Reinstalling Windows 10: Fighting Terrible Defaults

29 March 2016

I would never expect reinstalling my operating system to be a trivial affair.  At a minimum, you’re reinstalling your favorite programs, recovering their settings, and getting files back in place.  Reinstalling on a UNIX system only requires the first one – settings and files can stay where they were at the start of the reinstall, in your home directory.  Windows takes the opposite tact – requiring all of those steps, and adding on the laborious process of changing terrible OS defaults to gain some semblance of sanity and user-friendliness.

While I’m halfway here to bitch about Microsoft’s awful user experience, I’m mainly documenting Win 10 reinstall steps here so I can reproduce them when maintaining my family’s PCs.

  • During Installation, be sure to select Customize and turn off everything.  There are a few things in there I wouldn’t necessarily mind (like crash reports), but they’re mixed in with enough offensively bad defaults that I’m happy to keep it simple and turn them all off.


  • Disable Windows’ Invasive Search.  This will restore the basic functionality of searching from the task bar to search your local PC, instead of functioning as a web browser search.  Click in the Search bar at the bottom left, type Search Settings, and click Cortana & Search Settings.  Wait for the obnoxious Cortana animation to delay your task, then click “Not Interested“, followed by “I’m Sure“.
  • Now repeat this, again typing in Search Settings, and again clicking Cortana & Search Settings.  This time it will actually expose the settings to you


  • Finally, right click the task bar and go to Search and select Hidden.  This will remove the large Search field from the task bar.  If you want to search you can still hit the Windows key and start typing to run Windows applications.


  • Show File Extensions.  This is one of those very fundamental security precautions that Windows has screwed up since Windows 95 in a boneheaded attempt to be “more like Macs”.  Hit Win+E to open File Explorer.  Select View, then check File Name Extensions.  While you’re in there, go ahead and select Details as the default layout.


  • Uninstall Garbage.  Go into Settings (Win key + type Settings), System, select Apps & Features, and uninstall everything you can from this list.  3D Builder, Candy Crush, Get Office, Get Skype, Get Started, Messaging & Skype, Soliatire, Money, Phone Companion (??), Sports, Sway, Twitter.  Take note how many pre-installed garbage apps you can’t uninstall here.
  • Remove Windows Xbox DVR.  I made a post specifically about this when it spontaneously got turned on by an update.  It’s a special kind of UX failure to turn on a cumbersome feature for all users which explicitly teases you when running games, but leaves no hints at what it is aside from vague Windows 10 theming.  To stop Windows from attempting to auto-record your games all the time, follow my directions from this post.
  • Show Taskbar Icons.  Windows defaults to hiding all of the garbage running in the background such as Microsoft’s first-party cloud drive.  These background apps should typically be annihilated, not swept under the rug.  Go to Settings, Notifications & actions, Select Which Icons Appears On The Taskbar (how’s that for a mouthful), and toggle on Always Show All Icons In The Notification Area.
  • Remove OneDrive.  Right click the OneDrive icon that is now exposed in the taskbar, and go to Settings.  Uncheck “Start OneDrive automatically when I sign in to Windows“.  Then right click the icon again and select Exit, and confirm with the “No really when I selected Exit I was serious” button to finally close this unwanted app you would never use anyway.


  • Disable Snap.  I find Snap to be a constant annoyance, auto-maximizing apps if I ever try to move them around the screen as if Windows is a multi-tasking operating system.  From the same Settings, System menu, select Multitasking next and toggle Snap to off.
  • Disable Autocorrect.  I’ve posted before about how asinine autocorrect is.  Unsurprisingly, this is now on by default at the OS level  Back out to the main Settings screen, then go into Devices, Typing, and turn off the Spelling options.
  • Fix Start Menu.  Next go into Settings, Personalization, Start and disable everything.  Recently Used and Most-Used app lists are a UX nightmare that trains users to find apps in a randomly rotating shortcut list as a hacked fix for users being unable to find their apps through a fast, stable path in the Start Menu.


  • Disable Background Apps.  I can’t imagine any reason I would want any of these Windows apps that I never use to run in the background, so I’d hazard it’s safe to turn them off.  Go to Settings, Privacy, Background apps and toggle off everything.  Poke around the other Privacy settings while you’re in here – I turned off a lot of other app functionality like Email and Call History that I will never use at the OS-level in Windows anyway.


  • Disable Windows Update.  This is a particularly sore point.  Windows offers no options for user-friendly OS updates, which leaves fully disabling Windows Updates as the only option.  Without doing this, Windows will restart your computer at random times without your consent, throwing away any unsaved work or even rebooting while you’re currently using the computer.  Go to Settings, Update & Security, Advanced Options.  Change the dropdown to Notify to schedule restart.  This is unfortunately only a small improvement, but I’ll come back after a bit more research to update on the options available for Windows 10 Home Edition.
  • More Windows Explorer Defaults.  As expected, I’m back with more!  Several changes I missed earlier are needed to make Explorer useful.  Open an Explorer window (Win+E), click the View tab at top, then select Options, then Change folder and search options (yes, this is a dropdown with a single item in it).  Change Open File Explorer to: to This PC, and uncheck the Recently and Frequently checkboxes towards the bottom.


  • Removing Quick Access from Explorer.  Go to Quick Access at the top left of an Explorer window, and unpin all of the items remaining in it.  Now that Recently and Frequently options are unchecked too, this effectively removes Quick Access and its redundant and volatile misdirection.  Instead you will see a stable set of folder listings under This PC by default, which includes staples like C:\ and mounted network drives that are otherwise difficult to find in Explorer by default.


  • Remove OneDrive from Explorer.  This is disgusting, but no surprise at this point: to remove the unwanted OneDrive item from being the first listing in Explorer, you have to hack the registry.  See this HowToGeek article for more details and a quick registry hack download.  Or you can just toggle good ol’ HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\Wow6432Node\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6\System.IsPinnedToNameSpaceTree to 0x0000 in RegEdit.  Don’t forget to toggle HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\CLSID\{018D5C66-4533-4307-9B53-224DE2ED1FE6\System.IsPinnedToNameSpaceTree as well – both need to be 0 on 64-bit Windows it seems.


I’ll keep this updated as I finish this reinstall.  I’d be shocked if I caught everything on this first pass.  As you can tell by the list above, this is already an exhausting number of switches to flip in the course of a routine OS installation.  Are sane defaults really too much to ask for?


Bonus Installation Steps

These are the bonus fun steps from my latest reinstall that pushed me far enough overboard to write this post.

  • Reinstall #2: I was unable to boot successfully after my first installation.  I’m still not 100% sure what caused this.  The repair option was unable to fix it, but I suspect it had to do with me removing an unused hard drive during installation.  I removed the extra drive to ensure it didn’t attempt to boot from the old hard drive.  Normally you’d expect stable boot drive identifiers, but I may recall that Windows numbers boot drives in a way that changes depending on how many are plugged in.  I would still expect the Repair Boot option to be able to fix this, but no luck – I had to do a full reinstall to get past this.
  • Reinstall #3: After booting into Win10 successfully, the screen spontaneously went black.  I rebooted several times and tried several repair options.  After a Reset, which turns out to be a full reinstall, I still had no image.  Took a wild guess that the DVI cable might be loose enough where it lost picture on higher resolutions.  When I went to tighten the DVI cable I decided to unplug my secondary HDMI cable, and that was it.  Windows booted normally, then installed a graphics driver change in a background process, which changed the graphics output device to exclude my primary monitor.  Duplicate Display would make sense for a default.  Extend Display would make sense for a default.  Downgrading from “works” to “show black screen” on any display is a horrible regression of functionality for a freshly installed PC.