And so this is Windows…The Good is Great, but the Bad is Ugly.

Windows 10 Hero Image

Windows 10 Is Here

I’ve held off on writing anything about my Windows 10 experience for a few weeks in order to truly test the software in daily use. I’ve read and digested about all the information out there on this, and I’ve installed it a bunch. I’ve even started up the Insider program again for new builds because so far, things are going swimmingly. So my environment looks like:

Work PC (big powerful desktop) – Windows 10 Pro domain joined
Surface Pro – Windows 10 Pro/Insider
Surface 3 – Windows 10/RTM
Dell Venue 8 Test Tablet – Windows 10/Insider
Home Guest PC (desktop) – Windows 10/Insider
Toshiba Encore Write 2 – Windows 10/RTM (yes, I upgraded even this one!)
Main Home PC (remote work, gaming, video) – Windows 8.1 Pro – Not moving

As you can see, I’ve gone all in on Windows 10 save for one machine, my main home PC. This box can’t be upgraded because I’m dependent on it being my bedroom television. It has a Ceton 6 tuner cable card setup with Windows Media Center and I use it constantly. Even when working or playing, I can have a TV window up (yeah, I like TV, so sue me!). Until I find something, anything that approaches what WMC does I just can’t move. This sucks. Maybe one of these days I’ll try Media Portal, it seems to be the closest to meeting the functionality of TV, DVR I need even though it is a nightmare of complexity.

Note to Media Portal People: If you want a HUGE increase in your user base, create a Media Portal ‘WMC Edition for Windows 10’ that installs your latest software, drivers and plugins in one easy program that replicates the functions of WMC. TV, DVR, maybe Video Library, a nice interface/skin, support for remote, and tuner drivers. Right now, it’s a build it yourself Rube Goldberg engine of insanity to even begin getting started. Seriously, it’s ‘Cones of Dunshire’ complicated. Yes, you can customize it out the wazoo–but you’d make a killing with a drop in replacement for WMC, and by that I mean CHARGE for it, wazoos be damned! I would be willing to pay. If you could make it migrate over the DVR record schedule even better. It’s open source, someone wrap this thing in a simple setup already!

Sorry, I got off track. But there’s a need out there for WMC since it’s the only thing holding a lot of people back on Windows 10.

There has also been a lot of hoopla (yes, today I’m using old-timey words) around privacy and security. Poppycock and balderdash I say! For two reasons. One, Windows 10 is a lot more secure architecturally and gives you control through privacy settings more than any other OS in common use. Two, it’s a freakin’ cloud connected OS–yes, data has to go to the cloud to use cloud features. Duh. This has been going on for years as the industry moves to cloud hosted services.

Most of the rest of the complaints I’ve seen are either completely made up for click bait headlines (you know who you are!); the tin foil hat, security paranoids who will only use Linux or old copies of OS’s that are ‘truly tested’ (although they can’t actually do anything on those machines); or the rantings of the anti-Microsoft, rain on everything parade of hipsters who just can’t admit Windows 10 is nice.

Basically Windows 10 is a good, solid upgrade to Windows 7, 8, 8.1 and on new PC’s. I’ve come to accept the nerfed edge UI’s of no-charms and no app swipe on tablets, and the hard to reach start button. If I stay mostly in apps, it’s not a huge deal, and hopefully they’ll work on those experiences. I still firmly believe there’s no reason Tablet Mode couldn’t switch to the Flip Apps edge UI and put a couple of Charms buttons back in the Action Center, but baby steps I guess.

One thing generally improved are the apps, specifically information density. Universal apps seem to be made for more productivity rather than the sparse nature of old style Metro apps. The overuse of the hamburger menu runs rampant, but I think even that will fall away after everyone realizes what a terrible UI construct it is. It doesn’t work, and there are good reads like this on why if you’re interested.

Generally though, I’m impressed with the stability and functionality of the released code with a few minor quibbles.

The Good.

Stability and compatibility – This is a no brainer. It works with everything except Windows Media Center I’ve thrown at it. Even our particularly picky line of business apps seem to work well. All the Win32 apps we’ve tried seem to function as well or better than under previous versions. This is key to business and enterprise.

Start Menu – Even though I prefer the full screen menu and live tiles, the Start Menu makes it much easier to train our people coming from Windows 7 and even Windows 8. Plus it’s nicer now with live tiles, so that’s a plus. I’ve noticed people settling down comfortably in Windows 10 far and away faster than Windows 8.x. Total win here. It’s really night and day training wise.

Faster – Machines of all hardware levels ‘feel’ snappier. Not sure how to quantify, but they do. Even on older hardware, and especially if you use the ‘keep nothing’ option as a semi clean install. Edge is a faster browser too–on the pages in actually works on, it is super slick and fast. It’s more a pre-beta kind of build quality wise, but what’s there is really impressive. Once it’s actually finished it will be the one to beat.

More Apps – It seems like there are more, better, useful apps with more coming. The Universal App platform (finally a name!) may help close the gap since Windows 10 seems popular. And with the latest numbers, Windows 10 is already past all Linux installs and about to pass OSX on the desktop. So in one month of release it’s already blowing the doors off. It looks like there are more and more apps being targeted for the universal platform. The store redesign is nice too, it finally doesn’t have that dollar store cheesy look of the old one (note to Microsoft Store people–don’t put goofy cartoon games as the ‘hero image’, it makes everything look cheap). The new panorama of real, quality apps at the top is nice, and it seems a little easier to find apps. Microsoft helped this a lot with the universal versions of Word, PowerPoint, Sway and Excel (not so fast OneNote–we’ll get to you!). They’ve shown you can do more information dense productivity applications.

Cortana – I’m a huge fan of this on the phone, having it now on the desktop and roaming with me wherever I am is fantastic. More of this everywhere please! The more intelligent and proactive Cortana becomes, the more I like her. Cortana on the desktop is great–the fact that I can sync reminders and access my notebook from any device really empowers some new things. I’d like to see Cortana integrate more into the system, with Office 365, with more customizations and feeds, but it’s already a part of my daily tools.

Desktop/Snap – so this was never big for me before, I really liked Windows 8.x snap (I know, I’m weird) but the new snap works great in Windows 10. I like the four corners type snapping, docking windows on the side, arranging better, they’ve really upped the game here. It’s easy and works well with both old and new apps.

The Bad (but when she was bad she was horrid).

Apps – So we have a bright new future in universal apps and it’s looking good. But some of the current universal apps are just awful. OneNote, my critical tool on my Surface is a disaster, the old ‘metro’ version was light years better. Palm rejection doesn’t work, they just recently added line thickness, navigation between sections and pages is a joke (or just completely unavailable when in portrait mode), and the damn keyboard pops up constantly. It’s a mess, an unforgivable craphole. It’s unusable (especially as a lefty, trying to write on a note while it jumps around between pages is impossible). And no, I don’t want to use the desktop one with a pen, it’s too ‘noisy’ in the interface. I may sound like a lunatic here because that’s how important I find OneNote, and they’ve just wrecked the experience.

Mail – Microsoft finally had a pretty good email client in Windows 8.x. They worked years on it, we had controls, sweep, newsletters, account indicators, all kinds of goodies that worked pretty well. All that’s gone, as they started over AGAIN. Constant popups to ‘Fix this account’, mail not showing up, no indicators of new mail on multiple accounts, no way out of conversation view, crashing, Exchange issues with policies constantly asking to be reapplied–it’s bad. But hey, now we can swipe to archive! Yay? Oh, but not if you’re on an account that doesn’t support it. Calendar is pretty much borked the same way I guess because deep down it’s all one thing. Mail is one of those no brainer apps you have to do well out of the gate. These app experiences add up for users as frustrations, which could taint the whole Windows 10 experience.

Business features are just missing. There’s a lot of new stuff in Win10 for businesses, but a lot of the tools are either not there at all, not done, not documented or broken. Office 365/MDM/Intune/Azure Active Director has problems. Windows Update for Business is still not here. Deployment tools not really well documented yet. Group policy settings for Windows 10 are still not very well documented or controllable. We’re not even quite sure WSUS is managing Windows 10 updates (it looks like it is, but all the Win10 machines show as Vista). No business store, that’s still all Microsoft account based. In fact, there’s still too much Microsoft Account everywhere for business PC’s–everything in those accounts should be able to be stored in Active Directory or Azure AD. There’s a lot that’s just not finished here.

The Ugly.

Windows 10 has a lot of great features, but there are a few that are just either bone-headed oversights or just bad implementations. In this case ‘the Ugly’ is not as bad as bad, it’s cosmetic or annoying. It’s ugly as in ‘that’s an ugly UX element’.

Touch UI just not that good anymore. Windows 8.1 had some great UI features for touch that turned off desktop users. But for people using it for touch, the UI worked well. Of course Microsoft threw this all away and started over. Ugh.

I’m working through these issues, but one big thing is touch targets are too small–the taskbar especially. Hitting those micro-icons is almost impossible on an 8″ tablet, and not all that great on a 10″. Sometimes touching, and touching and touching an icon or tile just doesn’t do anything. I know I touched it because the start tile may ‘pulse’ like a touch, but it takes 4 or 5 times to make it go.

The jump around to find stuff problem–so in portrait mode on the start screen I have tiles, and a Windows logo, and a hamburger menu, and a ‘slider’. I don’t know how many times I hit the All Apps hamburger instead of the slider hamburger, but it’s way too many. The symbols are too similar. And one is in the upper left, far away from my fingers, and one is tightly packed in with the power button. That whole side sliding menu needs a good once over in design. It’s a mish mash.

And finally, the tiny column issue. On a tablet, in portrait mode, the start screen is a tall column of wasted space. Seriously, make them bigger or add more, but it just looks silly. I know they’re trying to accommodate that jumbled madness of a start menu, but there must be a more elegant way to show it.

Desktop UI needs a bit of work. The sharp lines of Windows applications makes everything look cool and modern, until you try to resize a window. I don’t know how much time I’ve wasted trying to get the little double arrow to resize a window. You don’t have to make the visible borders bigger, but for the love of design, make the borders light up the double arrow on more than just a single pixel width!

Hamburgers. Okay, you tried, now follow the rest of the industry and get rid of these. Terrible (and lazy) design that doesn’t help you discover anything.

Edge–well, besides general fixes, a couple of standouts. First, you must sync favorites. You must. It’s 2015. You need to sync via MSA, Azure AD, and domain accounts. In a corporate setting it must sync via roaming profiles or active directory. It just has to. This is basic stuff. Sure, add extensions, tidy it up, give us organize favorites, and other fun stuff. But if you want corporate users, you better have those favorites right where the user expects them when they sit down.

And then there’s the single, most mind numbingly bizarre problem in Edge. To put in a URL on a new tab you have to click one to ‘light up’ the hidden address bar, then click again to actually type in it. Why why why why why? If I click there I mean to go somewhere. If I didn’t mean to go somewhere, dropping a cursor with the focus in the box harms no one. Little fit and finish items matter a lot.

OneDrive. Placeholders were really useful, you’ve got to figure out a way of bringing something like this back, it’s a pain losing that functionality.

And then the final thing (at least that I can think of right now). The 10 PC device limit. We went from 5 devices (hilariously too few) to 81 (similarly funny large amount) and then down to 10. Too few. Microsoft, if you want us ‘all in’ on your ecosystem you need to fix this. That list up top of 7 PC’s doesn’t count my phone, my two test phones, my Xbox and then anything else I might have (like extra machines at work, notebooks, etc.). It’s too few.

So, those are the complaints. Should you upgrade? Unless you’re using Windows Media Center, the answer is yes, you should. It works and works well, and I have to figure that the majority of these annoyances (and that’s what they are, petty annoyances) will be fixed. And since it’s Windows as a Service, that can happen faster than ever before. And there’s a host of new goodness in there I haven’t even had a chance to try like DirectX 12 gaming or Xbox integration. There’s a lot to like here, and for people coming from Windows 7 you almost have to upgrade–this modern OS is seriously better. For Windows 8.x users here’s how I always judge if I do like an OS. When I go back to Windows 8.1 it feels ‘old’ now. Even with my quibbles, I find little things that begin to bug me not being there. And that means I’ve switched. At least on almost every PC, and I don’t regret it one bit.

Windows 10 and the Apps

I’ve been seeing a great deal of back and forth on the app gap, ‘Windows is dead’, and development for Windows 10. For most of the negative minded, Microsoft’s latest strategy is to admit defeat and become the back end for services. ‘That is what they’re doing’ and ‘Windows mobile is a failure, period’ is the common theme from these people.

For the Windows optimists, there is a lot of ‘this is what they needed to do all along’ and ‘Windows 10 is so fantastic it will solve everything’. I think the truth lies somewhere in between these as Microsoft refocuses to what it knows it can do in the face of the current market, hunker down and wait for the next big thing, and get all their ducks in a row for when the big thing hits. I think Windows Mobile becomes just another part of a much larger whole. Microsoft is good at platforms, and this may be finally their best strategy: Universal Apps. I tend to get more optimistic where the discussion is in the platform, especially when everyone else is gloomy.

‘Universal apps are pointless without mobile!’ they cry…’why would anyone do Universal apps for the desktop???’ Good points if you don’t actually look beyond the phone. Universal apps make a lot of sense, both on the desktop, mobile, web, console, IoT, etc. It’s more than the phone, it’s every endpoint a user might touch. For one, it’s a more modern development environment with better security, portability, and the big one everyone seems to ignore: The Store. Right now, if I want a little utility, I have to go to the web and hunt. I have to avoid the malware traps (even once safe sites like CNET’s are now adware infested hell holes). I have to trust the site, I have to scan the files to death. If it’s a paid app, I either need to trust them with my credit card or use PayPal (which has it’s own issues these days). It’s a nightmare.

Contrast this to the Windows Store. The biggest problems you face are the apps might not be there, or there’s some junk to sift through. But I’m generally never in danger–either through malware or credit card fraud. It’s safe. It’s a marketplace to peddle vetted software. For Windows desktop this could be a watershed play. Windows 10 Universal apps also get more API’s and services so they can be more sophisticated. Additionally Universal apps get things like settings portability between devices, license management, and a steady update mechanism. THAT is why Universal apps are useful on the desktop. For example, when I load up a new PC (and I seem to do this a lot these days during the Windows 10 insider program) I log in, then click my Tweetium or Nextgen Reader client and everything is there. No setup. None. I’m immediately productive. Programs like this simplify real things for me. And some Windows apps are so good they’re fine on the desktop–Nextgen Reader is always up on every device I own, either full screen or docked on Windows 8.x or in a window on Windows 10. The fact that my unread items or place marker in Twitter is synced to all devices and phones is a convenience I can no longer live without. This is the true promise of Universal apps.

And Windows 10 brings something I’ve only been able to scratch the surface on (mostly because all the pieces are not all finished yet). Cortana and syncing between devices. Reminders I set on my PC pop up on the phone when I get home or to the store, things I need to know move with me across devices. The possibilities here are tremendous. Apps integrated into this platform (say if mail alerts from just my inner circle could be announced on the device I’m on during quite hours) could possible make this a real differentiator. Continuum might make it so that I drop my phone on an NFC/wireless charging pad and it immediately lights up a monitor/keyboard to use as a computer. These kinds of futuristic scenarios are all built in to the products right now. I want them, and I suspect that if they do it right and actually communicate it to the world, a lot of other people will want them too. This makes for a really lucrative market for developers–on a platform that is potentially huge (desktop Windows users) with little penetration.

I suspect Microsoft may have had their Take Out the Trash Day last week in order to clear the decks for new strategy and the upcoming massive product cycle. Get the bad news completely out of the way for a few days before launch and prepare for the blitz. And actually, all the gloomy talk subsided pretty quickly when they pushed out a new build…then the WPC 2015 keynotes, and now RTM. Universal versions of Office day of Windows 10 release, the Mac 2016 Office release, Groove Music, new builds, GigJam (okay that one’s just weird) etc. are all hitting post bad news week to change the narrative. They are getting better at throwing us bright shiny objects right when everything looks depressing. They still are crap at communicating, but at least they’re learning.

The real test may be the first couple of month’s of Windows 10 release–do we see a lot of real Universal apps, things returning that left the environment, a surge in development? Or do we see the little bump and then nothing? If they’re smart, they have a lot of good news waiting–they’ll meter it out over the launch months, keep it building, and not drop another bombshell like last week. Oh, and a couple of cool surprises wouldn’t hurt either.