Windows 10 has been dubbed “the O/S that Win 8 should have been”. Kinda like WinXP was, finally, the O/S that Vista was supposed to be. (And look at how great that turned out!!) Win8, released in 2012, annoyed users by making the PC like a tablet, eliminating the Start Menu in favor of a tap and swipe touch screen that only a small percentage of PC users could accommodate or really desired. So this is in some sense a backstep, but with feature improvements. Also that it may well be the last named version of Windows that will be sold the traditional way. Instead, because the O/S will be continually upgraded as an Internet-provided service (see SaaS), there won’t be any need for a massive re-write of the operating system every so many years. Microsoft estimates that Win10 will reach a billion users in just three years. We’ll just have to see...
So, now that it’s available, here’s what we know:
1. The all-important Start Menu is a mashup of Windows 7 and Win 8, with the older style pop up menu on the left and the tiles on the right side of the desktop. No more gadgets, either. For those who liked the Metro start screen, you can get it back to full screen if you’re used to it. The desktop looks similar to Win8, but the Tiles don’t take up the entire screen. But, while you can resize, drop and drag tiles or add more on the right side of the Start Menu, the left side is quite rigid and doesn’t allow much personalization. For those using Win7, it’s not much different, but for Win8 it is better. The Task Bar is somewhat more customizable.
Also the Task Manager and the File Manager are far more useful than previous versions. (Note that the MSCONFIG startup tab is now in the STARTUP section of the task manager.)
2. The General Applications have been “tabletized,” so that you see a blending of both tablet and desktop interfaces. The separation of the two in Win8 drove everybody nuts, and Microsoft realized its mistake. This, as part of Microsoft’s move to make a single useful and identifiable platform for all devices. It is well done.
3. The Charms Bar is no more. ‘nuff said. Instead, it has been replaced with Notification, a pop-up with various system notifications and shortcuts. The Store app, however, remains. Windows Media Center is gone as well, but there will be features in the O/S for listening to or writing DCs and DVDs. Remember, Windows Media Player is not the same thing as Windows Media Center. If you want to keep the old WMC, you'll have to stick with Win7 or possibly add it to Win8.1. Microsoft's preference might be that you buy an Xbox device or just rent a DVR from your cable/satellite company.
4. Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant, will be continually refined and useful for desktop computers. You’ll need a microphone, of course, but it’ll be worth it. Eventually. It has made substantial improvements in the area of natural language search (e.g. “show me the last Word document I opened”). At the moment, it mostly sends dictated phrases to Bing. But your information does go to Microsoft’s cloud servers, so if you don’t want that done, go to Settings>Privacy>Speech, inking & typing and click the big gray button that says “Stop getting to know me”.
5. Many of the Metro apps are being rewritten for Win 10, and that’s the good news. The annoying news is that, because they’ve been renamed, you’ll have to figure out what became of them. Mail becomes Outlook; Calendar, People, Videos and Music are also being renamed and redefined. Office will stay the same, that’s O.K. And you will be able to stream Xbox to your desktop. Photos is being completely rewritten, but it will only be available from the Windows Store. People is fairly useless. OneDrive is a complete mess, and Microsoft is aware of this, completely cutting the app while working on such features as bringing back the popular “smart files”. You can’t combine inboxes in Mail so you can see all your mail in one place. And you can only see your messages in conversation view, not chronological view. And I hear it’s prone to crashing. The Universal Movies & TV app has several flaws, including one that shuts down the app if you minimize the window. Skype is so mixed up that for the time being Microsoft has only offered a link on the desktop to install the old desktop Skype. Unfortunately, the File Explorer app is limited, and won’t show you anything that’s cloud only, for that you’ll have to go to the browser. [But you can revert to have it start at This PC by clicking File on the ribbon menu in File Explorer, then Change Folder and Search Options from the drop down list, then Open File Explorer To in the next window and either Quick Access or This PC, then O.K.] Thankfully, the old way of doing Win7 Backup & Restore has returned to Win10, accessible from the Control Panel applet, then clicking to the link at the bottom for System Image Backup. And don’t forget to ensure that Win10 is making periodic System Restore points (right click on Start, then System, then System Protection and make sure your C drive Protection is set to on, or else configure it to do so) as well as setting up File History, so you can right-click on any file, select properties and open the Previous Versions tab to see past revisions to the saved file through either File History or Restore Points. On the good side, both Windows apps and traditional desktop programs now offer a native “ [Microsoft] Print to PDF” option, eliminating special software. And you can now scroll over even inactive windows. Multiple monitors are becoming quite common, so the new per-monitor display scaling features are an improvement. The Command Prompt feature is a little more customizable. Microsoft is migrating to the walled-garden Apple/iTunes model, and it appears that more and more apps and elements of the O/S will be available this way. As of now, it’s still quite bare, even when not compared to the Apple Store. I don’t like it personally, but that’s the way it is. I’m going to be tired of clients saying “What?!? I have to pay, monthly, to play solitaire!!” However, Win10 has actually scaled back from its original plan to disallow installing Windows apps from outside the Windows Store except if you were running the Enterprise edition. Now, Win10 allows any user to “sideload” Windows apps from outside sources. You may, however, have to enable this ability by going to Start>Settings>Update & Security>For Developers and clicking on the Sideload App option.
For legacy apps, the issue is somewhat more complex. Apps not specifically designed to take advantage of Windows’ new DPI-scaling APIs will look blurry when run on high resolution displays. While many apps that are updated regularly, like Firefox or Chrome may already be compatible, other apps written in Windows 7 are likely to have this issue. It may remain for those apps to be rewritten with newer builds that scale the APIs. Other programs may or may not work. For example, while Microsoft states that Office 2007 and later are confirmed to be compatible, older versions like Office 2003 may only work in compatibility mode, if at all (actually, I’ve had no problems). Same for programs that show an “Error 1935,” compatibility mode may save them.
6. For gamers, DirectX 12 will make a big difference in the speed of graphics rendering. They’ll love it. And the new Game DVR tool, which is designed to capture your PC’s gaming in video, is actually useful to save videos from any open Windows app or desktop program.
7. For tablets like the Surface, something called Continuum will allow you to switch from PC to Tablet “mode,” allowing you to view things in full screen on tablets.
8. Most of the WinKey keyboard shortcuts used with Windows 8 will apply to Windows 10 so, if you’re used to them, they’ll still work.
9. The old Action Center is now called the Notifications Menu and it has increased functionality, so it shows at a glance what updates have been recently applied as well as immediate access to useful areas like System Settings (which has also changed, but only a little).
11. And another plus: Win10 has a new mechanism that allows software developers to integrate their applications with whatever anti-malware programs exist on the computer. The so-called AMSI (Antimalware Scan Interface) will check applications and content to the locally installed anti-virus product to be checked for possible malware.
12. A feature named Task View now lets users create more than one desktop, so you can switch not only between running applications but also between desktops, useful for when you’re working on several things at once. Task View is essentially the old [Alt] + [Tab] switcher, but better. It is accessed by clicking on the icon just right of Cortana on the Task Bar. Also, for those of you who use multiple desktops (like those with virtual desktops), they are not built into the operating system, eliminating the need to install add-ons for the purpose of running them.
13. This is supposed to be the most secure version of Windows ever made, in part due to the addition of two new features, Windows Hello (which supports facial and fingerprint recognition) and, for enterprise editions, Device Guard (and Credential Guard), which protect the core kernel from malware and remote attacks. But don’t worry if you can’t get it on personal machines, as the hardware requirements are pretty hefty. Device Guard is much like Apple’s GateKeeper in OS X; click HERE for how to use Device Guard).
14. Lots of people are talking about something called HoloLens, but it may not be what you think. It’s not an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Nor is it exactly Google Glass, either. It’s a headset that uses augmented reality that superimposes information on your view of the physical world. It is said that the API’s for HoloLens will be part of Win 10, which means that the routines that apps will use to control the headset will be build into the operating system.
15. More good news: Microsoft has said that users of Windows 8 and even 7 will get free upgrades to Windows 10. Wow! It must be a “genuine” version and it must be done before June 29, 2016, a full year. You can’t upgrade unless Windows 7 Service Pack 1 or Windows 8.1 Update 1 is installed, so you’ll have to do that first if your system doesn’t have it. And you have to stay within the same versions (e.g. Home to Home, Pro to Pro), unless you want to pay for an upgrade version. But you won’t need any serial or product number if your Windows version is already determined that it’s “genuine”. And you don’t need a Microsoft account to install Win 10, although you will require it for the Windows Store or for Outlook.com, Cortana, syncing Edge, etc. Upgrades (versus “clean installs”) of Win10 can be rolled back, but only within 30 days. For more, see below.
16. Updates: But there is, of course, a catch. The catch is that Windows 10 requires users to be continuously tethered to Microsoft and must receive automatic updates pretty much as soon as they’re available (some can be delayed briefly). “Patch Tuesday” will be no longer. There is, however, no charge for this. Microsoft will continue to keep Win10 up to date for the life of the product at no cost. (It is possible that the Pro (not Home) users may be able to “defer” some updates and/or just install security updates but not patches (where most issues lie)). Now, this sounds good and could avoid having to worry about downloading tons of updates at once. But most of us have had experiences with updates where they have slightly or even seriously damaged the entire operating system, created USB failures, BSoDs, software incompatibilities and other issues, sometimes requiring Microsoft rollbacks. Unless Microsoft has gotten better about vetting their updates, I’m concerned about these “forced” updates. It seems like every month or so I read that installing a particular recommended update can brick your computer or tell you that your Windows software isn’t valid any more, or your perfectly capable driver is now overwritten and doesn’t work correctly. And what if your drive crashes? Do you have to install your old O/S and then upgrade to Win 10 again? You won’t be able to open Windows 7 backups in Win10, just Windows 8. What if the offer has expired? Lots of questions, we’ll just have to wait for the answers. I’ve heard that Microsoft is going to push the updates in “rings”. The “fast ring” corporate users will get the updates immediately and then the “slow” ring will get them later. Updates will be posted as they develop, or in the equivalent of a service pack. But real user control over updates doesn’t seem possible. There is a check box in Windows Update options to “defer upgrades,” but no one is sure what that means or for how long it will last. Also, there is a Microsoft utility named wushowhide (KB 307930) that purports to let you block specific periodic updates, again for an undisclosed period of time. Surely, this will evolve. UPDATE: As with most software, various software developers have come up with programs that block those coerced Win10 upgrades, protecting users from damage. This is especially important now that Microsoft underhandedly changed the update from “optional” to “important,” causing people to wake up and find that they’ve got a new operating system on their computer. Try Josh Mayfield’s GWX Control Panel. I expect that in the near future someone will also develop software that may prevent automatic or delayed updates once Windows 10 is installed.
17. What will you need? We’ve been hearing the claims that Win10 will not be the memory hog that Windows has been known to be in past versions. So what will be the minimum requirements? Right now, a 1GHz or higher processor, 1Gb of RAM for a 32-bit system or 2Gb for a 64-bit system, about 16Gb of free space on the hard disk drive, a graphics card which has a Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with a WDDM driver, and internet access as well as a Microsoft account for the setup. If you don’t understand this, don’t worry - Windows performs a system check if you click on the “Get Windows 10” app that appears on older systems, and it’s available at Microsoft.com.
18. Should you get it now? With all this said, why wouldn’t you want to upgrade to Win10? Yes, it’s probably the future of PC computing. And Microsoft is bugging you to get the best thing since sliced bread, what with the Win10 popups and all. It’ll have many new features and will cure a lot of the ills about Win8 and Win8.1, although Win7 users will probably care as much, as they didn’t switch to the tablet-style desktop computing platform. But there are still lots of reasons not to switch, at least right now, the most important of which is my firm belief that you shouldn’t upgrade until a new O/S has been out at least six months and all of the first release bugs have been patched. Aside from that, if you really like Win7 (which will still have Microsoft updates through 1/2020), stay with it. Win10 will undo some of the stuff that didn’t work properly with Win8, taking it back to Win7 (like the Start Menu) anyway. If you love Windows Media Center, desktop gadgets or OneDrive placeholders, you probably shouldn’t upgrade, even if your hardware will accept it. One more thing: As with every O/S upgrade, there’s the peripheral problem. If you have older devices like printers and scanners, they may not be supported by the newer O/S, so there may be a hidden cost for replacing hardware. Check first for compatible drivers (from your manufacturer or Microsoft), particularly if you are a Win7 user, as you will be upgrading by two versions. I’d wait until after the first service pack (dubbed “TH2”) of patches is released, scheduled for sometime around November, 2015, to make this decision.
Anniversary [7/29/16] Update: I haven’t tested every feature, but Woody Leonhard of Tech Republic has. His conclusions: Most advantages of Win 10 apply to touch screen users, not mouse and keyboard types, many features won’t work on older computers, Cortana isn’t as good as competing assistants, privacy is still pretty bad, One Drive doesn’t work correctly, Universal Windows apps aren’t all that great, there are too many ads, even the revised Start menu isn’t as good as the old one and forced updates are the expected pain. Most of the enterprise users who have done the upgrade claim they have done so not for the new features but out of fear of obsolescence of the old operating system.
As usual, there will always be installation issues, but no more than you’d expect. Just make sure your Windows Updates are current, that you have backed up or cloned your data or drive and that you have disconnected all peripherals before doing the upgrade. Having upgraded lots of computers, I can say that the issues that did occur involved (1) less expensive computers that used no-name hardware which didn’t have driver or firmware updates, (2) networks and (3) legacy (old) software. Beware of these issues, check them out first before upgrading. When you do, you won’t have to provide any registration keys if you have genuine Windows to upgrade, and once it is done you will have what Microsoft calls “Digital Entitlement”. Once your machine has a digital entitlement, you can install or reinstall Windows 10 any number of ways, and Microsoft will always remember that your machine is authorized for a genuine copy of Windows 10. You don’t have a Win10 key, there’s nothing to write down, no hoops you have to jump through. But you can’t install this Win10 on any other machines, as you could when you had previous versions of Windows O/S disks. It’s keyed to that one machine only. Microsoft explains the nuances on its Activation in Windows 10 page. And, as with previous versions, there’s a phone number to call if Win10 keeps asking you for a key (always ignore this request). They want you to set up using a Microsoft account - the benefit of doing this is that, without it, you will not be able to use a number of apps of sync settings among multiple devices. But you can always set this up after installation.
What if it doesn’t work right or I don’t like it? Can I roll back or uninstall it? Luckily for you, you have a 30 day period to roll back to your original installation. Just go to Start>Settings>Update & Security>Recovery and follow the instructions. Remember, though, that depending on where you have stored any new files which you have created since the Win10 upgrade, they may be lost. Rolling back works with “digital entitlement,” meaning that once your particular computer has a valid copy of Windows 10, it will be valid forever. Interestingly, this means that if you roll it back and then install it again later, you won’t have to pay for it, because evidently the CAB files have your validation code. And you will probably want to install it at some point. We’re not sure what Microsoft plans starting July 29, 2016. Microsoft hints at a change from the current digital entitlement licensing program will be replaced with a digital licensing program, which will tie the Win 10 license to a Microsoft account login, replacing or in addition to specific machine credentials.
First reviews by others more involved than me say that you should stay with Windows 7 if you have it, until Windows 10’s new features make it worth it. They say that, while it boots and works faster, some features in the consumer version are less than fully complete. They seem to agree that the Windows apps vary in quality from good (Mail, Calendar) to passable (Photos, Phone Companion) to useless so far (People, Groove Music, Movies & TV). Also, Edge, Cortana and Continuum, while available, need more work to be complete and utilize the robust features. Windows 8 users may find it an improvement because, well, they’re using Windows 8. UPDATE 6/16: Having updated computers to Win 10 for almost a year, it’s pretty fast and quite secure compared to most previous versions. But when you’re updating some 350,000 computers, there are bound to be some glitches, even horror stories. Generally, though, nothing that couldn’t be solved.
The rollout will be in three phases: July 29th will be the “upgrade” phase for Windows users and insiders (both fast and slow ring, depending), on-line and retail. In the fall of 2015 will come the devices and OEMs going into the holiday season. Finally the third, enterprise, upgrade and features will start in the second half of 2016. The first big Win10 patch, a/k/a Threshold 2, fall update, build 10586, version 1511, was issued in late October, 2015. While it did solve some activation issues and made some apps better (Skype, Edge, Mail & Phone), and added better support for high-resolution monitors and other drivers, it still has a long way to go with some activation, printer and Start Menu customization issues, so don’t expect much more than increased stability. And the forced update and privacy issues remain as well.
FURTHER RESTRICTION: In 2016, Microsoft announced that it will not support many of the newer processors, like the Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and AMD’s Bristol Ridge and Zen with Win 7 or 8 O/Ss. You can still run the older Windows versions on the older chips. [Support for Win 7 ends on 1/14/20 and Win 8.1 ends on 1/10/23.] And by the end of October, 2016, PC makers will have to sell new machines only with Win 10, although some manufacturers may offer downgrade rights.
And in another move to force users to get Win 10, Microsoft has abandoned all legacy versions of Internet Explorer with the exception of Internet Explorer 11. Same for older versions of Office, like Office XP, and many legacy third-party programs. Microsoft wants to hasten the migration to an all-Win10 system with paid cloud access.
And don’t forget that the free Win 10 upgrade offer expires onJuly 29, 2016. After that, you’ll have to purchase the O/S.
BEWARE: I know I shouldn’t have to even say this, but apparently I must. Don’t fall for Windows Upgrade scams. Apparently, as soon as Win10 was issued, Russian scamware popped up, trying to fool potential upgraders into downloading scamware and cryptoware. CTB-Locker, if you get it, is ransomware that encrypts your files and requests payment within 96 hours or your files will be encrypted forever. It prays on those Windows users who are waiting for an e-mail from Microsoft inviting them to download the upgrade. Phishers get their e-mail in first, then trick users into purportedly downloading the Win10 installer, which is actually a virus or malware app. Watch out for the usual mis-spellings and weird characters you’d normally see in malware scams and check the address, you’ll see it’s not from Microsoft.
SPECIAL NOTICE FOR PRIVACY ADVOCATES: Win10 is a major advance in terms of data collection from its users. It is collected on Microsoft’s servers as part of your personal “Advertising ID,” or your Microsoft account or other identifier. Every URL you visit on the Web, every program and app you download, location history, calendar events, your connected devices, your contacts, even your handwriting, voice and speech patterns, all are collected and saved by Microsoft. Click HERE for a HowToGeek article of some 30 different ways Win10 collects data. Of course, much of this data is necessary for Cortana to give you reminders or for cross-platform connectivity. Some are useful for Microsoft’s advertisers. And some, in the worst case, can be a vehicle for malware. Luckily, some settings can be turned off. At choice.microsoft.com, users can control how Microsoft uses the collected data to transmit personalized ads, by checking “Manage what Cortana knows about me in the cloud”. There’s also a Bing site for a similar purpose. Same for Edge. Click HERE for an Ars Technica article about the settings you can minimize, although not necessarily eliminate, in Win10. So what’s the big deal, doesn’t Google do the same thing? Yes, pretty much. But Google does it through your elective use of the Google’s sites. If you don’t want Google tracking you, don’t use their software. But Win10 is your operating system, without which you can’t operate your computer. You just can’t opt out. And if you use some of the tools discussed above, which erase your comings and goings, the data will still remain on Microsoft’s servers and they can use it later. Look, not everyone is worried about whether their antics on Ashley Madison or their heroin habits are revealed, but all of us have some information we’d like to keep private, so it’s still a concern. Especially when your digital identitY can be manipulated by your browsing history regardless of whether it is correct. For more, see Privacy. For the Win10 settings to adjust to achieve your maximum privacy, click HERE.
UPCOMING IMPROVEMENTS IN 2016: You can expect expansion of the Microsoft Edge browser extensions, roll out of the Hololens augmented reality device, expansion of Cortana, better enterprise security and merger of the Win10 system on all devices, including phones and pads. UPDATE: On August 2, 2016, Microsoft introduces the “Windows 10 Anniversary Edition” (technically update Ver. 1607). [To see if you have it yet, click on Settings, then System, then About, and look for Ver. 1607. If you don’t have it yet, you can manually install it.] One of the major changes was to the Start Menu, which made the All Apps visible by default, along with the Most Used Apps. Also, the Power Settings, File Explorer and Recently Added icons now show on the left rail of the menu. And re-installing Win10 after a major hardware change can be much easier (if you’ve set up a Microsoft account), click HERE for more about this. Finally, Microsoft added new Wi-Fi and networking features as well: A Properties shortcut in the available network, the Network & Internet settings have been expanded to include Status, Troubleshooting and other features previously found (and still in) the Network & Sharing Center, and the Wi-Fi tab has many enhanced features. There’s a feature called “Mobile Hotspot,” which lets you share your (ethernet, 4G, Wi-Fi) internet connection with other Wi-Fi devices without Netsh commands or third party software. Really nice, too, is the single button to reinstall network adapters and reboot. Infra-red has been added, too. There are other additions and changes, which can be viewed HERE.
It’s hard to believe, but even after a year, Win 10 still has some serious issues. Sound and video issues abound, as do problems playing well with anti-virus and anti-malware programs, which can cause issues with everything from the Start Menu to the core O/S. And, as expected, the forced/delayed updates still have issues which have to be repaired the following week by Microsoft, as they did before. UPDATE: For ways to disable automatic updates in Win 10, click HERE.
On the positive side, Microsoft is adding a new Groove Music Maker app (you can mix instrumental and vocal tracks and apply basic effects like reverb), Windows Defender will be bulked up with new firewall and other features, Edge will have a feature to flip through many open browser tabs (as well as to save some for later reading), Maps will introduce Collections, groups of places to view and share, redesigned Live Tiles, customizable colors, time limits on gaming, edit to the Action Center to let users continue working where they left off on other devices (like Apple’s Continuity feature), and other features.
So there you have it. It’s too soon to tell what features will be enhanced, patched or eliminated as Win10 progresses, but we’ll try to keep you updated....