I have been running Windows 10 since it was released at the end of July last year, and I agree with many of the pundits who say that this is Microsoft’s best OS yet. They found the right balance between the desktop power of Windows 7 and touch features of Windows 8. I use a convertible ThinkPad Yoga connected to a docking station with two external screens, so it is really nice to have an OS that works well in both environments.
However, there is one major problem that I have with Windows 10…data consumption. For many people in western countries who pay a flat rate for a fast connection this is not a big problem, but for the rest of the world it becomes a primary concern. I live and work in Ghana and we pay per MB for data. This is known as a metered connection.
Last month I led a session at IT Connect/ICCM-Africa on support issues with Windows 10 where I partially addressed this issue. In this post I want to take you through some things that you can do to reduce the amount of data that Windows 10 is using. In the first section I will look at basic things that anybody can do, then in the second section we will dig in a bit more to some advanced options. In each case I will give an introduction to the concept and then send you to other pages that have step by step instructions.
I will warn you that looking at all of this information can seem a bit daunting. Although I am concerned about the amount of data that is being sent to and from your computer with Windows 10, I can actually see some of the reasons that Microsoft does it. I just wish they made it easier to turn off some of these settings, especially for those of us on metered connections.
Tell Windows you are using a metered connection: Windows 10 (and even Windows 8) does understand what a metered connection and will change its behavior when you are on one. In fact, changing this one setting essentially does everything else that this post talks about.
The biggest downside to telling Windows that you are using a metered connection is that it turns everything off assuming that this is a temporary situation. Not only does it turn off Windows Updates, but I had situations with Windows 8 where I could not even force updates to happen while the connection was set to metered (I have not tested this yet with Windows 10). Some programs are also aware of this setting. For example, Norton Antivirus will go into low data usage mode which I think affects its updates, and Microsoft Outlook will go into “offline mode” and ask you every time that you check email if you really want to do that since you are on a metered connection. So it is beneficial when you are on a metered connection for a short period of time, but if that is your daily connection then I would continue with the rest of the blog post.
When you plug in a USB modem Windows 10 will automatically set that connection to metered. (For a small office there are times that I recommend just handing around a USB modem instead of setting up WiFi for this very reason.) If you are on Ethernet or WiFi Windows assumes that you are on an unlimited connection. To change that setting for your WiFi connection (it cannot be changed for Ethernet), follow these instructions: http://www.howtogeek.com/226722/how-when-and-why-to-set-a-connection-as-metered-on-windows-10/
Change how updates are shared: A new feature of Windows updates is that they can be shared between computers. That means that once a computer has downloaded an update, it then turns around and shares it with other computers. When set to share with other computers on your local network this can save a lot of data because theoretically you download once and all of the other computers benefit, very helpful in a home with several Windows 10 computers or in an office environment. However, the default setting in Windows is to also share those updates with other computers on the internet, which can use an exponential amount of data. To correct this setting, follow these instructions to select “PCs on my local network”: http://www.howtogeek.com/224981/how-to-stop-windows-10-from-uploading-updates-to-other-pcs-over-the-internet/
Turn off updates in the Windows Store: Starting with Windows 8 and expanding with Windows 10, Microsoft is pushing the use of Universal Windows Apps. The two benefits are that a single app can work across all Windows 10 devices (desktop, mobile, Xbox One, Hololens, etc) and it can be managed by a store that keeps it updated. Its that last word, “updated,” that makes you cringe on a metered connection. Even if you have never used the Windows Store to install an app on Windows 10, you are still getting app updates as Microsoft converts many of the built-in accessories and games into Universal Windows Apps. To turn off automatic updates of these apps, follow these instructions: http://www.winbeta.org/news/windows-10-how-to-disable-automatic-app-updates-in-the-windows-store
Limit diagnostic information sent back to Microsoft: There is a lot of discussion online about how much Microsoft is watching you as you use Windows 10. I don’t want to get into this too deep here, except to address the fact that any information that Microsoft may be collecting and sending back to itself is using your data.
The simplest option is this…Click on Start and go to “Settings.” Then choose “Privacy” and on the left go to “Feedback & diagnostics.” Finally, under “Diagnostics and usage data” select “Basic”.
There are many options under the Privacy settings. Under the advanced section we will look at a tool to help you set all of them, or you can go through them step by step following these instructions: http://www.howtogeek.com/221864/digging-into-and-understanding-windows-10s-privacy-settings/
In this section I am going to be presenting some more advanced options. If you are not comfortable digging into Windows’ internals and changing registry settings, please do not attempt these instructions. If you do the wrong thing you can damage your Windows installation. Proceed with caution.
Turn off Windows automatic updates: With the introduction of Windows 10 updates are now mandatory. I believe there are two reasons for this. First, so many security breaches depend on computers that have not been updated. Second, Windows 10 may actually be the last version of Windows and new features will be added yearly through updates instead of through new versions of Windows. Whatever the reasons, this causes issues for users who either are not ready for an update or are on metered connections as some updates can be several gigabytes. The following article gives instructions for a few options to limit the automatic updates, some of which I talked about above. An option listed about halfway through the article is for Windows 10 Professional and Enterprise users to use Group Policy to disable automatic updates. This allows you to choose when you will do the updates, for example when you are on a better internet connection. Be aware that it still notifies you every few days that there are updates available. http://www.howtogeek.com/224471/how-to-prevent-windows-10-from-automatically-downloading-updates/
Use a Third Party Tool: There are quite a number of third party tools that have been created to help you limit how much data Windows 10 is using and how much Microsoft is spying on you. As I read reviews I started finding that many of the tools were either incomplete, not well documented, or actually installed their own spyware on your computer (a bit of irony there).
One tool that I have found to be well done is “O&O ShutUp10.” Each setting has an explanation (note that not all of them are helpful) and a recommendation as to if you should or should not turn that feature of Windows 10 off. I also like that you can export the settings so that you can use those same settings on another computer.
If you use this tool, please be very cautious. If you do not understand what setting you are changing, don’t change it. http://www.softpedia.com/reviews/windows/o-o-shutup10-review-490931.shtml
Use an offline account: With Window 8 Microsoft introduced the option of logging into the computer with a Microsoft Account (Live, Hotmail, Outlook.com). This allowed you to automatically log into some apps and web sites with those accounts and synchronize your account across devices. With Windows 10 there is also now an option to log in with an Office 365 account which adds some organizational management features. These are all helpful, and I have used them, but they use data. Unfortunately, when you install Windows 10 you are pretty much tricked into using a Microsoft or Office 365 account. (A lesson I just learned is that when you are installing Windows 10 on a new computer just don’t connect to the internet during the installation, and the only option that it will give you is a local account.)
If you want to continue using the online account, but want to limit the amount of data that is synchronized, use “O&O ShutUp10” mentioned above to turn off some of the sync settings. If you want to move to a local user account on the computer, follow these instructions: http://www.howtogeek.com/230543/how-to-revert-your-windows-10-account-to-a-local-one-after-the-windows-store-hijacks-it/