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Windows 10: 6GB download found on 7 and 8.1 systems that said no

It’s no secret that Windows 10 is offered for free to current users of Windows 7 and 8.1. Most people will have reserved their copy of the new operating system months ago and will have been using it for several weeks.
Since then, the public reception has been generally good with praise directed at the new Windows features like Cortana and the Start Menu. The code powering those features has not been especially popular though, especially with people concerned about privacy and wanting to remain with Windows 7 or 8 for their own reasons, as they are perfectly entitled to do. However, Microsoft is aggressively pushing the update to all eligible users, even those that said they do not want it and have not reserved the upgrade.
Today, a reader of The Inquirer tipped the news site off to a suspicious discovery, later confirmed by other users. It has been found that just having automatic security updates enabled in Windows 7 or 8.1 is enough to prompt download of the Windows 10 installer files, even if the upgrade notification has been dismissed. The files are stored in a hidden folder on the C: drive, named “$Windows.~BT”, the same location used for people who have actually reserved upgrades.
Microsoft did pre-load Windows 10 before launch day so that installation could start immediately without waiting for downloads. Now, it is pre-loading onto computers whose owners have no intention of upgrading, presumably “just in case” they should change their mind in the future.
The major issue here is the size of the download which varies based on edition and computer. Most users will find an absolute minimum of 3.5GB inside the $Windows.~BT folder but as much as 6GB is not uncommon.
Files that large can take up a sizeable amount of space, especially if the device has limited storage to begin with. Many budget Windows 8.1 laptops and tablets ship with as little as 32GB or 16GB.
A dormant Windows 10 download would take up a very large proportion of that and could prevent a user from having sufficient room for their own files. Moreover, they may never even realize what has eaten up their hard drive as Microsoft gives no indication that the preload has happened — except for a series of “Upgrade to Windows 10” entries in Update History that all display as “Failed.”
Microsoft seems to attempt an installation every time the computer boots up. Users will be pleased to learn that this final stage is currently held at bay by some system but the install is still logged in Windows Update.
On slow Internet connections, a 6GB download would eat up large amounts of bandwidth too, preventing users from enjoying online content. The Inquirer’s informant said he was aware of two instances where people on metered Internet connections were forced over their data cap during August. It later emerged that the unwanted Windows 10 download was behind this. It is likely other people will be faced with extra mystery charges on their Internet bills for the same reason.
Microsoft confirmed the existence of the pre-loading to The Inquirer, saying: “For individuals who have chosen to receive automatic updates through Windows Update, we help upgradable devices get ready for Windows 10 by downloading the files they’ll need if they decide to upgrade. When the upgrade is ready, the customer will be prompted to install Windows 10 on the device.”
Practices like this are beginning to erode confidence in the company from even the most hardcore fans. Anybody who wants to remain with Windows 7 and 8.1 — and there are many, because of Windows 10’s other flaws — is now going to be faced with a hidden download of up-to 6GB in size that will eat potentially precious network bandwidth and disk space.
The only way out is to meddle with the Registry, a foreign and potentially hazardous place for the average consumer, or to disable automatic updates. The latter option would then expose the computer to security vulnerabilities.
Microsoft is understandably eager to get Windows 10 running on as many machines as possible but wasting resources on computers that have clearly said “no” isn’t going to help with that. The company has confirmed its highly controversial practice but hasn’t given any explanation of exactly why it thinks it appropriate to assume everyone will want to make the leap in the future.
Automatically pushing update notifications to let people know of the existence of Windows 10, enabling them to make a choice regarding whether they want it or not, is one thing. Ignoring that choice and downloading the entire image file, potentially incurring network charges and filling up hard drives in the process, is another thing altogether, as many angry users have highlighted today.

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