Windows 10 Review: Soon to be released and why you should actually be excited to upgrade
A foreword on Windows Releases
From the beginning of computer time (The 21st Century) Microsoft has released alternating versions of Windows that have been either loved or hated. In 2000 Windows ME failed to impress, yet just a year later Windows XP became the workhorse of the entire world. 6 years go by and Windows Vista was again shunned like ME, with most users reverting to XP. Finally in 2009 Windows 7 was debuted and accepted worldwide, you could go so far as to say it was truly a replacement for XP while Vista was just an experiment. Next up was the highly anticipated release of Windows 8, and with no surprise it was a flop, dare we say the biggest flop of all?
While we encourage forward thinking it felt as though we needed to completely re-learn using a computer. You can imagine how quickly we disliked the new OS when after 10 minutes of trying to shut down our new computer we were forced to turn to Google. Nothing felt intuitive, everything felt forced. Why abandon a desktop the entire world knew and loved? This was the first time in my life I felt I might be ‘getting old’, was I truly unwilling to change, was I being unfair? We struggled to try and learn Windows 8 for a week, yet no matter what we did we couldn’t think how much we missed the perfectly working Windows 7 we had used for years. We asked ourselves why change, what was the advantage? We genuinely could not find a single reason to abandon 7.
At this point we realized it could very well be just a stepping stone as both ME and Vista were to their successors, however we couldn’t see what in the world they were trying to accomplish, at this point it seemed like a leap of faith someone shouldn’t have been willing to take. Over the last few years I can say without a doubt that the release of Windows 8 has been one of the most positive things in my business, the number of customers walking into our store looking for a computer with Windows 7 or wanting to ‘downgrade’ from Windows 8 has been unbelievable. We’ve been told stories of signs in Costco saying “We’re sorry but we cannot accept returns on computers solely because you do not like Windows 8”. Can you imagine how many returns it takes before major retailers invoke such a policy?
Almost a year later to the day Microsoft released Windows 8.1, this again was a major boost in our business. Countless customers flocked in with a complete loss of networking ability, failed upgrades and more. We became accustomed to seeing people in tears; students who couldn’t turn in college papers on time, parents who lost pictures and more. How much of this can we actually ‘blame’ on Microsoft? Well none, but we can say without a doubt the networking issue seemed was far too common to be user error.
That being said Windows 8.1 truly did bring some welcome features, I for one was able to simply power off the computer. This doesn’t mean the average consumer was any happier, the stream of downgrades and people looking to buy a used laptop for fear of the dreaded Windows 8. We’ve simply accepted that 7 is the new XP, the OS that will be used for many years to come. When word came of Windows 10 we first wondered what happened to 9, it seemed to be the logical next step? I was skeptical to say the least, wondering what, if anything could have been salvaged from 8 to create 10 that I would enjoy.
If you find yourself feeling the same way (we’d be surprised if you didn’t) you’ll be excited to hear our ongoing review of the Windows 10 Technical Preview.
Our initial impression
Let me be the first to say my experience with Windows 8 has been nothing but short, many of the features I enjoy in Windows 10 may well have been part of 8 or 8.1, but as a whole they were such terrible operating systems most refused to spend enough time to learn what they were actually good at. Like most, we somehow just knew they weren’t for us and you’ve likely had the same experience. Windows has since announced the upgrade to Windows 10 will be free for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users alike, great news for everyone!
Our test computer is a relatively basic Dell Inspiron 15r laptop with a 1.4GHz Intel Celeron processor and 4GB of memory. This was specifically chosen due to the large number of inexpensive computers being sold at big box retailers with what seems to be a very underpowered processors to keep the prices down. Our goal was to mimic average consumers experience, whether using a new entry level machine or an older mid level computer.
The upgrade process was painless, a simple download and effortless installation, which did take a bit of time on our basic test computer. The only major hurdle we had in this case was a lack of networking drivers upon completion, for us this was a quick fix, for many this could spell disaster. With no way to connect to the internet most couldn’t even manually find the correct driver. This could have been a fluke, but it was our experience and will likely happen to others along the way. That being said, if you’re considering the upgrade we would highly recommend visiting your computer manufacturer's website and downloading the most up to date drivers onto a thumb drive prior to installing the upgrade as a failsafe.
With the proper drivers installed allowing network connectivity via the wireless card we were actually quite impressed with Windows 10 automatically obtaining and installing all remaining missing drivers, in our case 5. If you’ve ever run into driver issues you can certainly appreciate this finally becoming a fully automated procedure.
Now that we had a functional computer we took a look at the desktop layout, the new flat design feels modern and refined while still remaining functional. We dreaded our first click on the ‘start button’, fearing it would launch the Windows 8 home screen but were pleasantly surprised to find it opening what appears to be half start menu, half home screen. Additionally Cortana or ‘Siri for Windows’ seems to do a very good job of searching the computer as well as the internet. The top right corner of the new start menu brings it full screen, I suppose if you had a lot of favorite programs/apps this could be beneficial. We however only use a handful and removed the extras. Taking a look at the notifications tab near the clock provided another pleasant surprise, many of the commonly used settings for a computer were right at our fingertips, no searching through complex menus just to connect to a wireless network like Windows 8. This reminded us of simple menus in OSX.
We also found the task view button just right of Cortana to be helpful, simply displaying all open programs as tiles (something OSX has had for quite some time). This made multitasking quite easy, especially if you tend to keep many applications open concurrently.
As we moved forward we began to realize the computer seemed surprisingly snappy considering its relatively entry level specifications. At no point did it seem to slow down while having numerous applications open, something we would have fully expected while running previous versions of Windows. We weren’t too sure what to expect when installing common software, being that 10 is still a Technical Preview we expected some issues. Installing Google Chrome, Skype, Dropbox, OpenOffice, iTunes, Malwarebytes and TeamViewer yielded no issues whatsoever. Each ran smoothly with no errors and while this is a small sample size we would be inclined to believe that most if not all common software is already compatible.
Years ago I ditched Internet Explorer and haven’t looked back, Google Chrome has been excellent, syncs my data across devices with no effort and has always proven to be faster and more reliable. It seems relatively rare that someone uses IE on a daily basis unless they spend a lot of time on government websites (why in the world does our government still design websites specifically for IE?). Seemingly everyone has Chrome or Firefox, both being far superior to IE. Windows 10 does however come preinstalled with Project Spartan, apparently a new take on an internet browser from Microsoft. It does indeed feel faster and more well thought out than IE, but just like task view and the settings tab one can’t help but notice outside influence. With more development on the way prior to a final release it’s hard to say where this will land, but our initial impression is that this will begin to put Microsoft back in the browser game.
With the launch of any new OS most of us need to see the value in the change and thus far we’ve been quite impressed. Everything tested in Windows 10 feels more intuitive as though the engineers realized simple tasks should be simple. Installing Google Chrome prompted a friendly question asking “How do you want to open webpages?” rather than “Would you like to make Internet Explorer your default browser?”. While this may seem miniscule, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had customers asking me what a browser is or “what they should pick”. The user prompts in Windows 10 are simply more user friendly and at the end of the day isn’t that how it should be?
Uninstalling programs has become much easier for the average user as well, simply right clicking on a program from the start menu now provides a menu allowing the uninstallation process to begin. Previously in Windows 7 you’d have to follow the Start>Control Panel>Add/Remove Programs>Locate it on the list. Again, for most this was just a daunting task and has been made easier.
One drawback, if you can even call it that is the start menu icons. “This PC”, formerly “My Computer”, Google Chrome and even Internet Explorer simply have bad out of the box appearance. We’re sure updates are coming to these but as of writing they do stick out like a sore thumb on the new modern start menu.
The task manager (typically opened by pressing CTRL-ALT-Delete) now opens a user friendly dialog box. Clicking “more details” brings you to numerous different useful tabs, you’re able to see real time performance of all aspects of the computer, startup items as well as their impact on speed and many more. This is an area that previously seemed alien to most users, now it feels inviting as well as useful.
From the Start Menu selecting “Settings” brings about a page very reminiscent of OSX’s System Preferences. The new modern look and simple explanations are again quite inviting to the average user. You no longer feel like you’ve made it to a screen you shouldn’t be on.
We genuinely appreciate the inclusion of Windows Defender, formerly Microsoft Security Essentials for Windows 7 and prior. Granted this was also included in Windows 8, nonetheless it is a welcomed feature. For most this spells the end of annual subscriptions to Norton, McAfee and the like. We preinstall all Windows 7 machines with MSE and have been nothing short of impressed by its ability to keep a system up and running. There is certainly something to be said for a free antivirus suite pre-built into the operating system, you’d likely never knew it existed until it helped save you from disaster. In comparison the major retailers like McAfee are too well known for constant pop ups, long scans and slowing the system down.
Our time spent with Windows 10 is still in its infancy and the OS is clearly still in development that said we haven’t seen a single major drawback. As we’ve noted numerous times it appears Microsoft has taken some direction from OSX and brought the user interface to a much more friendly level, something that has long been a major selling point of owning an Apple computer. This isn’t a negative thing whatsoever, possibly the best part of Windows 10 thus far has been the feeling that someone finally drew inspiration from successful aspects of other operating systems and programs. The layout and context menus seem to make sense for the first time, things actually feel intuitive which will lead to happier consumers getting more done.
Microsoft has recently announced Windows 10 being the “final release” of Windows. Tom Warren of The Verge writes, “Microsoft has altered the way it engineers and delivers Windows, and the initial result is Windows 10. Instead of big releases, there will be regular improvements and updates. Part of this is achieved by splitting up operating system components like the Start Menu and built-in apps to be separate parts that can be updated independently to the entire Windows core operating system”. We are highly anticipating the final release, as far as we can tell it will not only be a positive change but a major step forward in the Microsoft product lineup.