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How To Clean Install Windows 11

PCS, FOR A long time, had a bloatware problem. The major PC manufacturers—Dell, Asus, Acer, and the like—had a bad habit of including “free trials” of software like Norton AntiVirus on new devices. The software companies paid to be included. This got so bad in the late 2000s that many people simply chose to reinstall Windows on new computers before even attempting to use them.

These days, though, a “clean Windows install” is an oxymoron, according to Andrew Cunningham. He persuasively argued in an Ars Technica piece that Microsoft itself is now the company adding all of the bloat.

Just open the Start menu after freshly installing Windows: Apps like WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and Facebook all show up. There’s also Solitaire, which is now crammed with ads unless you’re willing to pony up for a $2/month subscription. It is, in short, a mess.

Cunningham mentions that companies who install the Enterprise version of Windows don’t have to deal with this: That version of Windows doesn’t have any of this stuff, and also doesn’t work to push OneDrive subscriptions on the user. It turns out, though, that there’s also a way to get a clean installation at home if you know the workaround.

The Trick to a Clean Install of Windows 11
I learned the trick to installing Windows 11 without any fluff thanks to a post by Daniel Aleksandersen. In summary: These preinstalled “extras” are different depending on where you live, which is set when you pick your region during installation. Refuse to pick a location, however, and the installer won’t know what software to install.

I tried this method out and can confirm that it works. Basically, install Windows as you normally would, but when asked for Time and Currency format, select English (World) instead of your country.

Then let the installer do its thing. Eventually, you will see a window with an ice cream cone on the floor with the words “Something went wrong” and the error message “OOBEREGION.” This cryptic message means that the “out of box experience” (OOBE) didn’t launch because it didn’t know which region to launch.
Click Skip, though, and Windows will install just fine. All that won’t happen, from what I can tell, is the annoying stuff: You won’t be prompted to buy Microsoft 365, you won’t be prompted to pay for a OneDrive subscription, and your Start menu won’t be cluttered with apps.

The only downside is that the Windows Store appears not to work out of the box.
Don’t panic, though: Open the Settings app and click Time and Language followed by Language and Region. In this window, change the Country or Region setting to the country you live in. Everything should work after you do this.

Don’t Want to Reinstall? Try This
It is perfectly understandable that one might not want to uninstall Windows just to remove a bunch of superfluous crap, annoying as it may be. There are plenty of people working on scripts to remove junk after a Windows installation, but all of it is pretty hard to recommend to the average computer user at this point—they all require confidence with the command prompt and a fairly deep knowledge of how Windows works.

If that’s not overwhelming to you, though, check out XToolbox—it’s a tool that connects you with more tools and is an excellent starting point for such investigations.

The only straightforward way to remove the annoying third-party stuff from the Start menu, from what I can tell, is to right-click it all individually and then click Uninstall. This is because the pinned software in your menu isn’t actually installed—those are just links that can install the software quickly if you click them (intentionally or otherwise).

After removing the pinned garbage you can use something like Bulk Crap Uninstaller to get rid of the other stuff you may not want, such as OneDrive.

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