Microsoft expands Get Windows 10 program to domains, publishes opt-out instructions

As the year-long free upgrade offer for Windows 10 nears the halfway mark, Microsoft is getting more aggressive, with new plans to begin displaying the GWX taskbar icon and upgrade prompts on business PCs that had previously been off-limits.

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If you thought Microsoft was getting ready to ease up on its massive Get Windows 10 upgrade campaign, think again.

The company announced today that it plans to expand the program, pushing the aggressive GWX taskbar icon and pop-up upgrade notification reminders to some domain-joined PCs that had previously been exempt.

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How to block Windows 10 upgrades on your business network (and at home, too)

Here's how to say no to the new version in 30 seconds or less, without installing third-party software.

Today's news did not include any plans to offer a "No, thanks" button on the GWX prompts. However, the company has finally updated its documentation for IT pros to opt out of the automatic upgrade and disable the GWX icon.

As before, PCs running Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8.1 Enterprise, and any embedded version of those operating systems aren't eligible for the free upgrade and thus will continue to be immune from the GWX update.

But domain-joined PCs running Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, or Windows 8.1 Pro that are configured to receive updates directly from Windows Update will begin seeing the GWX taskbar icon shortly. Domain-joined PCs that get updates through another mechanism, such as Windows Server Update Services or System Center Configuration Manager, will continue to be off-limits.

At the same time as today's announcement, Microsoft finally published updated instructions for opting out of the automatic upgrade and disabling the GWX icon. The new instructions, available in KB article 3080351, match those I published last week. (See "How to block Windows 10 upgrades on your business network (and at home, too)" for details.)

To prevent the Windows 10 upgrade from being offered in Windows Update, IT pros can set a Group Policy object. Note that this policy setting is only available if the appropriate updates (first issued last July) are installed: 3065987 is the Windows 7 update; 3065988 is the equivalent for Windows 8.1.

The policy is available on Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate and Windows 8.1 Pro machines using the Local Group Policy Editor (Gpedit.msc).

The policy path is Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Windows Update Policy.

Enable the setting Turn off the upgrade to the latest version of Windows through Windows Update.

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Setting that policy adds the following registry subkey and associated value:

  • Subkey: HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\WindowsUpdate
  • DWORD value: DisableOSUpgrade = 1

On home and core editions of Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, that registry value needs to be set manually.

There's no corresponding Group Policy object for disabling the GWX notification icon. That task requires requires editing the following subkey and value in the Windows registry:

  • Subkey: HKLM\Software\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Gwx
  • DWORD value: DisableGwx = 1

Those two steps are sufficient to block Windows 10 upgrades and prevent a user from accidentally clicking on one of the pop-up prompts and starting the upgrade process. There's no need to uninstall and block the original GWX update (KB3035583), nor is it necessary to use third-party software. These software policies, which are intended for business use, remain in effect until they're reversed or removed.

I've created .reg files that can be downloaded and used to automate the creation of these two registry keys. The files are located here.

Today's revised KB article also contains instructions for blocking the Windows 10 upgrade screen that appears when performing a clean install of Windows 8.1 that includes the KB3065988 update. Those instructions are useful for IT pros and system builders who are setting up new PCs for employees or clients and want to ensure that the system is not upgraded to Windows 10.

The article also contains instructions for making the GWX icon visible for businesses that want to take advantage of the free upgrade offer immediately via Windows Update.

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