Windows 10: Initial Impressions

I’m not sure why I did this; but I immediately updated to Windows 10 yesterday morning; something I had never done with any previous Windows versions, I usually wait six months for the major bugs to be worked out. This time I immediately made the jump on my laptop, Surface Pro 3 and desktop machine which I use for my work, maybe it’s because it was free and the Insider versions looked promising.

The upgrade process was so easy I think my technophobe father could even do it, it was literally a case of downloading the files from Windows Update or and clicking start upgrade, the process was 95% automated with some simple interaction near the end of the process.

The biggest change is the new start menu, which is a hybrid of the Windows 8 start screen with live tiles and the traditional Windows 7 style start menu. It’s a definite improvement over the Windows 8 experience, but personally I despise live tiles on a non-tablet device, so I went with installing a third party application that replaces the Windows 10 start menu with a configurable Windows 7 inspired start menu.

The second biggest change… maybe I should say addition is Cortana which in my testing works fairly well, sometimes it’ll open Bing (rather unsurprisingly) in the default browser you have set, other times it will give you a direct verbal and written response. Having a good quality microphone helps, my headset works great on my desktop, as does the built in microphone in my Surface Pro 3, but the built in microphone in my Toshiba laptop doesn’t work so well with Cortana often not understanding my words.

Now I have talked about the functionality, we also have to consider the privacy implications of using Cortana. Microsoft will collect information about your location and location history, contacts, calendar, content and communication history from messages and apps and other information on your device, please read Microsoft’s privacy statement. I have disabled Cortana after testing it’s functionality.

The interface is still a little disjointed in my view, for example when you goto options, there are sub options that still open in Windows 7 style windows. It’s infinitely more integrated than Windows 8, it doesn’t feel like two separate OS’s anymore but it’s less cohesive that I would have liked. However I do like the way that when not in tablet mode, the modern apps open up in a window on the desktop instead of taking over the screen like Windows 8, it doesn’t feel like I am flip/flopping between OS’s any more.

Another new addition is the Action Center that can be accessed by swiping in from the right or clicking the icon in the system tray. Here you will see notification from modern apps such as Mail, Twitter, Facebook, Windows Update and there are quick options for system changes, how many options you get depends on your system, my desktop generated seven icons while my Surface Pro 3 generated 13 options.

Microsoft has dropped the Internet Explorer name in Windows 10 going in a new cleaner direction with Edge, which according to MS is built from the ground up. If you really want IE11, you can still access it, Microsoft has not removed it, it’s just harder to find. Edge is a little too basic for my liking, it seems to be a more tablet friendly browser with big buttons and relatively few features compared to other browsers. Of course this might change as the young browser matures, we’ll have to wait and see how it develops.

Windows 10 comes with a raft of new modern applications to open your media files such as Groove Music and Movies & TV, which from what I can see is more a platform to sell you media than play it. I reset my defaults to Windows Media Player and Photo Viewer. Which of course is my preference, I prefer my media players/viewers to do just that and nothing more, others might like the new apps.

Speaking of media players, Windows Media Player no longer supports playback of DVD’s in Windows 10, yes I know that it was the same in Window 8/8.1, this warning is for those upgrading from Windows 7. If users of Windows 7 had Windows Media Center installed before upgrading to Windows 10, they should get a free copy of Windows DVD Player, which apparently does not work fully on all setups according to reviews from the Windows Store. If your machine does not qualify, you’ll have to pay $14.99, or alternatively, you could download VLC player for absolutely free from the same Windows Store.

For those like myself who like the speed of Windows 8/10 but want the Windows 7 experience, Start10 from Stardock is a great launch day start menu replacement and you can remove most Windows 8/10 aspects if you like. I choose to make the Windows 10 start menu available using CTRL-click. Most of the underlying Windows 7 elements are still intact under the modern interface, so in theory it’s possible to have an almost 100% Windows 7 experience. Previously I used StartIsBack on Windows 8 and 8.1.

The Surface Pro 3 experience is much the same as it was in Windows 8 on Windows 10 in tablet mode, the start screen is available, apps open full screen, although rather annoyingly auto onscreen keyboard invoking (e.g. open onscreen keyboard when touching inside an input element) on the desktop side still does not work in Windows 10, which seems ludicrous, why would Microsoft omit this basic function?

Overall I would say Windows 10 is a hit, whereas Windows 8 was a complete miss. Windows 10 is what Windows 8 should have been 3 years ago. If you have a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 machine, I’d say make the jump, it seems stable and it’s a much improved operating system than it’s immediate predecessors and best of all (assuming you have a legit copy of Windows 7/8/8.1) it’s free until July 29, 2016.

Update [Aug, 21 2015, 9:43]: I have been noticing some minor niggles with Windows 10 on the Surface Pro 3 tablet, some applications when launched from tablet mode, notably Firefox [40.0.2] opens behind the start screen, forcing you to switch to desktop mode to see the application. Also despite turning off password when waking from sleep, often Windows 10 still presents the login screen after waking. Finally, the system runs hotter, notably when using MS Edge to play streaming videos such as YouTube.

Update [Sep, 6 2015, 1:46]: If you would like to remove all of Windows 10’s pre-installed bloatware with the exception of Edge and Cortana, please watch this video from the Tek Syndicate. However, I personally wouldn’t recommend removal of all modern apps, you’re better off picking and choosing what you want to uninstall as the Microsoft store is very difficult to get back. I had to reinstall Windows 10 over the top of the current (now, previous) install of Windows to restore store functionality + fix other issues caused by the mass purge of Microsoft bloat, thankfully, my programs and settings remained in tact.

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