Software, Technology

Opinion: Windows 10 Could Have Been Better


Image: What's New in Windows 10? Unplayable video.It isn’t finished, it isn’t coherent, aguably it isn’t even an ‘upgrade.’ But it may well be the last ‘version’ of Windows you ever get. The grand, visionary release of Windows 10 proves the adage you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Windows XP continues to run across millions of machine worldwide. Windows Vista doesn’t. Windows 7 does. Windows 8 and 8.1, limp along mainly because they were pre-installed on machines by people who don’t know how to downgrade. Windows 10 is offered as the free upgrade messiah, the answer to all our problems, when in fact, it answers very few.

We are, allegedly, in a post-PC world, where tablets and smart phones dominate, where Mobile with a capital ‘M’ is the holy grail of computing – except we’re in a post-computing world, too.

Windows 7 was the last solid refinement of the conventional PC desktop; which sadly doesn’t sit well on the touch screens of smart phones or tablets. Windows 8, then, was a bold statement of intent by Microsoft to go mobile-friendly, with the graphically stripped-down, lo-fi, Fischer-Price-inspired block-graphics and tiles Modern UI (user interface). Except is wasn’t ready, nobody wanted to develop apps for it and id didn’t work well on conventional PC’s.

Which is why the Windows 7 Desktop sat underneath it, and if you used any kind of office productivity software, that’s where you stayed. Only you couldn’t boot into it, just the Windows 8 Start Screen, with no start menu, a bunch of tiles that scrolled sideways, and the Charms. The Charms was a bizarre design idea; part quick-launch, part settings and control panel. They skulked off the side of the Modern UI Start Screen and were barely discoverable unless you knew where to find them.

So determined was Microsoft to move into the mobile space, it was prepared to throw out the baby – fifteen years of conventional desktops, with all that accumulated user knowledge and experience – with the Start Button.

True, we often asked why you had to press Start in order to quit and shutdown, but that was a minor gripe compared to not having a Start Button at all. Instead,it seemed that everyone griped at the lack of one, a proper desktop, the Charms and that gold-darned awful Modern UI tiled screen that was clearly aimed at Windows Phone. One Windows to rule them all… or not.

So they gave us Windows 8.1. You could have argued a full push into Modern UI apps, including MS Office, could have been the way to go, like an icebreaker pushing through the arctic ocean to ultimately clear waters beyond. But no. Redmond backed off, u-turned and tried to mollify the critics by modifying Windows to a half-way house between 7 and 8. It didn’t work. Actually in a lot of cases, it physically didn’t work – ‘upgrades’ fell apart, device drivers failed; the Charms stayed; the Windows 8 disaster continued, made worse by the Windows Phone disaster, with a sub-3% market share.

Windows 10 could have been that clean start Redmond was looking for. Windows 10’s new Start menu is a mash up of the Windows 7 menu and the Modern UI Start Screen; in a way it has something for everyone, but may not please anyone.

While the proffered free upgrades largely work fine, you may still have to battle indecipherable hex error codes from Windows Update, or debug driver version mismatches, or go hunt down files you know are still somewhere on your hard drive. Support for high-resolution displays is hit-and-miss, there are some new zoom options, but no universal scalable-font engine that works across a reasonable number of legacy displays.

The Windows Control Panel still exists, alongside the Modern UI Settings app. While Control Panel may be the antique, almost steam-powered system for managing a computer, but at least everything is in one place and not the bits-and-pieces, “touch-friendly” settings app that is no more intuitive and isn’t even complete.

Tablet mode and Continuum are fine developments (look them up if you don’t even know what I’m talking about) for the 0.01% of Windows users with a Surface Tablet.

The new Edge Browser, from Project Spartan, is so spartan it doesn’t even have a Save As option to download files; you have to go back to the insecure and unsafe Internet Explorer. And try inserting images from anywhere that isn’t WordPress into a WordPress article. Stone the crows.

Voice-assistant Cortana is useful but buggy. Virtual desktops are a nice feature, but have been in Linux for decades, so hardly new. Meanwhile we’ve lost Windows Media Center, LiveWriter, and MovieMaker – perfectly good desktop programs in areas that Microsoft has ceded to third party vendors.

Windows 10 has the best kernel ever, it’s stable, robust, programs rarely crash and seldom take the whole OS down with them. The Task Manager is a fantastic Swiss Army Knife of a tool (or turbo-chainsaw for the unwary). The Modern UI apps are getting better, there just aren’t enough of them, despite everything that Redmond has tried to do to incentivise developers – although the Mail app started out utterly dismally and still doesn’t replace a full-featured mail client.

And the new Start Menu is such a kludge together of Windows 7 and 8 it makes very little sense to anyone used to either. But at least the Charms have been banished.

One of the best things in it’s favour is the free upgrade. Although, as we know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in this case, the ‘free’ is more to do with Microsoft moving Windows 7 and 8 users onto a single, supportable platform to ease it’s call centre training issues; or, as the cynics have it, move us all onto the most heavily secured, surveilled and locked-down Windows version ever. A bit like Apple. Hence the inability of anyone not running Windows 10 Enterprise from deferring Windows Updates. Yes, you get the latest security fixes on or around every Patch Tuesday, but if those happen to contain a patch that breaks your individual system, you’re just a passenger in the train-wreck that follows. And re-installing or rolling-back a botched Windows 10 upgrade isn’t exactly the paradise we were promised.

So, happy holidays, enjoy your upgrades; book-mark the Windows 10 tutorials, buy a guidebook and do be sitting comfortably when you start out doing anything new – or even familiar – on Windows 10. You may be there a while. AJS

About Allan J. Smithie

Allan J. Smithie is a journalist and commentator based in Dubai.

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