By Ben Warner.
Being a tech enthusiast, there was never any question that I would be installing Microsoft’s latest operating system update in Windows 10 on my machines. I had played with the technical preview earlier this year and liked what I saw, but receiving the release version has made me redefine my original impressions of this venerable operating system that is as ubiquitous as pen and paper. Windows 10 is really what Windows 8 should have been to begin with. It is such a natural successor to Windows 7 that within minutes of installing it, you will forget that Windows 8 had ever existed, something that I’m sure Microsoft is keen to have happen. Gone is the ugly hybrid between metro and desktop, replaced by an intuitive combination of the two that knows when its being a PC and when its being a mobile device. The balance for users, particularly those put off by Windows 8 and its jarring user interface, has been rectified by an intuitive balance between the old and the new. As for old time users, particularly Windows 7 users, they finally have an upgrade path they can pursue while maintaining everything that was familiar about their Windows experience. In short, Windows 10 is the best Windows experience Microsoft has ever delivered while continuing to deliver on what everyone expects and needs from Windows.
That’s not to say that you have to upgrade to Windows 10. For every day consumers who just like their PCs the way they are, it’s arguable that Windows 10 won’t necessarily bring much to the table for these people, particularly if all they do is browse the web, dabble in the occasional documents and like a place to store their email. Windows 7 does this just fine and given extended support for that OS extends out all the way to 2020, people may be tempted to sit this upgrade out, especially if Windows 8 put them off. Microsoft is hoping that the enticement of a free upgrade for existing machines will convince these people to give Windows 10 a go. I never would have expected way back when I started using Windows in the early 90s that we would reach a point where Microsoft would give it away for free (albeit with conditions). However, given that so much of the tech world has changed since that time, it’s also not surprising; Microsoft is still going strong, but has lost much of its market power to other tech companies such as Apple, Google and Samsung, who have successfully established hardware and software ecosystems that are just as good (or better) than what Microsoft is offering. Only time well tell if it’s change of strategy will keep them in the game from an OS perspective.
For me, keeping up to date with the latest operating systems on my computers and devices is essential for nothing else except maintaining the latest security updates. In this hyper-connected, internet driven world we live in, where our devices are so heavily reliant on the internet and the security perils this can bring, being on the latest operating systems is an imperative. In this sense, Windows 10 is another step along this path. Continuing to work with older operating systems leaves you at the mercy of security flaws; I don’t want to even know why there are so many PCs running Windows XP in the world. At last count, XP still had a market share of 11.74%. That’s a whole lot of disaster waiting to happen.
Before I get to to the positives, I do want to address an issue that Windows 10 has caused among many relating to what happens when you select “express settings” on installation. Selecting this option automatically opts the user in to many scenarios where Microsoft will collect your data, whether it be for troubleshooting, or for providing useful location-specific information and/or browsing related information (Cortana being the main culprit). The naysayers do have a point in that Microsoft should have made it more obvious to step users through the questions asked if you choose “customize settings” rather than “express settings”. However, it is possible to turn all of this off, and I would suggest you do so if you are not comfortable with your data and usage information being used in this way. On a side note, I don’t have a need for Cortana (much like I don’t have a need for Siri).
What are the positives of Windows 10? For the most part, it feels like the natural successor to Windows 7. Everything looks familiar and where it should be. The Start Menu is back, although it isn’t quite the same Start Menu that you remember. Metro, or “modern” apps as they are called, are integrated in to the Start Menu now, and can be accessed in the same way as desktop apps. Importantly from a user’s perspective, there doesn’t appear to be any difference, they all just look like apps. This is important for the crowd that never upgraded to Windows 8 as the Start Screen was an unnecessary and jarring distraction from the desktop. On the flip side, Windows 10 is smart enough to know what device you’re using, so those modern apps will flip in to a more tablet friendly user interface if you are using a tablet (or are in tablet mode). This is the most fundamentally important change to Windows 10 from Windows 8. It also highlights the craziness of why they didn’t do this in Windows 8 to begin with. It highlights the fact Microsoft got it wrong with Windows 8 in assuming that the desktop and traditional PCs were on the way out. After three years of stumbling with Windows 8 and its approach, it appears Microsoft has finally gotten it right. Now that the modern tablet boom beginning with the iPad has settled down, the real world appears to have settled on the combination of a laptop and smartphone as the most useful combination of devices to get work done (with a tablet being a nice addition to the mix, if not crucial). For Microsoft, the net gains down the road of the Windows 10 approach will be that Enterprises will be able to integrate Windows 10 tablets and phones much more seamlessly in to their PC environments, pushing Windows 10 out to more and more users. One wonders how much headway they would have made if they had done this in Windows 8 three years earlier!
It will be interesting to see the take up of Windows 10 over these first twelve months. There are signs of hope for Microsoft that they may gain their balance, particularly in the Enterprise. Fascinating new features like Continuum (which I haven’t had a chance to play with yet), can potentially make all the difference for Enterprise customers who can use features like this to enhance their daily work and efficiencies. As for consumers, Windows 10 is a no-brainer, particularly if you have a compatible PC and can upgrade for free. At least it’s off to a good start with installations reaching 75 million devices.
I’ll continue to play with Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system, despite the fact that I’m all on Apple hardware and virtualising Windows under Parallels. Ironically, I’m writing this using Word 2016 for Mac. Although it is the subject of another blog post, Office 365 may just be Microsoft’s trump card for the future. Combine that with a successful revival of Windows in Windows 10, and Microsoft may just regain its footing in the tech world, offering a set of services that are unique and widely familiar with the majority of PC users.