The issue at hand is not just that the files are there, but that they are being downloaded to users without their consent, eating up their disc space and bandwidth. This is covered in the article. Why did you leap to “you can just delete them”? That doesn’t deal with the issues raised at all.

    3. Corky said on September 11, 2015 at 8:45 am

      You mean by typing Format C: at the command prompt? ;)
      Joking aside while you can uninstall some of the spyware that comes with Windows 10 there’s a great deal more you can’t, and can you be sure the stuff you have removed is truly gone?

  24. ddk said on September 11, 2015 at 3:46 am

    After hearing about “telemetry” experiments in Win 10, I decided to switch to OSX (mac-mini).
    Wanted to do Linux but too buggy & Ubuntu is reported to have spy/tracking capabilities. Hope Apple is more strict about privacy but their stuff is pretty nice looking anyways.

    1. ilev said on September 12, 2015 at 7:55 am

      After 30 years with Microsoft (starting with DOS) I am switching to OSX as well. Needed Windows for work, but no more. I long time stopped using any Microsoft software/applications apart from Windows OS, so the switch will be easy.

    2. Andrew said on September 11, 2015 at 4:34 am

      From what I understand, Apple still does telemetry. I wouldn’t worry about Microsoft or Apple imo because they don’t derive a lot of their revenue from advertisements (like Google), so they are not selling your data… they respect privacy about the same. But that’s just my opinion.

      1. ddk said on September 11, 2015 at 9:15 pm

        In the end Government can always get what they want. From any source. Domestically at least.
        Could they grab that same data from Linux distros/servers located overseas?

  25. Rod Trent said on September 11, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Already answered this last month when the issue last reared its head:

    1. Corky said on September 11, 2015 at 8:35 am

      Aren’t these two separate issues though?
      I read your article when you published it Rod, and this isn’t intended as criticism, but I was under the impression that it was only downloading the files needed for the upgrade on domain-joined computers where a user had reserved a copy via the GWX icon in the taskbar.

      Not as these new reports seem to indicate, downloading the files needed for the upgrade on any and all computers that have automatic updates switch on, and even if people haven’t reserved a copy.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on September 11, 2015 at 7:56 am

      Thanks Rod, really useful!

  26. GAry Roberts said on September 11, 2015 at 1:26 am

    More misinformation regarding Windows 10. Microsoft is not tracking our keystrokes nor are they covertly downloading Windows 10 to unspecting Windows users.

    1. Rum said on November 20, 2015 at 5:16 pm

      Conservant Media Group

      We don’t just assign IDs to millions of consumers. We build profiles around them that are so robust, we know them better than they know themselves.

      We track over 1 million online actions per second to build each profile across more than 7,000 dimensions—including web browsing, app usage, video plays, email activity, cross-screen engagement, life events, hobbies, ad interactions and product interests. All in all, they’re the most complex consumer profiles ever built, allowing you to really get to know your customers and grow your relationship with them over their lifetime.

      Conservant is partners with Microsoft, dont think keystrokes is one of the 7,000 different metrics they gather?

    2. Ingo said on September 11, 2015 at 8:23 pm

      Beg to differ profusely GAry, do your home work.

    3. DaveyK said on September 11, 2015 at 1:57 pm

      >> “nor are they covertly downloading Windows 10 to unspecting Windows users.”

      Oh yes they are…

    4. seeprime said on September 11, 2015 at 8:58 am

      You sir, are in error, I did a clean install of Windows 7 Pro on a brand new custom tower that I built for a local company. Within hours two hidden folders taking up 6-GB of space, $ and $, were found on the hard drive when Windows wanted to install Windows 10 as an update to the fresh install of Windows 7 Pro that was just completed hours earlier. There was no “reserving” of Windows 10. It just appeared and wanted to be installed as an update. That appears to indeed be a covert action on Microsoft’s part. If not, their upgrade system is making mistakes that are unacceptable. The PC was setup the next day as a client on a domain where, supposedly, it won’t try to install Windows 10 again, per Microsoft.

    5. Corky said on September 11, 2015 at 8:21 am

      And you know this how exactly GAry Roberts?

    6. Andrew said on September 11, 2015 at 7:54 am

      People will get hysterical about whatever they can. Though I believe insider previews do record keystrokes as specified in their documents, but that’s why they emphasis to NOT use it on your main computer.

  27. Marcio said on September 11, 2015 at 1:06 am
  28. Geoff said on September 11, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Another great disk usage visualizer is called Scanner, written by a guy named Stephan Gerlach.

  29. Andrew said on September 10, 2015 at 10:55 pm

    Oh man…. Microsoft needs to stop pushing all this Windows 10 / Telemetry stuff down Win7/8 users…

    1. ddk said on September 11, 2015 at 3:51 am

      Is Vista safe?
      Darn, I used to have installation media for that but tossed it in the trash :(

      1. Andrew said on September 11, 2015 at 4:32 am

        I haven’t heard much about vista, I think because it was excluded from the windows 10 upgrade, but it seems safe

        But I think if you just block those updates on your system you should be good

  30. JohnMWhite said on September 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    Schoolboy error from Microsoft, in a year absolutely rife with them. Even if they are some uber evil entity out to spy on everyone… acting so shady and incompetent isn’t going to help them in their twisted plot. It is simply brainless.

  31. Jeff said on September 10, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Yep, I have an SSD for my C: drive, and it would piss me off royally for them to do this. So far, it hasn’t happened. I keep a close watch on folder sizes.

    On that note, I recommend the free tool ‘Wiztree’ to easily examine folder sizes (and also easily see hidden and system folders without needing to enable this option in Explorer). I check Wiztree 2 or 3 times a week and monitor many system folders for size changes.

    Another thing virtually everyone should do IMO is disable automatic downloading of optional windows updates. That’s where they sneak in most of their crap.

    edit: omg, why is this comment awaiting moderation? i didn’t even post a link!

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on September 10, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      First comments always go to moderation regardless of content, not sure if this is your first or not though.

      1. Jeff said on September 11, 2015 at 1:10 am

        oops I thought you meant the first comment in a given thread went to moderation, but now I think you meant the first comment of a given user. No, I’ve made many comments on here, not sure why it’s flagging me as a new user. I’ve found the auto-moderation system on this site to be quirky and odd.

      2. Martin Brinkmann said on September 11, 2015 at 7:55 am

        It is indeed the case. To be honest, I don’t even know how WordPress identifies first time users (cookies maybe or IP or email). I agree that the moderation system is everything but great but there is little alternative for sites that don’t want to leak data to third-party systems like Disqus.

      3. Jeff said on September 10, 2015 at 10:07 pm

        Ok. Yes, at the time i wrote it there were no other ones. Thanks for the explanation.

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