Windows 10 - what I think

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I wasn't interested in Windows 10, but then I had to buy a new laptop and the decision was forced upon me. I've only been using it for a week now, but here are some thoughts on upgrading and using it.

The upgrade itself

A lot of my friends and family have experienced significant problems with upgrading to Windows 10. Some didn't even want it, but clicked the wrong button and found themselves getting it. Fortunately, if you change your mind it's possible to revert back to the previous system.

A friend upgraded and found that his Start Menu, sound and video playback all stopped working. To fix it he had to run an obscure command from his command line that I had to look up on the internet for him.

The upgrade can also take a very long time. During this process very little information is displayed, other than a percentage complete indicator that doesn't change very often. The new Windows mantra seems to be "make it human-readable", so you'll get coherent but unhelpful messages throughout the process like "configuring your apps" and "just a few more things to do". I can see what they tried to do, but for most people the lack of information while these messages are displayed will leave them worried that the upgrade has stopped working.

In summary, results vary. A friend of mine upgraded from Windows 7 and it took less than two hours and saved him 13GB of disk space. I upgraded a brand new laptop from Windows 8 and it took eight hours.

How long will Windows 10 be free?

Microsoft have said that Windows 10 will be free for a limited time, but I don't believe it's in their interests to make that time period at all short, or even to have a limit at all. To their credit, they've actually understood something about the current software landscape; that since the rise of smartphone apps people expect to get software for free. Windows 10 isn't about selling a new operating system, it's about getting as many people using a system that now allows Microsoft to profit from their users not through the money they spend on their OS but the money Microsoft can make through selling information about how people use their OS.

If that's true, Microsoft aren't likely to stop offering free upgrades anytime soon - their new business model depends on as many people having Windows 10 as possible.

Is it any good?

Rather than beat around the bush, I'll get straight to the point and say that Windows 10, in my opinion and for the way I use it, is not an improvement on Windows 7. It's probably an improvement on 8, but then throwing your computer down a well is probably an improvement on 8.

10 feels strangely like an unfinished product. It's the little things. Things like the screen going completely dark at least once while it starts up. The way highlight colours flicker when you move the mouse over the window controls. The way the Start Menu sometimes doesn't work, or the time when I tried to open a folder and nothing happened. For several minutes. And then it opened a dozen copies of the same folder. It was a bit weird.

The schizophrenic OS

One of the annoying things about Windows 10 is the way that settings are scattered about all over the place. Control Panel is still here, but it's joined by another, entirely separate control panel called Settings. Drill down a bit deeper and you'll even find those little settings dialogs that have been in Windows since 95, so the whole thing feels very spread out and confused - sometimes it's very hard to simply find the setting you want to change.

The thing that's particularly jarring about Settings is the way that it looks and behaves differently from everything else. I suspect it's trying to be more MacOSX-like - settings are changed when you change them, there's no save buttons. The problem is that throughout the rest of Windows 10 you do need to press a 'save' or 'ok' button, and things like checkboxes, radio buttons and select dropdowns look completely different.

If settings had simply replaced Control Panel entirely, then maybe it would work, but Settings itself is poorly laid out and confusing. For example, if you want to change your screensaver, past experience suggests right-clicking on the desktop and choosing 'Personalise'. This now opens the Settings window with five main areas available: Background, Colors (using the US spelling despite my choosing UK as my region), Lock screen, Themes and Start. Screensaver options are confusingly under Lock screen - which then launches the old Windows 95-esque dialog. Surely screensaver should be an option by itself, and included in the Settings panel?

Good and bad?

The Start menu has returned but isn't much of an improvement - it's still too Windows 8 for my liking. Where in Windows 7 it stacked your pinned and most used applications together, now pinned applications are shown as 'tiles'. Tiles probably work well for more app-like functions, like displaying the current weather or news headlines, but for simply listing programs I want to open (my web browser, editor, FTP client etc.) it's not well suited. Yes, I know the intent is for those shortcuts to be placed on the taskbar itself, but I don't like to waste space like that. Positioning tiles is also an oddly precise affair - turning a simple task into a difficult one. At one point my system even developed a bug where if I made a tile small it rendered it invisible, even if I removed then re-pinned it (fortunately fixed with a restart, but still).

Updates are now handled automatically, which most people won't find a problem but I do. I like to know what's going to change on my system before it changes. I also know that Microsoft's track record of system stability post-updates isn't 100%, so I'd rather not risk having my system suddenly not work without warning. Apparently if you get the pro version of Windows 10 you can have more options about updates, but I suspect that won't be the reason anyone shells out for it.

There are a few other little things that I found annoying. By default the confirmation dialog for deleting a file has been removed and the option to turn it back on is well hidden. When I connect a storage device or insert a DVD I'm prompted to "tap" to choose how to proceed, rather than "click". The option to format an external USB drive is still right next to the 'eject' option.

The new notifications panel is an improvement on the little flag that appeared on the taskbar in Windows 7, regardless of whether there was an issue to raise or not. It now includes any messages that the system wants to show you, and lists them until you remove them. It also includes a few shortcuts to things like Airplane mode and wifi, which I've not had cause to use yet but some people will find useful.

I'm probably sounding rather negative at this point, so I've done a bit of research to see what else is new in Windows 10. I genuinely have had to look this stuff up. It's not exactly jumping out at me.

  • Cortana, the search feature. I turned this off right away, since this seems to be the source of most of the privacy invasion concerns
  • Some XBox related stuff
  • An app store
  • Edge, Microsoft's new browser

The new stuff is mostly not interesting to me, and I suspect mostly not interesting to most people. Most of my searching is done using Google, I don't own an XBox, and I already knew how to download and install software, so the app store isn't much use. Edge would be interesting, apart from the fact that it isn't, and there's already plenty of better browsers out there. Did no one tell Microsoft that the browser wars are over and they lost?

Is it worth the upgrade?

For me, Windows 7 was a pretty good operating system. It did what I wanted it to, it looked good, it ran well. Windows 8, in bizarre contrast, was terrible. I've used it once or twice and that was enough to convince me that I never wanted to again.

Windows 10 was supposed to fix all the problems with 8 but I wasn't looking forward to it after hearing about how much it spies on you (apparently Microsoft now think even the NSA is an organisation they want to compete with). Unfortunately they've decided to retroactively sneak all that privacy eroding stuff into 7 and 8 via updates, so if you haven't upgraded because of privacy concerns, chances are you should be worried already.

If you like your current version of Windows and it provides everything you need, you might as well not bother getting 10. There's nothing particularly new on offer as a motivator to upgrade, and some of the UI changes that confuse and frustrate you. That said, if you like to stay up to date and want to use the latest software, eventually you'll start to find that new software won't work with your older version of Windows, so getting 10 now is probably worth it. Also, it's a free upgrade and it's been said that you may find it runs better than your old OS, although I can't vouch for this. Finally, if you're using 8 and wish it was a bit more like 7, you might as well upgrade, because that's what you'll get.

Verdict

I've only been using Windows 10 for a few weeks but I'm still not really sure if I'm going to like it. I've encountered bugs, UI inconsistencies, inexplicable slowness and nothing particularly new that makes it stand out from its predecessors.

The other problem is that Windows 10 is still trying to cater for desktop, tablet and mobile users all at once - an idea that already proved a failure in Windows 8. Attempting to unify the experience across devices is all well and good, but it ignores the simple truth that those devices work differently. A desktop user can interact much more precisely with a mouse than a touchscreen user can with their finger, but a touchscreen user can scroll and navigate through content much faster. A user interface should build on each user type's strengths, not penalise one for the limitations of the other.

Overall, Windows 10 feels both unfinished and unpolished. No doubt things will improve with updates over time, but that itself represents another problem. Even if they fix things like this, I don't really want an OS that keeps changing itself without telling me. Can I just have a finished product please Microsoft?

Further experience

I wrote this article a few weeks ago and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit it and see whether my admittedly mostly negative view of Windows 10 has changed since then. It hasn't. In fact, I've found new things to dislike. Here we go.

  • The status bar in file explorer doesn't show the dimensions of selected images by default anymore, like it used to in Windows 7 (when viewing large icons). It might be possible to get it to do this, but I haven't figured out how yet.
  • There's a useful feature called Quick access (again in the file explorer) that lets you essentially bookmark commonly used directories so you can find them easily. That's great, except it seems to have a minimum number of items in it. The number I require is less than the minimum, so it fills itself up with random directories that I never want to open. If I remove one, it adds another in its place. Pointless.
  • Windows update. Aargh.

I'm going to drop out this list now to talk about Windows update. I mentioned before that it's now impossible to control when updates download and install (it just happens automatically) and how I prefer having the control, like we used to in Windows 7. I now have a good reason why I want this feature, and why it's going to annoy you as well - this morning I spent a futile hour trying to use my computer but to little avail since Windows was busy using all my bandwidth and disk activity to download and install some updates, effectively rendering my computer useless. That's not a helpful feature. It's a really annoying one.

And here's some things that I thought I would find annoying and have.

  • The tiles feature of the Start menu.
  • The completely blank screen that happens when I boot.
  • The way some settings are in Control Panel and some are in Settings.

Finally, while many reviews have said how much lighter and quicker this new OS is, I have to say, even though I can't compare since I've started using it on a new PC, it doesn't seem very fast. In fact, it seems pretty slow sometimes.

All in all, I'm not having a very good experience of this OS so far.

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