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.

So here we are…

While not having published anything in a little while, I have been seriously testing Windows 10 in all it’s various forms over the past six weeks or so. As anyone reading this blog knows, I’m on the fence about Windows 10 because of the various compromises in what I think were useful features in Windows 8.x, but pretty enthusiastic about it on the desktop.

It’s pretty much the eve of RTM, any day now Microsoft will sign off on the first shipping version of Windows 10, if that actually means anything in the ‘Windows as a Service’ world. The current build is 10166 for insiders. Has anything improved for the tablet user? A little, but not really enough.

The good news is that as the builds get closer to RTM, the stability has gone way up, so much so that I moved my work desktop to it a few builds back. I also have it on a home ‘guest pc’ desktop that’s an older unit, a touch based notebook, and on a Dell Venue Pro 8 which I use for tablet testing of the UI. The two desktop machines are now running perfectly. Seriously, no lie. Issues from the past seem to be gone, it’s fast (even on the old PC). Driver issues are gone, all our weird line of business apps work, even login to a domain is working faster now. I even slapped on a cheap fingerprint reader on my work PC to test Windows Hello! (that still seems like a Seinfeld joke to me). Smooth as silk. I love it on the desktop.

Let me say that again, I love it on the desktop. Got a desktop? Do the upgrade. Unless you have Media Center, then well, I feel you. I have one PC that won’t make the leap because it’s just too valuable as a TV. But everyone else? Do it!

The not so good news is that on a tablet, Microsoft seems to have conceded the market. It’s a tablet in form only. There is a taskbar that takes up space, clutters the interface, and has icons to small for anyone but my four year old niece can use. There’s the ‘what I consider broken’ task switcher, that makes it impossible to flip through applications like Windows 8.x. There is the Action/Notification thing that replaces Charms but provides no Windows button or has icons you can access with thumbs, and just accumulates status of new mail (I have yet to see a notification that wouldn’t have been better receiving another way). There are the new ‘universal’ apps that basically look like Android. And that’s the thing, Windows tablet mode is basically Android. I can’t hold the device on the sides and use it like before. Everything requires two hands, icons are small (too thin to see in some cases), washed out with too much white titlebar, and no attention to detail.

Is it a disaster?

No, it’s meh. Like Android. It’s dishwater dull. It’s not designed anymore, it’s whatever your app slaps on the interface and run. There’s no edge UI of any consequence (that used to be useful, now it’s just clunky). Everything tablet has been deprecated in favor of the desktop. That’s Microsoft basically throwing in the towel and giving up to the iPad (which, low and behold now has flip switching and snap multitasking like Windows used to).

Desktop great. Tablet meh.

Desktop great. Tablet meh.

Apple and Android are picking over the dead carcass of good ideas Microsoft had and incorporating them into their platform while Microsoft is busy adding a freaking taskbar to a tablet.

But is it good enough? Yeah, it’s okay. A solid 5 out of ten. Woot. And since all the new apps that will now flood onto the platform because it has a taskbar and start menu (yes I’m being facetious) well, I have to have something that will run them. So my strategy is to give it a go on one Surface Pro and see if I can stand it. The Dell might be too small and tainting my opinion. I’ll see if I can adjust, or at least not trash it all and buy an iPad. If that works I might use it on my brand new Surface 3 or even my beloved Toshiba Encore 2 Write. But only maybe. Now it depends on apps more than anything.

On Windows 8.x it was the experience of the OS, the fluidity, the ease of use, and cool factor that made me love the devices (and put up with the distinct lack of applications). It made me willing to embrace third party apps, pin websites, and do without some basic things other platforms had. It made me get my XBOX Music pass (which I love and never would have had before). It made me buy an Xbox One. It reaffirmed my love for Windows Phone. I was ‘all in’. Now all bets are off–they’ve taken away all the things I liked and made Windows a me-too tablet/desktop thing that’s middling at best (but again, simply GREAT on a desktop). Now it IS the apps that will make a difference, those will have to carry the value of Windows devices where Windows used to. Now I have a critical eye. Now there are no excuses.

Microsoft has turned this total fan into a much more on the fence guy. But that’s another post coming soon :-).

Windows 10 is Not a Tablet OS, and I don’t think it’s going to be…

So with the new build of Windows 10 now humming along nicely on a few machines, it looks like Windows 10 is indeed heading for a late July-ish ‘RTM’ the rumors have all been pointing to (well, the rumors and the AMD CEO all but saying it outright). And I do have to say, Windows 10 is a significant achievement in the advancement of Windows as a platform. The desktop experience is getting really nice for those that couldn’t or wouldn’t make the jump to Windows 8; performance even in the beta is really good; Edge is shaping up to be a great browser; and tons of other nice features like Cortana, Hello, etc.

It’s just not a tablet OS. At all. Enable ‘Tablet Mode’ and drop into a confusing mish mash of inconsistent behavior, no standard controls and limited navigation.

And now, sadly, I feel it’s far too late to fix, change or rescue. The tablet experience is a mess, and I don’t hold much hope at this point.

  • Charms – yes, yes, everyone hated Charms. But you know what? They made getting to context sensitive settings, share and the Start Screen simple. Now we have an almost useless notification center with dumbed down controls and no in place settings. Here’s the choice–see the avalanche of useless notifications I missed (which I could see on live tiles or by *gasp* opening the program. The notifications are no where near as helpful as having actual controls on the swipe edge. Now you have to hunt around for settings, share, etc. completely at the whim of the app developer. And even Microsoft is not putting any of this in consistent places. It was always ‘swipe-share-program’ and done. Now good luck even finding it. I think the removal of the Charms started a domino effect of problems on where to stash all of this functionality. I think the design goal for Windows 10 was: “see! we killed the Charms bar! now will you love us?”, but they didn’t actually think it through.
  • Task switch and snap – You’d think with all the begging on the insider forums they’d at least make it an option to flip through programs from the left edge swipe, but no. You get a desktop focused ‘pick a window’. Dumb. Also, snap in tablet mode? After using this for days and thinking it just didn’t exist, I accidentally pulled a program down and it made room (with the ugly ‘pick a program’ interface) for the other snap item. This was completely accidental. How is this more discoverable that swiping in from left? Swiping down from top is that much better? No. Just no. Snap and task switch are so fundamentally broken and poorly implemented it will keep me from upgrading on my tablets. Windows 10 looks like a great way to ruin a Surface.
  • Color and contrast, or rather the lack thereof. Everything is this awful, washed out white that Microsoft seemed to start loving in Office 2013. The ultimate expression of this is the new Edge browser (which besides the UX is great and the right idea). There’s no visual cue for title bar or address bar, its just a big white mess with almost invisible lines and hints. The icons are the new anorexic ‘waif like’ arrows and x’s and there doesn’t appear to be any reason for this. Plus on the tablet, the controls are all at the top. Great. Unreachable. And the interface is always on display rather than tucking away like in the metro app. Between the toolbar, the address bar, the favorites and command area, there’s a tiny swath of space for content on an 8″ tablet. After playing with Edge for a while, going back to the metro version of IE on Windows 8.1 was a joy–it’s designed for the tablet. Everything within reach and pretty decent speed. The difference in performance with Edge is no where near worth the level of frustration with the interface.
  • Start Screen – Actually I’ll give on this one, for what it is, the Start Screen is finally not too bad in the current build. I still prefer the old ‘all apps’ screen to the hard to navigate vertical list under the dreaded hamburger menu, but it’s not too bad, looks much better and workable. If this was the only thing, I’d be looking forward to Windows 10 and this would be a minor ‘just get used to it’ thing.
  • General – The whole experience is distracting and ‘busy’ like a desktop (where its actually okay and welcome). On a tablet, you need the content–controls should be out of the way. What Microsoft seems to have done is rather than slide things off screen gracefully, they just made everything thin and white in the interface and hopes you don’t notice it too much. It’s kind of poor design, something that really surprises me this time.
  • Taskbar – Well if you’re going to force the taskbar onto the screen even for tablet mode, you should at least have the decency to try it on an 8″ screen and realize the buttons are all too small. A taskbar should not be on a tablet, but I guess we have to solve the problem of no charms and no way back to start.
  • Windows Phone – Just can’t even. It’s terrible, but at least they’re taking more time on it. The wrecked UI of Windows 10 tablet mode probably has a lot to do with just how bad and unusable Windows 10 Mobile is at this point.

So where does that leave everything? Windows 10 in business, on desktops and game PC’s (the traditional PC market) should go to Windows 10 and go quick. It’s great, fast, even stable-ish at this point. This is what I envision Microsoft would have done as Windows 7.5. It’s the best evolution of the desktop we could want, with a nice new programming model, store, new apps and support for modern PC’s and notebooks. I think even business customers will appreciate it and not have too much trouble with the learning curve. But it is not an OS for a tablet. Not even close. That stuff is gone.

This may be the very first version of Windows I don’t upgrade to on all my devices. I already have to stay on 8.1 for my bedroom PC as it acts as the TV/DVR for that room, and they’ve ditched even allowing Media Center to run on 10. I have a lot of tablets (6 currently) and just one is testing Windows 10. I know I’m a strange case–but I leave tablets all over the place, just picking up the nearest one and get right to work or play–everything is cloud hosted and synced, so it really doesn’t matter except for size and if I need a pen (SP2 or Toshiba). And I think for the tablets, I’m going to forgo Windows 10, at least until the apps I want make it impossible to avoid. The UX is so poor on that form factor that it really ruins the experience.

I’ll leave you with this experiment to do. Pick up an iPad. Play with it, see if you understand the UX. Now pick up an Android tablet (a modern, decent one like a Samsung). Same thing, play with it. Now pick up a tablet mode Windows 10 device. It’s just not a good experience (Windows 8.x was leaps and bounds better here). Touch targets are too small, contrast/color is washed out, interface is cluttered, desktop shows up sometimes, nothing seems ‘designed’. Now pick up a Windows 8.1 device. While you might have to learn a couple of edge gestures, the thing is smooth, clear, uses the available screen real estate well, and just ‘feels’ like a tablet OS–that’s what initially people didn’t like about it. It was too tablet-y.

Now with Windows 10 they’ve apparently righted that wrong and given everyone the Windows 7.5 they deserved and wanted.

Microsoft Giving Up on Tablets? Why Do Edge UI Gestures Fire Off Desktop Actions?

Okay, maybe that title is a little hyperbolic. I mean, Microsoft has been promoting the living daylights out of tablets. Creating zero dollar licenses for OEM’s, pouring tons of money into apps and developers, rewriting their app model, even building their own computers. Microsoft seems to see Windows 10 as a viable platform for Microsoft services on tablets. But I don’t believe them.

Windows 8.x was not well received because apparently the interface was not ‘discoverable’. You know, like how 3 and 4 finger gestures on trackpads and iPads as so discoverable. Like single vs. double clicking is discoverable. Like how right clicking is discoverable (yes I’m being sarcastic). Interfaces are learned, not discovered. Some features are more obvious than others, some you actually need to learn. Even to this day, with the almighty taskbar, I see users double click the icons to launch programs there and wonder why they get two copies.

“Why do we single click on the taskbar, but double click to launch on the desktop and file manager?”

Because we learned to do it. Or in some cases never did. Why is it different? Is that ‘discoverable’?

The price we’re paying to the desktop in Windows 10 is too high

Windows 8.x really through a wrench into people’s daily use of Windows because of the sheer volume of changes. Slowly but surely, once we were up to Windows 8.1 Update, things were a lot better. Don’t like the Start screen or metro applications? Turn it off. Work in the desktop. You basically encounter the new environment only occasionally. And I’m sorry about the Start Menu, but if you were still using that instead of pinning programs to your taskbar, well, maybe it was time to join the modern era, but whatever.

Windows 10, aiming to right the wrongs of its predecessor, puts back all the desktop goodness and really does a great job of appeasing the critics–it will never get them all, since Microsoft is not Apple. But in their zeal, they’ve completely destroyed the Windows tablet experience. An 8″ tablet should not be a little desktop. And that’s what it is now. Things that were all designed around where your hands are and fingers reach (that were studied in great detail by Microsoft for Windows 8) are thrown out.

There is no touch-UI to speak of anymore.

Sure you can touch it, but it’s not designed around it in any way. Touch targets are either nonexistent, hard to reach, or impossibly tiny (seriously, the taskbar on an 8″ tablet and you want me to hit the show more icons button?). Even the Start Menu, the entire left hand side of icons is really hard to hit in addition to just being ugly.

The edge-UI is ruined. What used to enable quickly flipping through applications now is a virtual desktop manager. No one handed use for switching, no quick access to the Windows button or settings or networks or sharing. This was all right at your thumbs and simple. Now you hunt around the app for this. And the Start button is now firmly placed in the ugly, ever present, ‘too tiny to work with’ taskbar–and to reach it requires a weird painful thumb bend.

And that sums up what’s wrong here–Windows 10 doesn’t need to do this. Every touch action turns out to be a weird painful bend. There’s even a special mode for touch that basically just makes things full screen, but everything is still desktop focused. Why not really have a touch friendly mode. In current builds, touch gestures like edge swipes that are only ever activated via touch launch desktop features. Swipe in from the side, things should be on the side and reachable. But they’re not. They pop up full apps in the middle of the screen. The notification center could have a button or two maybe for Windows and Share. The Start Menu could have just the tiles rather than the impossible small list of icons. The taskbar could be hidden–that god-awful, ugly, taskbar does not belong in a touch UI.

Is this really supposed to compete with Android and iPad?

If you look at Android tablets or iPads their touch UI is a touch UI. If Microsoft intends to compete here, it can’t have this patchwork desktop crammed into a tablet. It was really onto something with it’s touch interface in Win 8 if you took any time at all to learn it. Just like every other OS. Microsoft could very well have ‘evolved’ both. Continuum should really switch modes and support the tablet with a real touch UI. Holding a Windows 10 tablet and trying to use it is an exercise in frustration.

Don’t get me wrong, Windows 10 is fantastic on desktops and traditional notebooks, in almost every way. But when Windows continuums its way into tablet mode, it needs to really act like it. My experience with it on both an 8″ and 10″ device in tablet mode has been awful, they are now useless as tablets. What were once elegant devices are now kludgy desktops with no keyboards. On my main PC however it’s been great–solving a lot of outstanding wants (plus is fast as hell and has shown to be compatible even with our very vertical company software). But in it’s present form Windows 10 will never grace the screen of my (perfect) Encore Write 2. It would be a painful step backwards in productivity and elegance.

There is room enough for both here. And maybe there will be improvement–but now that it’s slated for a summer release, time is ticking down to fix these things. And to a lot of the people that say this is just how it is, I’m wondering when was the last time you really used a Windows 8.x tablet to it’s full potential. You’re getting your way with desktop in Windows 10, let us have the good experience with tablet mode. If Windows 10 in tablet mode is Microsoft idea of a competitive product with the likes of the iPad they’ve already given up. And just wait until Apple ‘invents’ the edge UI on something like an iPad Pro–and we can all remember when ours used to be cool too.

But did I still order the Windows Ninja Cat riding a fire breathing unicorn? You bet the hell I did. High hopes remain!

Toshiba Encore Write 2 – Great Tablet, or the Greatest Tablet?

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

I’ve been using the TEW2 (Toshiba Encore Write 2) for about a month now, I bought it the day it was announced at CES from the Microsoft Online store. I have kind of a fixation on pen/tablet PC’s that goes back to the Newton. I like to doodle, draw, take handwritten notes and sketch diagrams–I guess I just tend to think visually and that helps me. So I’ve had just about every kind of tablet PC with a stylus/pen there is. Some examples:

  • Apple Newton
  • Palm Pilot (several iterations)
  • Compaq iPAQ (several)
  • Compaq Concerto
  • Clio (CE based flip around thing)
  • Acer T100 (I think that was the model, Tablet PC/XP) Used this way passed it’s time.

Then a long, sorry drought descended as the world decided we didn’t need tablets or pens. I used paper. There was that momentary flash of desire when the Courier rumors abound, but that got killed. Then again the Surface Mini rumors. Killed again. Samsung Note series? Meh. I don’t really like Android and the ‘feel’ was just wrong on the tablets and phones. My iPad with a capacitive stylus? Terrible. Great fun consumption device, not suited for any kind of work.

My ideal was always a digital pad of paper–connected to everything I do, cataloging my thoughts as I had them. A true companion device. I decided the practical size was really around 8″, with a ‘real’ pen, good weight, solid, active digitizer. Strangely this was the goal of the very first device I tried, the Newton. It was indeed ahead of it’s time. I used a Surface Pro 1 & 2 with the pen, trying to make this the device of my long term dreams. Both are great PCs, but they are not the digital companion device I wanted. They’re fantastic tablets but just too big. Same with Surface Pro 3–although I may break down and get one of those soon. But it’s big, for big things and big apps. I wanted a ‘grab and go’ machine that ties into all my data and devices without the need for a whole PC.

I think I found it now. The TEW2 is just about perfect for my hardware needs in this space. It’s light (enough), good heavy feel pen, active digitizer, nice screen, fast (enough), nicely spec’d with 64GB storage, and all around great 8″ Windows tablet. And that pen! Oh the pen! It’s really good. It makes OneNote truly a useful tool, syncs my data and notes to the cloud and various other machines, and serves as my digital pad of paper. It’s a fantastic device and worth every penny of the $349 (a bit high for a Windows tablet, but totally worth it). This device is my main driver when away from my desk. I take notes in meetings, use it ask a sketchpad, doodle at my desk, even use it to take notes on phone calls sitting with right in front of my main desktop. It’s great and if you’re a pen fan, go get one RIGHT NOW!

So what needs to be done to make this even more useful? Software. Apps. Again. Windows has excellent pen support in minor ways for pen, but this needs a lot of development. Software and apps need to be written for the pen user to make it a true digital assistant. Someone should go back and look at those Courier concept videos for ideas. Here’s what I’d love in the short term for apps:

  • A ‘Smart’ sketchpad–When the Tablet PC era was in full swing, Corel made something called ‘Grafigo’, a smart sketch pad that did shape correction and easy controls for illustration. I’d love smart shape correction inside OneNote.
  • Pen support in email–yes, I know that Outlook supports the pen (kind of) as do all the desktop apps. I’m done with those on the tablet. I want real, universal/Metro style apps now. I want to easily dash off a handwritten note in email.
  • Sketch/whiteboard projection app. I want a digital whiteboard that I can throw around the room, up on the wall, share, etc. I think some kind of integration with the coming Surface Hub would be awesome (more thoughts on Surface Hub to come).
  • Courier–someone on the Microsoft OneNote team should go back and look at the Courier concept videos for ideas on more useful functions to bring in. The clipping, dragging, note features in this were really useful.

So the Toshiba Encore Write 2 is about the best I’ve tried so far in my long quest for the perfect digital paper. It’s a great device that I think represents a new breed of devices with pens. Hopefully with the success of the Surface Pro 3 we’ll start seeing more pen-optimized apps that do more. And for those that have never really ‘got’ the pen experience, I would say give it another try–the OneNote/Pen combo is pretty powerful.

[Post Note: 2/25/15: The version tested here is the Microsoft Store Signature Edition version. As our industry is at Peak Crapware this is recommended.

HoloLens Doesn’t Have to be Vertical at Launch

The Microsoft HoloLens--a game changer?

The Microsoft HoloLens–a game changer?

Last month we saw the technical preview and unveiling of Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology. Basically an amazing piece of augmented reality technology that will reportedly be coming with the Windows 10 wave of products. It inserts computer generated content directly into the field of view with the HoloLens headset. A lot has been written on the experience and potential of the technology, and most are dropping it into the ‘vertical’ category of apps like Real Estate, CAD or gaming. I agree, HoloLens has the potential to be a game changer in these kinds of applications.

But that doesn’t need to be the only story. Recently we started getting requests at work for dual monitors. Being the cheapskate I am, we rolled it out first slowly to the people that would really use the extra space. But then I started thinking, having the extra space spread out allows people to get more work done and interact over a lot more applications at once rather than switching windows. HoloLens is kind of the ultimate expression of multi-monitor for Windows.

I can see a case to be made for a pure, Windows 10 based HoloLens without the vertical industry requirement. Just Windows expanded into you living room or work space. Imagine putting on the headset and logging in and having your start screen experience placed all over the room. Click on Netflix and a movie theater window opens at just the right distance in space. Media consumption becomes an immersive experience. Movies, music, even web browsing are all spread out around your environment. Cortana can float through the room and walk with you like a real assistant. Rather than at an uncomfortable desk, you can arrange your living room as a work/play space.

A working environment might have collections of Windows floating around your main app, diagrams on the desk, 3d models floating in air, Office applications to the side. Taken further, Windows no longer need to be confined to their old standard shapes and sizes. Alerts and notifications could be ‘pinned’ on farther surfaces showing big alerts at a distance while intimate work could be up close. The room and all it’s surfaces become the workspace. Walking around ‘inside’ your work becomes normal, walking up to a ‘white board’ can be on any wall, video calls can be in the desk or hover over the phone. Icons floating in space or live tiles (or cubes! let’s go 3d!) could be strategically placed. I would love a virtual envelope icon to pop up through my desk and sit there like an object for notifications. Along those lines, notifications take on an all new potential as virtual objects that appear when attention is needed. Add cool animation and 3d and you’re living in the future.

Most pundits currently talk about the potential for specialized use case scenarios for HoloLens, and this may turn out to be the case at first. But if you look at HoloLens as basically multiple monitors unleashed from hardware, it begins to take on something much more–and immediately useful. Microsoft would need only make some manner of positioning applications ready for the launch to ‘pin’ your environment, then leverage universal apps to populate your workspace. Make the price reasonable and you could start using it tomorrow.

Just a thought…

The Superfish Problem Proves Microsoft Should Take Control

There’s been a lot of discussion lately on the crapware OEM’s put on new Windows PC (mostly thanks to Paul Thurrott’s excellent take on the matter). If you haven’t heard, Lenovo has been caught with it’s hand in the virtual cookie jar. It had been pre-loading a bit of adware called Superfish that has a particularly nasty mechanism that loads a security certificate of it’s own to ‘verify’ SSL sites. It wedges itself into the trust chain on Lenovo PC’s allowing the software to see information between the client and server PC. There’s even a picture out there with someone connected to Bank of America and the certificate is ‘Verified by Superfish, Inc. For users that don’t know any better (or don’t know the difference between a real trusted root provider and a malware vendor) this is frightfully dangerous.

I hate dealing with certificates as a system administrator, they are painful, confusing, and generally cause me headaches the likes of which are legend.

And they are absolutely, positively, critical to the safe functioning of the internet. Almost everything involving trust and security is built around certificates.

Lenovo is currently undergoing its public shaming, so just to pile on a bit more: SHAME ON YOU LENOVO! BAD! BAD MULTINATIONAL CORPORATION! BAD! NO! NO! NOW GO SIT IN THE CORNER AND THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE! There. All better.

The truth is, this is an opportunity for Microsoft to wrench control of the Windows experience back from the OEM’s. For the past 20 years, OEM’s have poisoned the Windows experience. Almost everyone knows the joys of a freshly formatted Windows install, free of crapware and ‘utilities’ put on by the OEM’s is a superior experience. For far too long, Microsoft has allowed the OEM’s to push their crappy programs, adware and marginal utilities out to an unsuspecting public. Now a true, real life exploit caused by this behavior has been exposed and it’s time for Microsoft to put an end to it.

One excellent solution is the way Dell does it (since going private, Dell is hitting it on all cylinders). Put one program on the PC that’s a downloader for the optional crap that a user can choose to install, or ignore, and leave the machine in a pristine state. Dell still insists on McAffee (what does Intel have on the OEM’s, nude photos?) but other than that they’re blissfully clean. Microsoft is now charging zero dollars for many copies of Windows for machines under a certain size, and much lower costs for others. As a requirement for this, the agreement should be a formal rebuke of this adware practice. Force the OEM’s to adhere to the Signature experience.

What’s surprising is, this is good for everyone except the crapware vendors. Users win with a clean fast PC. Microsoft wins because Windows is suddenly more stable, safe and fast. OEM’s win since their machines run better and their users will have fewer support problems (plus the goodwill thing). It’s just the crapware vendors that lose. And I don’t think there are many people out there that will shed a tear for them.

Microsoft–you want people to love Windows again? Here’s a big fix you can do to make it happen.

Oh yeah, and fix Tablet Mode in Windows 10, it sucks in these early builds :-).

Oh, The Things I Use.

After pretty much complaining non-stop about the new tablet experience of Windows 10 (it is truly awful on touch) I decided before going any further I would list a ‘What I Use’ in emulations of the greats of our industry. Plus it could be helpful for reference. I will change this and revise periodically as things change. I tend to use a lot of gadgets and PC’s to calm the inner geek voices in my head. This will be primarily my personal tech stash, I may do a ‘What We Use’ for work technologies since I run a medium size business IT infrastructure department.


I have a number of PC’s I use around the house. I lump PCs and tablets together, since basically I use them all for similar things–production or consumption of information and entertainment.

Main PC – This is a home built Sandy Bridge mini tower. 16GB Memory, Core-i5, 4 TB storage, 256GB SSD. The ‘workhorse’ PC I use the most. It also has a TV tuner I use with Windows Media Center in it (oh WMC, how I love you so). The current challenge is to upgrade this to the Ceton 6 tuner PCI cable card setup and get all the premium channels I get out in the living room. That’s it’s own whole story. I use this PC for work at home, personal computing, games, TV, you name it. I keep feeling like it may be time for a new build, but it runs everything I throw at it since I put in a new video card. Maybe next year…

Guest/Office PC – I have a PC in the little nook where the phone comes in next to the living room, it’s basically my last tower config with just a dual core, an SSD (can’t live without those) and 4GB RAM. It runs Windows 10 beautifully and fast and is great for visitors and family, Skype Calls, pizza ordering, Xbox music.

Surface/RT – I use an original Surface/RT for couch surfing, reading, Xbox SmartGlass, Twitter, etc. Basically it’s the walking around device.

Dell Venue Pro 8 – Until recently my main work/home tablet. The stylus quit working and I got a newer device, so I now use this as my test Windows 10 Tablet. It is a sad and sorry experience so far.

Toshiba Encore Write 2 – I just got this tablet last month, and it has turned out to be the best experience I’ve had with any tablet. It has a fantastic stylus perfect for OneNote, it’s fast and a joy to use. I use this mostly for work, I can do diagrams, notes, read, review documents, markup documents, read newfeeds, etc. It is my go-to must have device. And it’s nice and light, 8″ and 64GB storage. This is a must buy. It’s basically what I always wanted the Surface Mini to be.

Surface Pro 2 – I have an i5 Surface Pro 2 I use as my laptop when needed. I’ve found I don’t need a laptop all that much as I don’t travel often and have desktops or tablets when I need ‘on the go’ computing. But when I do, I really love the SP2, it’s fast and has a purple keyboard. Purple, enough said.


Lumia 1520 – I love the Windows Phone platform. There I said it. I truly believe that it’s more functional (for me) than any of the others, and I have tried them all. I started with the Samsung Focus, then Nokia 900, 920, 925, and 1520. Plus a 520 that was just too cheap to pass up I use for a remote control and music player. The 1520 is big, really big. But I love the screen and it’s a powerhouse phone. I guess I must not be much of an app person since I don’t really see the app gap here. But I don’t care about social media or putting crappy filters on the beautiful pictures my Lumia takes, so maybe I don’t see it. It seems like everything I need is there or has an app I need.

Applications – Windows 8.x

Office 365 Home and Office 365 Business Premium – I can’t say enough about how critical these are for me on a daily basis, mostly for work. When they brought out unlimited OneDrive storage and 5 installs per license (plus sharing of the Home license) this is a no brainer for $99/year. Google Docs, iWork, others simply do not hold a candle to the Office Suite. There is no comparison. Anyone telling you they get along just fine in these doesn’t do anything complex. And that’s great for them. But if you need serious tools these are those. It’s the difference between MS Paint and Photoshop. And our business relies on Lync, Exchange, Excel, Word and others for core functions.

OneNote – The Metro version of OneNote with a tablet PC is a killer note taking computer. I leave it running on my tablet, can walk into a meeting and be taking handwritten notes in seconds. I like it better than the desktop app. And this is something I find about a lot of Metro apps, the reduced ‘noise’ of the interface is much better when on a tablet. It’s clean. On the desktop I like the noise because that’s where all the power controls are. But on a tablet I want to focus on my data, or notes, or content without all the chrome.

IE/LastPass – I use both the desktop and Metro versions (yes, I will still call it Metro because you immediately know what I mean when I use that!). And with it is the indispensable LastPass password manager–a must have. Get the paid version, it’s cheap and these guys do it right.

Windows Mail – I love the Mail/Calendar/People client in Windows. It’s gotten so much better over time, and on tablets it’s a fully capable client for all my email accounts. For business email I use Outlook–it’s kind of complex these days, but for power managing email, tasks, calendar, contacts in an Exchange environment it’s pretty much the standard.

Nextgen Reader – Probably the most critical app I use, I pull in all my feedly news feeds in to this client for reading everything going on in the world. It let’s me keep up with hundreds of sites all integrated into a clean, touch friendly UI. Plus it syncs read stories across devices (Windows and Phone). I use it on the desktop and on tablets.

Tweetium – This is the best Twitter client out there, period. And it’s constantly being updated and improved.

Pushbullet – I use the desktop version for Windows and the PushPin client on the phone (these guys are great, and they ‘endorse’ multiple 3rd party phone apps since they don’t have a native client–that’s the way to do it).

I use a lot of the Microsoft services, OneDrive, SharePoint, OneNote,, Office 365, Azure (for active directory stuff for work), Music, Xbox Live, Video (rental only). Plus Amazon for shopping, Prime, Pantry and Kindle. I have various Outlook, Google email accounts I use. I also have a couple of Roku devices for the TV’s. I hate Facebook and rarely ever open it, I just don’t post like that or care to. Twitter I like because it’s news-ier, but social media is just not my thing for the most part. All the photo sharing apps leave me completely cold.

I use a lot of remote desktop and server management tools as well, they are a subject for another article.

Others: Insteon (home automation), Reading List (long form saved articles), Reader (PDF reader with pen markup!), Idea Sketch, Grapholite, Qool Autodesk Sketchbook (all good diagramming, sketching apps), News, Weather, Finance (MSN apps), Xbox music (with music pass, manages all my music and subscriptions), Netflix, Hulu, Comedy Central, Songza Kindle (entertainment apps). Various others, I like several cooking, shopping apps, and a varying little selection of games. For ‘big games’ those I get through Steam and vary, but since I suck at most of them I won’t detail them here. Sadly, I heavily use the Bank Of America app on both desktop and phone that is being discontinued, I find it short sighted of them.

Xbox One – The living room hosts the Xbox One, which I primarily use for it’s media capabilities (although I do try and fail at games often enough). There is nothing quite so cool as walking into the room, saying “Xbox turn on”, “Watch ABC” “Goto Netflix” or other commands. THAT is living in the future! Someday I will get better at the games…

That’s currently the high level view of stuff I use on a daily basis, it’s a mix of form factors–but because Windows syncs my apps and settings across devices, I find myself starting in one place and picking up where I left off in another. As more developers adopt this kind of behavior the devices will tend to fall into the background. I love the term ‘ambient computing’, meaning all the tech is wherever you want it, in the background, waiting for you rather than tied to devices and logins. It’s the Star Trek computer everyone wants and I like that all the big companies are trying to build it.

Windows 10. One Step Forward, Six Steps Back.

This certainly wasn’t what I was going to do for my first post, but over the weekend, I spent a good chunk of time trying to get Windows 10 working on my Dell Venue Pro 8 for testing. I have a ton of hardware in all shapes and sizes, but I wanted to try Windows 10 on a ‘real’ tablet, and try to use it like I would any tablet. My current favorite, the Toshiba Encore Write 2 is still safely on Windows 8.1.x, but since my Dell was no longer being used heavily, I figured it was the perfect test. I’ve installed Windows 10 (all builds, but currently at 9926) on several machines, a generic Dell laptop, a home PC tower that serves as the guest/office PC, several VM’s, all work pretty well–as desktops. It’s been fast and pretty simple, with the normal glitches one expects from a build this early in Windows. In fact, Windows 10 on the desktop is clean, fast and pleasant to use.

For some background (that someday will show up in a What Do I Use article) I am technically ‘all in’ on Windows and Microsoft services. I’ve been so for pretty much all of my computing life both at home and work. I have dabbled with Apple and Android, and even own a few devices on those ecosystems, but I ‘live’ in Windows. I absolutely embraced the Metro environment and have a number of tablets I use–as actual tablets–routinely. I use Mail, Tweetium, NexGen Reader, Reading List, Xbox Music, Smartglass, etc. A number of news apps, a few games, and some others like Grapholite for network diagrams, Qool for brainstorming and Insteon home automation software.

For me, the ‘app gap’ is something I haven’t experienced. I use a ton of Metro applications every single day, on tablets and desktop. I like them. They function well. There are a lot to choose from. They’re cool. Except of course Office, which recently has shipped in testing, so that’s not too far away. Starting apps, flipping through open ones, tucking things away on my reading list, reading and reviewing tons of internet articles, pushpinning links to my Lumia 1520, tweeting a bit, listening to music, all can be handled with ease and quicker than I could on any competing platform. Life was good.

As someone as all in on Windows I, like many, always look forward to what’s to come. I couldn’t wait to have Cortana on the desktop, streamline functionality, use Universal apps. And Windows 10 has been pretty damn good so far. On the desktop.

It’s a mess on tablets. A horrible, steaming pile of confusion on tablets. Really. It’s awful.

This has to be fixed before release or Microsoft needs to give up on the whole tablet concept. Just quit if this is by design. I mean it, I really like Microsoft products, but if this is their idea of a touch friendly OS, Android and iOS have already won.

The Installation

Over the past few days, I had committed to moving my now underutilized Dell Venue Pro 8 (32GB) to Windows 10. Bugs and all I wanted a good tablet test machine. After trying for hours to clean enough off the tablet to get the 5GB space required (this tablet was before the ‘Windows with Bing” compressed OS option) I was there. Ran the web setup, then Windows update, then failed. And failed again, and again. What I kept running into was a space problem–no matter how much I tried, no luck. So I decided to run setup from a USB drive set up from the ISO. After quite a bit of fiddling, I found that it required even more free space! 8GB to run. Ugh.

I reset the VP8. If you’ve ever done a Windows 8.x reset, you know it’s a wonderful tool that completely wipes and resets you back to the factory fresh image of Windows. I figured clean out of the box Windows would be my best chance for enough free space. After the reset, 12GB free! Then came the daunting realization that you can’t do an upgrade with out all the updates. All of them. Tons. A mountain of updates. This took the better part of a day, carefully babysitting the restart and touchy stalls/time outs that sometimes happen with GB’s of updates. But I was determined.

After finishing the Procession of the Updates I ran the disk cleanup/updates cleanup to purge the disk once more, winding up with about 9.5GB free. Re-running the Windows 10 setup from the web fails again. No reason, just fails with a little pop up saying it failed. So my last ditch hope, I plug in my ISO into the USB adapter and run. SUCCESS! For the first time in days I feel like something worked. It even was going to keep my settings, apps, favorites, etc.

None of those headaches were due to Windows 10–in fact just about any upgrade or install of the OS would have had similar issues due to the size constraints of these tiny storage devices (but these are more and more common, the update routines need to be aware of that). Once there was enough space and the correct media, it sailed through like a champ.

Giddy with anticipation and clicking on my login, I am unceremoniously dumped onto the desktop. Something I had not seen or used on this tiny tablet except in the most dire of circumstances (okay, to copy files to the SD card, but whatever, I never used the thing). I automatically swipe in from right to get to start, oops, no, no start there. But then I touch ‘TABLET MODE” in the action center…because maybe they just activate the desktop by default in these builds.

My sad, sad, unchanging start screen

My sad, sad, unchanging start screen

I touch the start menu in the lower left, a slightly awkward touch point actually. I am presented with a blank green ‘start’ screen, empty save for the Cortana Search box and an ugly list of apps with tiny icons on the left. Tiny. Hard to touch. On the Start Screen. No live tiles, no default apps.

So I begin to pin the tiles for things I’d like from the All Apps micro-list. Tiny touch targets. Tiny icons. Tiny. Little. Impossible. Icons. This is a huge step backward from Windows 8. The start screen, or basically the inflated, ugly start menu, shows no signs of life, no updates, live tiles are decidedly dead. Maybe this comes later, after it settles a bit and they light up again with data.

And the taskbar is ever present. Reminding you this is really a desktop machine. Everywhere screams desktop. From the extra clutter on Start, to the task bars, to the too-tiny-to-touch-icons littering the interface. Everything is desktop centric. Gone is the easy to flip through open programs of the left swipe, replaced with the desktop focused Task Switch that cannot be used one handed. Gone are charms, which apparently everyone hated except me, to easily share to my reading list or email or twitter. Settings might as well now be called Control Panel II rather than the elegantly reachable right hand settings panes. And how in the world to snap applications when in tablet mode? Still haven’t figured that one out.

So far as I see, every single, solitary useful touch function has been expunged from Windows 10 and replaced with a desktop focused one. It’s as if Microsoft is saying “We’re so sorry! We don’t know what we were thinking! Please forgive us and we’ll never do anything like touch again”. They threw the baby out with the bathwater. And then just to be sure, went and got another baby, filled up another tub and threw those away too.

In a race to capitulate to the desktop, they killed or maimed every touch feature that made Windows 8 something useful–if you actually learned how to use it, and didn’t just whine about it. It worked as a touch based UX quite well. I never quite understood the common complaint of it being ‘jarring’. You know what isn’t jarring? Click the desktop and staying there. Pinning your apps to the taskbar.

On touch with the right apps (yes, you have to hunt them down, and of course, there needed to be more in every category) Windows 8.x could be elegant it it’s own way. Universal Apps could help ease this. Actually what we need is a hybrid of the improvements to desktop when in ‘desktop’ mode and smooth easy to use touch features in tablet mode. Just like before, Microsoft is over compensating with too much mouse and keyboard and dropping too much from touch. People were finally starting to at least tolerate Windows 8.1x, and Windows 10 could have crafted features to enhance the experience rather than changing it all yet again. It’s heavy handed and simplistic in undoing anything good about the touch functions in the OS.

Maybe I’m being too critical–it still has a way to go before launch, and maybe there are some good revisions out there coming for touch. I’ll be patient. It could happen. I will test each build like it’s Christmas morning hoping they have something up their sleeve. Right now, there are so many interface compromises that it’s actually difficult to use the tablet mode at all. It’s not muscle memory or complaining just because of change, it’s actually bad design. I can’t reach things, I can’t get to Start, I can’t hit the severely tiny touch points, and everything leads you back to the desktop. Maybe this is how people felt about Windows 8…I never did, because I thought for once Microsoft made something look cool.

So there the Dell will sit until next build, I can’t use it like I thought I would be able to, it just doesn’t work anymore. It runs the Windows 10 code beautifully. And that’s the problem.

Hello world!

Welcome to Yet Another Windows Blog! I will begin posting soon, hopefully with a voice that’s not often heard in these heady days–an actually unapologetic look from the point of view of people who actually like and use Windows (and to a greater extent) Microsoft products. While not exclusively Windows, I hope to have a site where we explore the latest trends and technologies that impact the Windows community. I know you’re out there somewhere! Anyone?

So why this blog? Well, for one thing I do enjoy writing and getting my thoughts down. And I’ve found more and more, while reading other blogs and ‘news’ sites (or what currently passes for the tech press), I find myself yelling at the screen in frustration. So many sites have such an obvious lack of experience in the products they cover or how they’re used in business, or have journalists (let’s be honest, many are just techno-hipsters in love with their iPhone) that simply like the next bright shiny object.

So I thought, why not do it yourself? You’ve written disaster recovery plans, budgets, proposals, a million emails on password security–once with pictures of kittens to bring home the point. Sure, what the hell! No one might read it, but at least I spoke my peace!

I started with computers in high school, then in college with Windows and beta testing, then server, networks, phones, smart devices, tablets, pretty much anything with a plug. I used a wide variety of technologies, but mostly inside the Microsoft ecosystem (even before we called it that). I currently am the Director of IT for a small financial services company, and we are the typical medium-sized business with a several offices of about 100 people. I’ll cover both business related technologies and consumer, since I use both. Some fun stuff like XBox, which I love even though I am a terrible gamer, and some, well let’s just say dry material, like the trials and tribulations of Azure AD Connect.

What I hope is that if anyone decides it’s worth reading, it’s at least marginally helpful. And for the Windows people out there who lately have to feel like the technology they actually love is some kind of guilty pleasure. No more I say!

With that, let’s begin…