Windows 10: The Real Price of Free and Steps To Take Back Your Privacy

Microsoft has once again proven how devious they can be, and introduced even more ways to get you away from any service except their own in Windows 10. Not only will your favorite programs be hidden or uninstalled, you will be presented with Microsoft’s own alternates. But such is the cost of a “free” upgrade.

I wonder how much Microsoft paid to the US Anti Trust and Judicial departments to allow them to basically wipe out the competition from the desktop. Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time Microsoft has used their monopoly power in this manner. Just the most recent.

I installed Windows 10 as a professional obligation. And while I see many colleagues who have drunk the Kool-Aid trumpeting how much they love it, I find much to be concerned about.My advice, do not create a Microsoft account – use a local account – and choose custom install and uncheck all the opt-in choices. Really. It’s for your own good.

Update: even though I unchecked all those boxes, I still found a hidden setting called “Let Apps Access My Name, Picture and Other Account Info” and it was turned on! (Settings > Privacy > multiple tabs – go through every tab and turn them all off. Microsoft does NOT need your data in order to run!)

The first thing I noticed about the Windows 10 upgrade, aside from the creepy “Hi, we’re getting things ready for you” message, was the options available. The default is to let Microsoft “take care” of everything — which does the following:

  • Sets the new Microsoft browser as your default browser, hiding or even removing Chrome or Firefox
  • Removes your antivirus if the version is incompatible or out of subscription and does the same for any other observed incompatible programs
  • Sets your home page to Microsoft properties, sends your Internet browsing history to Microsoft
  • Allows Microsoft to track you and your data on your computer and on the Internet
  • Serve you ads based on your observed preferences
  • Sends your name, your photo and your location to third parties

So I know some of you will say, “So what? Apple/Google/Microsoft already has me do that on my phone!” Which may be true, if you opted into everything. But for some of us that read the fine print and believe that we are legally entitled to a shred of privacy, it’s important to NOT let just anyone have that access. Remember, Microsoft is out to make money, not to make your life better. They have demonstrated clearly that they will go to any means, including illegal ones, to stifle and even crush competition in order to stay in your face. They are now doing everything they can, with Windows 10, to know as much as possible about your digital life. After all, their survival depends on it.

Set Up a Local Account

To set up a local account, see the following. Note that the link is almost hidden, and Microsoft will ask you if you’re sure you want to proceed (after all, they really want your data!)

How to install/upgrade to Windows 8.1 RTM without a Microsoft account (works for Windows 10, too)

Uncheck all the opt-in Boxes

Unless you really want Microsoft to sell your name, photo and location to undisclosed 3rd parties, and to send your Internet browsing data to Microsoft for their use. Click Customize and uncheck all those invasive choices!

Disable or Remove OneDrive

OneDrive not only replaces any link to a service you may have installed for Dropbox, Google Drive,, or any other file sharing service, it is also impossible to remove through any method other than the following commands. Open the command window as an administrator and run the following commands in order. If you’re having trouble, you can always leave it, and decide to use Microsoft’s service instead of the one you’ve been using for years that they have hidden from you. Just remember who’s got your data now!

taskkill /f /im OneDrive.exe
%SystemRoot%\SysWOW64\OneDriveSetup.exe /uninstall
rd "%UserProfile%\OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "%LocalAppData%\Microsoft\OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "%ProgramData%\Microsoft OneDrive" /Q /S
rd "C:\OneDriveTemp" /Q /S
REG Delete "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6}" /f
REG Delete "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Wow6432Node\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6}" /f

Restore your Dropbox, Google Drive, or Other Service You Actually Use Once OneDrive is Gone

Open the program of your choice from the system tray, or search for it on your computer with Cortana (without clicking on any of the web links, which obviously won’t work), click Open Folder, which will open Explorer. Drag the icon for the folder back to the Quick Access section (formerly known as Favorites).

Set Your Default Browser Back To Your Choice

You really don’t need Microsoft making decisions for you. Here’s a very easy way to set your browser back to Firefox. Works for Google Chrome, too, but that’s only if you don’t mind letting Google track you instead of Microsoft. At least Google has committed to “doing no evil” and offers privacy settings. Firefox does NOT track users.  From the Firefox help page:

  1. When you open Firefox for the first time, you will be asked if you’d like to make it your default browser. To do so, click the “Use Firefox as my default browser” button.
  2. The Windows Settings app will open with the Choose default apps screen. Scroll down and click the entry under Web browser. The Web browser icon will say either “Microsoft Edge” or “Choose your default browser”. It may not be intuitive, but you need to click on the Microsoft Edge logo to open the window that will let you choose another Web browser as your default.
  3. This will open the Choose an app screen. Click Firefox in the list to set it as the default browser.

Find Your Installed Programs

Thanks to the makers of Classic Shell, which is a legitimate start menu, that actually lists programs and gives a semblance of normalcy to the monstrosity that is the Windows 10 start menu. I was hoping that MS bringing the start menu back would mean I would have access to my programs again (after the Windows 8 debacle) but no, the start menu in Windows 10 only shows recently used programs and “All Apps” — a whole host of Microsoft’s preinstalled so-called “Metro apps”, no actual programs.  Customization is limited at best. I felt like I was using Windows 95 again, trying to find my programs on the C drive. My advice is to install Classic Shell as soon as you install Win 10 (or even before, if you’re stuck with Windows 8).

More Start Menu Terror, Part II – Remove Extraneous “Live Tiles” From Start Menu

Sorry, but the 2-column Start Menu is gone. In its place is the single column, with the right side replaced with various Microsoft apps – their calendar, dumbed-down mail client (easy access to lure you away from Thunderbird, I guess), weather, Cortana (their version of Siri), Microsoft Sports, and other junk that you probably don’t need cluttering your Start menu and getting in the way of productivity. Luckily, you can remove these from the Live Tiles area. Unfortunately, the trimmed-down or empty area doesn’t resize. It just remains a large, empty blob, filling up screen real estate.

Customize Your Desktop Background

I was a little peeved to find my desktop background photo had disappeared, to be replaced by a Windows logo. You can replace that either by right-clicking on a picture and choosing “Set as desktop background” or by searching for Personalization in the Search box. Speaking of that box,

Removing The Search Windows and The Internet Box

Stealing a page from Apple’s Spotlight feature, Microsoft is using the opportunity to hijack your search for a document to redirect you to a Bing Web search. You can remove this box by right-clicking on the taskbar and going to Toolbars, where you can uncheck Search. Clicking on Cortana brings the search feature back, and under settings you can actually tell it just to show you computer results, not Web searches (which you normally do with Chrome anyway).

Removing MS CrAPPware

Clicking on Settings > System > Apps and Features brings you to a screen where some of the preinstalled Apps can be removed. Interestingly, I was unable to remove Xbox, Groove Music, Microsoft Maps, OneNote, Movies & TV, and a few more.

So now you know the cost of free: it was too good to be true, wasn’t it?