Windows 10, proclaimed by some to be Microsoft’s “last operating system,” has finally been released in final form and, like each of its predecessors, is getting both praise and criticism from early upgraders. The response to the newly “reimagined” interface has been generally good, but a few of its features – particularly a couple that are designed to make connectivity and updating easier (but, some fear, are at the cost of security) – have created controversy. Also coming under fire is the new auto update policy that Microsoft is instituting with its new OS, that gives (some) users less control over whether and when they apply patches.
I’ve had a chance to thoroughly explore the final release of Windows 10 now, and overall I like it. I haven’t had any major upgrade problems. A couple of drivers had to be updated manually and Cortana doesn’t like the microphone on one of our computers, but otherwise no glitches.
Nothing’s perfect, though, and that goes double for any software program. I’m annoyed that Microsoft has taken away a few of the functionalities and features that I used extensively, although I’ve found workarounds for many of those sins of omission. You’re going to see a flood of articles about Win 10 detailing the good, the bad and the ugly, but whether you like it or hate it (or something in between) is going to be due in large part to subjective issues. Since this is an opinion piece, in this one I’ll share my opinions regarding the best and the worst things about Windows 10, and how to fix some – but unfortunately not all – of the latter.
I always like to focus on the positive, and there is a lot to love about Windows 10. It’s fast, it’s stable, and the upgrade process was by far the most painless I’ve ever experienced. For many years, I swore by clean installations when I moved to a new version of the OS, based on the problems that inevitably arose when I tried to install over an old version of Windows. With Win 10 thus far, and on several computers, everything has gone smoothly – and I’m getting similar reports from many of my friends, colleagues and readers, both the techies and the less computer savvy.
On the other hand, I’ve also heard from a few with the inevitable upgrade problems, resulting in many of the Apple faithful to seize the opportunity to “get a Mac!” I offered my response to that advice on my own blog site, in The OS Wars are Raging Again. In this piece, I’m going to be talking about features and feature tweaking rather than troubleshooting.
Once the upgrade completes, those who were using Windows 8.1 without any “enhancements” such as Start 8 or Classic Shell will be greeted with a (for most) welcome sight: When you click or tap the Start button that was restored in 8.1, now we get what we used to take for granted: a Start menu. This is not your father’s Start menu; it includes live tiles like those on the old full-screen Start screen. I like this combination a lot; it really does give you the best of both worlds. And it looks nice.
Something else you’ll notice if you’re using a tablet and swipe in from the right where the Charms bar used to be, or click the little square-with-wings icon on the taskbar if you’re using a keyboard/mouse, is the new Action Center. This is probably one of the most useful additions in Windows 10. It serves somewhat the same purpose as the pull-down notification bar on an Android device. Windows Store apps now run in a window in desktop mode, like legacy applications, instead of taking over as full-screen-only displays.
Here you’ll find commonly used controls and notifications from your apps. You can control which from which apps you get notifications. You can also toggle between tablet mode and desktop mode (which is “tablet off” mode). Continuum is the feature that will automatically switch between the two, depending on whether you have a keyboard and mouse attached. I’ve found it works better on some machines than others, but you can quickly change modes manually here. In tablet mode, you get the full screen Start screen like Windows 8.1, and with tablet mode off, you get the regular desktop with the live tiles in the Start menu. I like this flexibility a lot.
I also like the enhanced task switcher (now the thumbnails are big enough to actually see) and the new virtual desktops. We’ve been able to do this for a long time with Mark Russinovich’s little Desktops utility, but now it’s built in. The Edge browser is missing some things I like, such as the command bar and menu bar, but I like its Share (to Facebook, OneNote, Mail and the Reading List) feature and I love the ability to markup and save a webpage (pen notations, highlighter, typed comments and clipper) screenshot easily. And yes, you can change your search engine and restore the Favorites bar. IE 11 is still in Windows 10, for those who prefer it.
Even the venerable command prompt has been improved. Now you can use the usual keyboard shortcuts to copy and paste into it. That’s long overdue. Windows Explorer replaced the Favorites section in the left pane with Quick Access. By default it automatically adds your most recently accessed folders to it, which I don’t like. I right clicked on it, selected Options, and on the General tab unchecked “Show recently used files in Quick Access.” That fixed that. I’m still undecided about Cortana. It’s useful on a mobile device and would be especially so on a phone, but I’m not going to sit at my desk and talk to my computer. Your mileage may vary.
Some of the things I don’t like so well include the final killing off of Windows Media Center. We’ve used WMC since 2004 as a DVR to record and timeshift TV programs. We now have a complex setup with an HDHomeRun CableCARD device that distributes the signal to all of our computers over the home Ethernet network. We mostly record on the main Media Center PC in our media room and watch the programs there on the attached 70 inch HDTV.
Microsoft built WMC into Vista (some editions) and Windows 7. With Windows 8, they stopped including it and you had to buy it as an extra add-on. With Windows 10, you can’t even do that. And if you upgrade a Windows 8 system that has it installed, it removes it. That means the Media Center PC won’t be upgrading to the new OS; it will run Windows 8.1 until support ends in 2023 or a better alternative comes along. Reportedly Microsoft is building some degree of DVR functionality into the next Xbox, so we’ll see where that goes.
Most of my other major complaints about Windows 10 have workarounds. Like Windows 8/8.1, it doesn’t officially support desktop gadgets (and I have a handful I can’t live without), but you can install GadgetsRevived and your gadgets are back, so I’m happily running my digital world clock, calendar, weather and stock meters and my indispensable Clipboarder on my Win10 desktop.
(Note: gadgets can be used to deliver malware so don’t install any the source of which you don’t know and trust).
Then there’s Wi-fi Sense, which has been reviled in the tech press as “an astoundingly bad idea,” and defended by others as “a valuable feature that gives full control over shareable networks.” How do I feel about it? Somewhere in between. What it does is share access to your wi-fi network with Outlook and Skype contacts and friends on Facebook. What it doesn’t do is let those friends actually see your password.
Wi-fi Sense is turned on by default, and when you log onto a wireless network it asks if you want to share the login credentials. If you do, Microsoft stores those credentials, in encrypted form, on its server and distributes them to your contacts who are using Windows 10. If your friends are in range of your wireless access point/router, they can automatically connect to your network – without ever seeing your password. You can turn it off completely through the Network & Internet section of the Settings app.
Finally, there’s the big “mandatory updates” controversy. Microsoft has made it more difficult to turn off the automatic downloading and installation of updates. It can be done, but that’s a lot easier with Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise than with the Home edition. With these, Group Policy can be used to have Windows 10 notify for download and notify for install. It’s also possible to trick Windows into thinking it’s using a metered connection so it won’t download updates. Both of these workarounds are discussed here. There are other hacks floating around the web.
There’s not enough room in this article to go into all of the neat new bits and pieces that make Windows 10 both fun and easier and more productive to use. There’s also no time to go into all of the little frustrations and annoyances. I’ll be writing a lot more about Windows 10, both here and in other venues, in the coming weeks and months. I think, once the “new OS” bugs are worked out and users get past the learning curve, it’s going to become a well-liked OS, following in the footsteps of Windows XP and Windows 7, both of which had plenty of detractors when they were first released. Some will love it immediately. Some will never warm up to it but the only way to know whether it works for you is to give it a try.