Updated: January 27, 2016
The more time I spend testing and exploring Windows 10 - so you don't have to - the more I realize how displeased I am with the overall package. Yes, in a nutshell, it's the same old stuff. You can just let it be, and that's it. In fact, for most people this is the sensible solution, and in general, if you don't trust a product, don't use it.
Still, as a proud member of the geek community, I do find the whole online integration, tracking nonsense detestable. It's not so much about whether anyone will be spying on your pointless existence, it's more the matter of principle. And since we like to invest energy in being angry for the sake of it, let's learn how we can make Windows 10 even less intrusive.
I have been Windows 10 for a while now. Nothing special. No better or worse than its predecessors, once you take the Start Menu out of the equation. The modern interface is rather useless, but overall, it's Windows.
That said, my paranoia started spiking up when I discovered the GWX moronity, and it has stayed on ever since. I'm not one to panic when it comes to security and privacy, and I could not possibly care less how big companies think they can make money by studying people's pr0n activities. However, when you realize how much effort has gone into making you a special cookie in Microsoft's advertising database, you develop a natural resistance to the process. Not because it makes any difference. Simply because you refuse to be denominated as a moron.
And so, I've compiled my privacy guide and my telemetry guide, so that you can learn how to make Windows 10 a little less of an insult to intelligence. The tweaks presented in the two articles can help you minimize the forced stupidity of the happy new touchesque world that does not belong on the desktop. Because it is your computer, and you control it, and no fancy worded crap from marketing shills will change it. S for Stupidity.
Today's article presents a few more tweaks and tips you can use to assert additional control of how Windows 10 behaves. All the things you took for granted and did not care for in Windows 10, all the new stuff, all the little bullshit that spells IQ < 100 all over the place. We will also briefly look at the recent Windows upgrade, Build 1511, and then how it all ties down to privacy, and more specifically, W10Privacy.
It took about two or three hours, with the whole 'lean back and relax' thingie. Once the upgrade was done, some of my privacy options had been reset to the liberal defaults, despite the claim the build ought not to do it. In fact, the update has been pulled off the shelves to address exactly this kind of regression, and then restored, but even so, I was forced to wade through all and every single options and mark things as off or offline. So annoying when you know the first couple of hours of actual work are spent on needless tweaking.
Windows 10 Build 1511 does bring a few small changes. It fixes the theme color nonsense that I complained about, and naturally, since I'm always 100% right, Microsoft gave back the missing functionality. Then, something that really annoyed me is the presence of a new applet called Microsoft WiFi, a tool to buy WiFi. Sort of like credits to get Internet connectivity when there's no free alternative available. Why? Why push this useless thing? How the hell do you expect to win user trust (again) when you keep peddling all these aggressive advertisement offers all the time?
Let's not forget the app suggestions in the Start Menu. I didn't personally get to see any of these, as I'm using a local account, but it is yet another moronity feature. Other than that, I don't recall any other major changes that are visible to the user. Oh yes, Windows Defender was running once again, even though I had it neutered the last time. Well, time for another exercise in freedom.
Now, the tool to tweak the system privacy to the max. It's a very simple applet designed to help you gain maximum control over your privacy in Windows 10. Launch it, and it will scan the system, across roughly a dozen categories, and then present options that you can set to minimize your exposure vector.
Some settings may require administrative rights, so you will need to start the program with the Run As option. If you try to change a setting that needs elevated privileges, you will not succeed, and the next time you launch the program, they will still be unchanged.
Some options may require reboots and/or logoff. Finally, there are three severity levels, as rated by the author of the program. Green settings are supposed to be quite innocent or harmless to the function of the system. Yellow items may potentially affect the functionality. Red items can be dangerous if misused.
Indeed, without going into a full pro/con evaluation, the same pitfalls that affect all and any tweaking tool also apply to W10Privacy. You need proper system understanding and expertise to use the application without adverse effects. You need to be savvy enough to know things can break, that they may break 10 months from now, that you may not be able to correlate cause and effect, and that you absolutely must use system imaging and full backup before doing anything of this kind. I'm not saying this lightly. In general, I hate tweaking tools, and I find them detrimental to system health and smooth operation. Which is why you ought to heed my exception here carefully.
Existing settings applied through the Settings Menu and Control Panel will be reflected in W10Privacy. However, some options may not fully map 1:1 to the settings shown inside the program. There's approximately 100 options, so you need time and patience.
What to select?
Now, the tricky question. If you ask me, then some of the features in W10Privacy are unnecessary overall. There's no reason to tweak telemetry and app firewall rules - this implies complete mistrust of the system. Don't use Windows 10 then.
Then, I would also not bother with Explorer changes, as they are mostly cosmetic. OneDrive is also unrelated to privacy. Scheduled tasks can be disabled, but there's no need to if you have disabled the services that the scheduled tasks ought to run. Then, some of the tasks are really identical to Windows 7/8, and there's nothing spooky about them.
Let the program run. It may take a while scanning through all the options. Once it finishes its cycle, it will restart and present new, saved options. Again, some settings may need a full reboot before coming into effect.
Overall, apart from the paradox of knowledge needed to use W10Privacy, the little tool worked well, and did as advertised. It can also disable Defender, which is a really cool thing. You do not need to bother with Linux and such to change the permissions or folder names.
What else should you do?
Mildly hyped by the paranoia quest, I decided to check a few more things. Indeed, the telemetry service has been renamed. It is now known as Connected User Experience and Telemetry, although the service name itself remains the same.
I also decided to remove the Store - completely - using PowerShell. We saw this example in my HP Stream review, but now I decided to take this one step further. There's really no reason for any Metro app to exist on the desktop. It's a complete waste of space. And everything non-touch works a million times better on the desktop. I can't think of a single modern app that's actually worth its weight in bytes. And so we are slowly converging back to what Windows 7 is like, only with the new GUI. Which is what Windows 10 essentially is, if you ignore the boring technical bits and pieces. The stuff normal people don't care about.
The big upside of all this aggressive tweaking - there's no more network noise when you fire up the menu. Remember the little spike that shows up in Task Manager when you hit the Windows menu key, even if you're using a local account and have disabled online search? It's gone. I can't say which particular combo of changes does it, but good.
We've done quite a lot this time around, so let's recap. Upgrade, slow but smooth, no worries there. Some settings reverted to their online-happy defaults. You can neuter even more stupid-rich features with W10Privacy, including the useless Windows Defender. You have to be careful how you use the tool and be aware of all the possible long-term implications, but overall, it could be a nice addition in your geek's arsenal.
All in all, just like Classic Shell helps restore sanity to post-Windows 7 operating systems, W10Privacy could be the program to give you the necessary levels of peace and quiet you would expect from Windows. Add to that telemetry tweaks, removal of Metro apps, and you will have a system that behaves as it should. No more nonsense. Happy days.It is sad that one should ever have to resort to this kind of aggressive crippling of the system, but it is the reality we live in. Microsoft is pushing hard in trying to integrate its services with the online world, and the only problem is that the desktop has never been designed for that kind of future. It should be left alone. Or at the very least, intruded and modified as little as possible. Anything else will just lead to strife and resistance and even more reputational damage. For people who must use Windows, have no other choice, and still believe there's no breach of trust, otherwise let's face it, it's a lost game, then this guide might give you the right dose of compromise to enjoy Windows without feeling like you've been handed out a dose of extra-cretinism with your morning cereal.
Dear Microsoft, it's never about technology. It's about basic human respect and choice. Just let the user feel like they count. And then, you will have willing participants in your cloud experiments and online and social integration and all that. The alternative is, you are slowly but surely alienating yourself. I was the first to defend you when the keylogger nonsense cropped up, and I still think you have better privacy than your rivals. But you are testing my limits, and even though I don't care what you think you want to achieve with all that pointless user data, forcing my hand only makes me write articles like this. Out of pure spite. It's my basic human need to resist attempts to curtail my freedom of choice. Repeat after me. Freedom, of, choice. That's all. Nothing more.