It has been years since I took a Windows upgrade so early in the cycle. It has always been my policy to let others absorb all the slings and arrows, then sneak in later armed with foreknowledge and the experience of others. What convinced me to go so early this time is the fact that Windows will now be updated regularly, more or less when Microsoft wants. I decided that getting in early is the only way to start getting informed, if not comfortable, with this particular new normal.
Let me tell you first about the upgrade experience, then share some of my first impressions of Windows 10. My recommendations from my previous article, What About Windows 10?, still stand.
I upgraded two different types of system, both running Windows 8.1 Pro. One was my wife's little Dell Venue Pro 8 tablet and the other was my late 2014 DIY desktop system (no touch) based on an ASUS motherboard.
In both cases, I relied on the "Get Windows 10" app from Microsoft to inform me about the update and to initiate it. This was my incredibly bone-headed mistake, such a bad error that you need to know about it right off the bat.
Microsoft has, for several versions of Windows, provided an "Advisor" program that would examine your PC and let you know what issue might exist that could prevent a smooth upgrade. I used that utility extensively and recommended it to hundreds of friends, family, and clients. I found the Windows 7 advisor particularly helpful and accurate. The excellence of this program lulled me into a false sense of security, which ultimately led me to believe that the Get Windows 10 app was doing the same kind of assessment when it advised that the system about to be upgraded was "compatible with Windows 10."
Lulled into confidence, I blithely updated both the tablet and my PC without making any other preparations. If I'd had my wits about me, I could have predicted the outcome. In both cases, the computers "broke" in some way. The tablet would no longer turn on after being turned off, requiring hard resets to recover. The PC lost audio, the knowledge that my two big hard drives were joined in a mirror, and as I later learned a couple of less important hardware complications.
In both cases, the solution was a BIOS update followed by some driver updates.
Here's what you need to know: Make these system-specific updates before applying the Windows 10 upgrade no matter what the Get Windows 10 app tells you about the compatibility of your hardware.
Dell has a pretty good support system that made getting the proper updates almost brainless. It doesn't yet work with Microsoft's Edge browser, which meant I had to fuss around a bit because I had already upgraded to Win10; had I done the updates first everything would have been fine. The process at ASUS was less satisfactory; perhaps ASUS presumes a higher degree of systems expertise in its customers but this is one time I wish ASUS was Dell. ASUS leaves a lot of things unsaid, such as whether the most current BIOS for my board was to be used only with 5th-generation Intel CPUs or could be used with 4th-generation, like mine. ASUS has huge inconsistency in file naming, which made the task even more confusing.
The good news is that once these hardware and driver updates were made, everything ran smoothly.
My RAID problem was alarming. After Windows 10 was installed, the two drives appeared as two drives, with different drive letters, instead as one drive. I ultimately had to use Intel's Rapid Storage Technology (IRST) app to rebuild the mirror by telling IRST that the contents of one of the drives was good. It's not clear to me if I could have avoided this problem or not, nor whether recovering a RAID 5 drive would have been as easy. After some research, my best guess is that I should have upgraded IRST first, then BIOS, and then Windows 10. If you have RAID in your system, check it out more carefully than I did.
My boot drive (C:) is an SSD. Because it is only 240GB, I have Windows set to place most user files on the D: drive, the mirror. Had I lost the data, the recovery would have been very, very messy. I should have had a full backup of everything, and I didn't. Word to the wise.
There's one other thing I should have done before the upgrade - uninstall Start8, my replacement start menu app. When I was faced with Windows 10 for the first time, I didn't see the new Windows 10 menu and was momentarily confused. Once Start8 was gone, the new menu appeared.
Now for some early observations about Windows 10. If you read my earlier article, you know I complained about three things in Windows 8 - the Start Menu, the Start Screen, and "Metro" (now called "Modern") apps. I'll explain my view on all those points but before I do that, let me give you some overall impressions.
I looked for problems with performance. I found none. I felt (but did not measure technically) that Windows 10 was a little peppier. I am wondering why, but I'll take it.
I looked for problems with compatibility. As I said in my earlier article, I expected everything that ran in Windows 8 to run in Windows 10 and that does seem to be the case. The only compatibility problems I had were due to not getting the hardware updates handled first. But even then, Windows 10 still ran.
My biggest gripe is with the user interface. Microsoft's absurd journey into flatland continues. Microsoft has worked so hard on UI for so long, and now this junk. Just look at the Windows 10 calculator. I can barely express how awful this is - low contrast, no delineation of functional areas, no definition of buttons, nothing like the rich graphics from Windows past. I'm not suggesting that the calculator has to look exactly like a physical calculator but I am saying outright that Microsoft has gone off the deep end in making everything flat. It's not just this one app either; I think Office 2013 stinks where the UI is concerned, with exactly the same problems.
Greatness, decades of research, squandered. (No knighthoods for Microsoft's designers, I guess.)
Start Menu / Start Screen
These two are lumped together because that's exactly what Microsoft has done in Windows 10. I'm just getting in to this and it's only been a few days but I'm feeling the loss of the Windows 7 start menu again.
There's no question that this new start menu is an improvement but that's like saying an oasis is an improvement on the desert. My point is that comparing the Windows 10 start menu to Windows 8 is comparing something to nothing, so the comparison must be between Windows 10 and Windows 7.
On the tablet I'm more or less satisfied. I said before that I liked the tiled interface for touch and that remains. After nearly two years using the tablet I've adapted to a host of gestures that no longer work as expected. Retraining is necessary. But that's all it is, just some more practice and adaptation.
On the desktop I'm not as happy. The new menu is billed as a blending of Windows 7 and Windows 8 but as far as I'm concerned nothing more than lip service is being given to Windows 7. The ability to customize is not what I thought it would be. For example, pinning an item to start pins a tile, not an entry in the left side of the menu as with Windows 7. I'm not happy with the move of the search box to the bottom taskbar and out of the start menu. As things stand today, I'm seriously considering buying Start10 from Stardock. It's just $5 and I did like Start8, so switching right away is tempting but in fairness I'll give it a few weeks before I commit.
Although the regular Windows start menu has always been good, I make excellent use of the bottom taskbar. I pin my most important apps to it, such as the key productivity programs like Word and Excel and most of the development tools I use in Web development. A key to the taskbar's productivity has been the right-click, which brings up a context menu for that app. The menu contains a jump list of recent files but, most important, an entry that launches a new instance of the app. After the Windows 10 install, that menu was not present, which distressed me greatly. A few days later those menus started showing up again. I don't know if this was a bug that got fixed with a patch or if it just took Windows 10 a few days to get its bearings. Either way, I'm glad the taskbar is back to normal. The menus are slightly improved, with a little bit of organization.
One of the great mysteries with Windows 7 was what happened to the Show Desktop icon that was always present in the Quick Launch area of the bottom taskbar. It moved to a little unmarked zone at the far right of the toolbar, just after the time display and without the icon. It's still there in Windows 10, but it got a lot smaller. Thank goodness there won't be a Windows 11 or it would vanish forever.
Metro/Modern Apps & the Desktop
I am pleased with the direction here. You'll recall that my complaint was that a Modern app could not be resized but always took full screen. Great for tablets, horrible for the desktop. That's been changed. So far, all the Modern apps I've tried can be resized, returning the desktop experience to that preferred by, I'm absolutely confident, tens of millions of desktop users. The improvement extends to tablets, where the top bar of a Modern app can be dragged down to expose the close button in the upper right, which allows apps to be closed on tablets without resorting to the annoying process of getting Task Manager running. Now I can resize and close on demand, just what the dedicated desktop user wants. Kudos to Microsoft for listening to our complaints.
And I can once again play games while watching mindless videos. Bliss.
The Bad - Microsoft Edge
I've had no problems with the new Edge browser in terms of rendering pages. There have been some outliers and when I looked at the page code I found some old coding practices that clearly led to the problems. The Dell problem I mentioned above was that its automatic driver detection code would not run, suggesting that Dell has not completed the necessary upgrade of its site (or that something is not yet finished in Edge, to be fair to Dell). Overall, I'm not having any problem at the sites I frequent.
Where Edge falls flat is its user interface. Again, Microsoft fails us.
For the last decade, Microsoft has been derided for endless problems with Internet Explorer. Some of these, such as compliance with Web standards or slowness to add features like tabbed browsing, are deserved. Most others I've never agreed with. Folks forget what got Microsoft into the browser business in the first place, unseating Netscape in the process. It was convenience features, a vastly improved UI. In spite of other problems, IE4, 5, and 6 catapulted Microsoft into browser dominance. Had Microsoft's technical underpinnings for IE been better, it would have been much harder for others to gain share. Those others - Apple, Google, Mozilla, Opera - all adopted many of Microsoft's UI advances and improved upon them, while delivering a better technical product in the bargain.
With Edge, Microsoft has tossed whatever UI edge it had away. Edge looks (and unfortunately acts) like Chrome. How far the fall, Microsoft following Google.
I would probably not be so angry about all this except that Microsoft changed a keystroke sequence that I use every day. It has always been the case that Ctrl+Click on a link opened a new tab. But that's all it did; the focus remained on the tab where you clicked. Ctrl+Shift+Click opens a new tab and switches to that tab. Firefox originated an option called "When I open a link in a new tab, switch to it immediately" that effectively made both keyboard shortcuts behave the same, switching focus to the new tab. IE adopted that same option when it finally gained tabs. Chrome does not have and has never had that option, which I consider idiotic. But now Edge does not have it, either.
Perhaps I'm being petty, but try it. Is it easier to hold one key down when clicking or two? The answer is pretty clear, so I've been using Ctrl-Click for as long as Firefox has been around to open a tab and switch to it. The absence of this tiny UI feature is a huge reason I don't use Chrome (I have other more weighty ones). It's a huge reason I'm not happy with Edge.
Just to make sure you don't think I'm crazy, I do recognize that the tiny spark of this one omission ignited a full blaze in me. But it also made me look more closely at Edge, hoping to be overwhelmed by other exciting new features. Didn't happen. There's more, and there's worse. I plan to tell you more about Edge in the near future. Thank goodness IE11 remains available - at least Microsoft got that right.
Because I have to force myself to use Edge, I am. I've left the default for links set to Edge so that if I click a link from an email, for example, it will be Edge that comes up, not IE11. That way I'll constantly be exposed to Edge, good or bad. But when I launch a browser myself, it will be IE11.
The Bottom Line
It's too soon to draw broad conclusions. Except for the UI issues, my typical workflow has not been substantially altered. Some of the UI issues will smooth out over time as I adapt. Program compatibility back to Windows 8 is, as I expected, good.
Thus my recommendations from the earlier article stand. Take the upgrade barring any obstacles. And for heaven's sake, make the systems upgrades first - don't be like that other me.