Windows 10 essential post-installation tweaks

Updated: February 26, 2020

Typically, I write post-install tweak guides for Linux distributions. And yet, here I am, blithely writing one for Windows 10. The reason is, recently, I did a Windows 7 to Windows 10 upgrade, and then, roughly at the same time, I bought a new desktop and had it freshly installed with Microsoft's latest operating system. Both these experiences provided me with enough data to write an article. This article.

Before you read on, my angle is as follows: I don't like low-IQ stuff. This means mobile stuff, especially when applied to the desktop. Anything touch on the desktop, don't want. Touch-optimized software is inferior to full desktop programs, and it doesn't belong on workstations where you work with the keyboard and mouse. This naturally extends to anything "online" that happens on the desktop, like tiles, Web applications, the whole drama for the common chimp. Hence, this tutorial will show you the range of different things I did to make my Windows 10 experience pleasant, efficient and quiet. Follow me.

Baseline

In general, I'm quite happy with Windows as the operating system. What I detest is the wave of new-age bullshit that's affected the desktop ever since the mobile frenzy took hold of the intellectually challenged masses. Paradoxically, in the mobile space, Windows Phone was the most elegant, least intrusive operating system available, and I was a happy user of a range of Lumia devices, the last of which was Lumia 950. You must remember this is a supreme statement from a Linux geek like myself.

Then, Windows Phone was axed, and we were left with a desktop that tried to converge, but now has a ton of useless functionality. The whole data sync, cloud, apps, whatever. It made a lot of sense when you could actually use and access that data on Windows Phone. Now, it's just another interchangeable piece in the Mobile Battle Royale.

Desktops are designed to serious productivity, which is why things like automatic (forced) reboots and Cortana and whatever are unnecessary. Even detrimental. For instance, my Windows boxes are meant to be running 24/7, with scheduled nightly data backups. You don't want anything rebooting when these critical tasks run, now do you? Of course not. It's not a consideration for a simian sharing their photos on whichever social media, but it is a consideration for people who do serious stuff on their machines - y'know, the reason why I pay handsome money for professional editions of software.

And so, my goal here is to have a Windows 10 desktop that behaves like ... Windows 7. Not in looks. But in basic functionality. The idea is to have a stable, fast, robust platform for serious productivity work, without any compromises or distractions. If you disagree with this message, the browser's X button beckons you. So let's begin. Last but not the least, remember - this is MY setup, and some things may simply not be applicable to your needs.

Local account setup

This is the first thing on the table. You can read my article on this topic for more details. It is possible to create a local account both in Windows 10 Home and Professional editions. The former requires being offline with no network to get the desired results, or modifying the account type after the installation.

Nudges

Privacy tweaks

Again, I have a full tutorial on privacy that covers everything. Well, almost everything. Windows 10 has changed somewhat since I've written this article, but most of it is there. But you have to be thorough, methodical and patient. I even work with a notes file, which has roughly 170 lines in it, covering different aspect of the desktop setup that I need, and like a diligent little technician sending a space shuttle to orbit, I work through the list, ticking the entries done done done. One by one.

Questions 2

Before you see the desktop, your first privacy-related page. Switch from Yes to No.

Once you're logged into the system, you will need to run a multi-pronged privacy setup. First, open Settings, Privacy. Here, I toggled pretty much all and every option to off, because they are simply not relavant to my needs in any way. I only left Microphone on for desktop apps. Second, you will also need to make adjustments in several other places, but we will cover those separately below.

Privacy options

Disable unnecessary services

This is a slippery slope. Normally, I'm against turning services on or off, because down the road, this leads to complications. However, in a few cases, you can safely, selectively disable a few services. In my setup, this comes down to two entries: Connected User Experience Diagnostics & Telemetry and Windows Defender Antivirus Service. The former, because my IQ exceeds the magical number of 100, and the latter because that's not how security is done. Instead, I use the Windows Exploit Protection framework, which is how security is meant to be done. Plus, if you use a nice browser with adblocking and perhaps even script-blocking plus you don't download stupid stuff and run arbitrary programs, you'll be fine.

Services

Now, with Windows Defender, you can't turn the service off just like that. You will need elevated privileges, which can be accomplished with a program like ExecTI, one of the most useful utilities you can have in your Windows toolbox.

Disable automatic updates

Recently, the quality of Windows updates has suffered a fair deal - even Microsoft acknowledged that and went about changing their aggressive policy, separating feature upgrades from monthly patching, offering users an ability to pause updates and all that. I've talked about this at some length in the past.

But it's still not enough. Automatic system updates are a hassle - and a danger. If something goes wrong, it's you who needs to deal with the fallout. My approach to updates has always been: a full system image beforehand, and then a controlled manual update sequence when the circumstances allow it.

In Windows 10, turning updates off is ... difficult. If you're on Windows Home, you will need to do a lot of little tweaks to get the desired results - disable Windows Update and Orchestrator services via ExecTI or alike, disable all scheduled tasks for these two services, or use one of the third-party tools that do this, which is not what I'd recommend, but okay.

Windows 10 Professional has the necessary functionality - you can turn automatic updates off via the Local Group Policy Editor. Launch the tool, then navigate to Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update > Configure Automatic Updates. Toggle this policy to Disabled. Done. Please note this will also disable updates for other Microsoft products. However, you can toggle the policy off, run an update, then turn it back on (which means updates off).

Automatic updates

Updates for other products

Disable automatic drivers installation

If you know what you're doing, then you don't want your drivers updated automatically - any more than you want anything updated without your full control. In the same vein as system updates, I always want to have a full system image before changing the baseline, and this includes drivers. You want Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings > Hardware. On this tab, click on Device Installation Settings. BTW, reading the official Windows 10 blog and whatnot, the upcoming Windows 10 feature upgrade (2004) will not install drivers automatically - and will feature these as optional updates. Sounds familiar? Yes, just like Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. You can't beat simple, old reliability.

Device drivers

Disable Cortana & Web search

Even if you use a local account, Cortana is still present. If you want to full disable it, you will need to make the necessary registry tweak or group policy change. Much like above, go to Windows Components > Search, and then toggle the "Allow Cortana" policy to Disabled.

Next, when you open the Start Menu and search for something, you may notice a tab that reads Web, and also see various results from the Internet. A silly and intrusive thing - plus buggy, if you recall the blank search screen drama from a few weeks back. Anyway, run regedit, and then navigate to the following path:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Search

Here, in the right pane, create two DWORD keys, with the value 0:

AllowSearchToUseLocation
BingSearchEnabled

Edge settings & default browser

I see no reason to use Edge. My passion for this browser died with Windows Phone. It was the best mobile operating system, and I've shed a thousand tragic tears over its demise. Using Edge on the desktop would be a constant reminder of that story. Plus, Edge just doesn't have the range of add-ons that I need and expect. It simply doesn't have the flexibility and portability. Well, no browser other than Firefox actually does. For that matter, you might want to read my article on why Firefox should be your browser, and it has everything to do with the future Internet landscape.

Settings wise, I went through and untoggled pretty much everything. If you haven't disabled Cortana earlier, you will have a separate option to do this. If you have, this option will be toggled off and grayed out. As you can see, you need to be extra dilligent, because the fact you turn a feature off in one place, like Settings, does not mean you can rest. This is another element that requires your attention - to say nothing of the fact I'm using a local account, which shouldn't in any way be tied or associated or enabled with online, cloud-based search functionality.

Edge settings

Now, it's entirely up to you, but you can also change the default browser, if you like:

Default apps

Block future upgrade to Chromium-based Edge

Now, I am also not interested in this path. I already use Chrome as my secondary browser, so there's no reason for yet another Chromium-based product on my system. You can set a registry key that will stop the future upgrade. This is an official document from Microsoft, so there - however, this may no longer be relevant, as you may have already received the relevant update. But if you haven't, then open regedit, and navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\EdgeUpdate

Then, create the following DWORD key, and set the value to 1:

DoNotUpdateToEdgeWithChromium

Minimize noise and disruptions

Windows 10 likes to pop lots of little notifications in the bottom-right corner of the screen. You can adjust these through Notifications & Actions in Settings. Here, you can also remove any "ad" nagging, like tips, tricks, suggestions and welcome experience stuff. Furthermore, for security-related stuff, e.g. if you turned off your anti-virus and alike, you can change the configuration through Control Panel > Security and Maintenance > Change Security and Maintenance settings.

Notifications

You can also mute desktop applications.

Security and maintenance notifications

Security wise, some of the options cannot be turned without super-rigorous tweaking. This is annoying nonsense, which means you will get a prompt regarding your "security" once every logon, no matter what you change. But we will discuss that in more detail in a separate article.

Disable startup apps

You should also disable any startup software that you don't want running right away when you log in. For example, Skype or Steam will do this by default. Likewise, you will have the Windows Security notification icon in the system tray. Toggle off what you don't need. I sure did remove pretty much everything.

Startup apps

If you want even more granularity, then you want to download and use the fabulous Autoruns utility, formerly by Sysinternals, a great combo pack of excellent software for Windows. This lets you govern every aspect of the user session logon experience, including startup entries of all kinds, scheduled tasks, and more.

Autoruns

Remove default folders from This PC

Not a new topic - we talked about this in the context of OneDrive. If you don't want the default locations like Documents, Pictures, Videos, 3D Objects and alike listed in the sidebar in Windows Explorer, you will need to remove them. In regedit, you will need to navigate to the following paths separately:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Wow6432Node\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\
Explorer\MyComputer\NameSpace\

And then, in each one of them, remove the following entries - you can export them and save them first before you actually delete them, to be on the safe side, so if you want to restore them, you can:

You can also uninstall OneDrive - optionally you may need to delete the entry, but I've noticed that recent versions of Windows 10 handle this gracefully. If you do remove the application, the relevant Explorer entry will also be gone.

Add Quicklaunch & customize Explorer

In addition to the tasks above, you can make your Explorer behave and work more like the previous versions of Windows, which should help you achieve higher overall efficiency. Specifically, the ability to use a Show desktop icon on the left, and have custom per-folder shortcuts.

Windows 10 does not have the Quicklaunch toolbar available by default, but you can still manually add it. Right click > Toolbars > New. Then, input the following path, and the Quicklaunch will have been added to your taskbar.

%APPDATA%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch

Once you've added it, you can drag it to the left corner (it's created on the right), remove title and names of individual icons, add or shuffle icons, and more. Most importantly, if you add a Windows Explorer shortcut there, it lets you launch Explorer and open a specific folder location - which you cannot do with a standard pinned app from the taskbar. And you can have several of those - even with their own individual icons. You just can't beat old, proven simplicity. The modern stuff just doesn't cut it.

Quicklaunch

Quicklaunch with Show desktop, Switch between windows, and custom folder launcher.

Shortcut, pin to quicklaunch

Custom location to open in Windows Explorer via Quicklaunch.

Personalization & desktop customization

Again, the focus here is making the system clean, efficient, distraction-free. Settings > Personalization. Under Start, you can reduce the amount of suggestive noise. Like recently added apps and suggestions. Then under Lock screen, toggle off the entry that says: Get fun facts, tips, tricks, and more on your lock screen. Finally, there's the whole Tile thing in the Start Menu. No further words necessary.

Personalization, Start

Lock screen

Microsoft Office installation customization

I needed this software. No problem. I had a copy of Office 2016 Pro Plus ready. When I clicked on the installer, it went through the entire sequence without asking me anything, and indeed, I had the full suite configured. But I only wanted to install Word, Excel and Powerpoint - I didn't care for any of the other programs.

It took me a little while to figure this out, but I found that newer versions of Microsoft Office can be tweaked using a special deployment tool, which parses an XML configuration file from the command line. This is cumbersome and pointless. But I did write a complete tutorial on this topic. Sample XML included below.

Customized installation

<Configuration>
 <Add SourcePath="K:\Downloads\" OfficeClientEdition="64" >
  <Product ID="ProPlusRetail">
   <Language ID="en-us" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Access" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Groove" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="InfoPath" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Lync" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="OneNote" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Outlook" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Project" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Publisher" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="SharePointDesigner" />
   <ExcludeApp ID="Visio" />
  </Product>
 </Add>
</Configuration>

Microsoft Office privacy

I noticed I also had to make some changes to how Office behaves, too. First, you will be asked to sign in, which you don't need to do. Skip this step - click I don't want to sign in ... at the bottom of the window. Then, the behavior also includes Optional connected experience, which are turned on by default, and updates. The former is available under Options > Privacy Settings, and the later as a separate feature on the main menu.

Office sign-in

Connected experiences

Updates

Sound tweaks

If you recall my Windows 7-10 upgrade article, I had some microphone problems there. It turns out that my microphone was "too low" and I had to boost it. Furthermore, you may also notice that game sounds may be muted if you're also chatting (as can be the case with online multiplayer sessions), because Windows 10 lowers what it detects as ambient/environment sounds during calls.

First, microphone. Control Panel > Sounds > Recording > Properties. Click the Levels tab, and adjust the microphone sound (0-100) and Boost (will vary on audio card/driver, but usually +30-40 dB). This should make your microphone audible enough.

Microphone properties

Microphone boost

Second, ambient sound level. Control Panel > Sounds > Communications. Here, you can change what Windows does when it detects communications activity. You can tell it to do nothing, and "background" sounds like music or games or such won't have their volume reduced.

Other sounds setting

Games that do not like alt-tab

One cardinal Windows 10 difference from Windows 7 is that many games don't seem to like being Alt-tabbed to the desktop and back. This is not a Windows fault per se, but this is still something that we want to remedy. There's no universal solution, but the idea is to change how the game is rendered on the screen - from fullscreen to borderless windowed or fullscreen windowed. This seems to help in quite a few cases.

Game bar, performance & power options

Windows 10 introduces a few new features, which are designed to integrate with the online gaming experience. The focus is naturally on Xbox. Moreover, the two-brained paradox of new Settings and old Control Panel options remains. Under Settings > Gaming, you can activate Game bar, which is designed to take audio and video recordings of your games. It will also prompt and cajole and such, and if you don't like the distraction, turn it off. Furthermore, you can optimize your PC for gaming.

Game bar

Game mode

But then we go back to duality - and you have power profiles in Control Panel > Power Options, where you can switch between various modes, like Balanced, Performance, Power Saving, and others, and make individual changes to different settings - hard disk sleep, PCI and Wireless devices utilization, min/max processor states, and so forth.

Power plans

In the Control Panel, you can also disable the Fast startup - Power Options > Change what the power button does, and then uncheck this thing. It's a hybrid sleep thingie that can lead to corrupt filesystems if there's a power loss, plus if you're dual-booting, your C: drive NTFS filesystem will not be writable under Linux. Alternatively, if you turn hibernation off, Fast startup won't be available - open command line as admin, and then run:

powercfg /h off

Power options

Windows security

Throughout this article, you may have wondered: Dedo, you cynic, all you talk about is disable this, disable that, what about hax0r, security and such? Well, I don't advocate the use of reactive tools, like anti-whatever, because they can placate you, maybe even give you a sense of safety, and sometimes, rarely, they might be useful for scanning a random binary or two. But if you want proper security, there are other ways to do it. We talked about this in my Windows 7 end of support article, so let's recap:

Run as options

System settings

Conclusion

This is it. The end of a long list of changes that I had to introduce into the stock Windows 10 installation so it looks and behaves like it should, a proper, efficient desktop sans any modernistic bullshit that has no place on a non-touch interface. But then, I guess ten years from now, everything will be Something as a Service, and we will either have to compromise or use other operating systems. Or grow vegetables somewhere and not care about the latest hype.

Once all the fluff and mobile nonsense are removed, Windows 10 does the job. It's fairly elegant, smart, and has the right components for proper work, and even fun. This includes good legacy support and backward compatibility, plus you can actually focus on real stuff without constantly getting distracted by the hyperactive Newutopia. Of course, this guide will probably appeal to the 1% nerds who care about this kind of things, but if you're one of them, then I hope you've found the right information in your quest. We're done here.

Cheers.

You may also like: