Windows 10 is pretty good

After yesterday’s popular post Windows 10 is unfinished, where I bashed said OS, today, I’m going to praise Windows 10 (where possible). This is so we can keep with the opinion diversity people are now accustomed to seeing on the Web, faithfully satisfying the thousands of Reddit and Hacker News users who can’t skip a beat on hot technology topics and especially, hot discussions on those topics.

A lot of people took my post as my definitive opinion on the matter and also as if I was telling some universal truths, and mistakenly concluded that I only had negative things to say about Microsoft’s latest big release. Others were saying I focused on the wrong problems; that the design issues were minor nitpicks, and effectively they are, when compared to the functionality problems (which I’m also having, but apparently that part was overlooked). My intention was not to write a fanboy post nor to start flamewars, and that’s the case with this post too.

Yesterday’s post was written from start to end on my Windows 10 tablet, without hardware keyboard (yes, it was painful, but not as much as it would have if using an Android tablet with similar characteristics), including screenshots and image editing (MS Paint FTW!). That’s not the case with today’s post, that was written with my laptop, because Microsoft is yet to issue an update to fix the virtual keyboard in Windows 10. The OS it is running doesn’t matter; let’s just say I’m writing this in MS-DOS 6.0’s edit.

Let the deserved Windows 10 appraisal start.

Upgrade process

I upgraded from Windows 8.1, before Microsoft decided it was ready for me to install it. Yes, I forced the download and installation process. I wanted to get it downloaded before the end of July, so that it would not count towards this month’s data cap. I wanted to get it installed because I thought it would have tons of updates to download in the first days (not the case), and also because I’m going to need this tablet operational by September when university classes begin, so I thought I better get used to it and point out all mistakes sooner rather than later.

Yes, I could have stayed for another year on 8.1 before losing the option to upgrade for free, but I’m also interested in developing Universal Apps, so here’s that.

Despite me rushing the update and the tablet having 32 GB of storage of which only 22 GB are for the Windows partition, the process went perfectly, and apparently I still have the option to go back to 8.1 if I wish (at the expense of only having 2 GB of free disk space on C:). All data and apps were kept, except f.lux, possibly because (as far as I could understand when uninstalling its remnants) it was installed in AppData (note that AppData is mostly kept, too, but f.lux in particular wasn’t).

From leaving Windows 8.1 to seeing Windows 10 desktop it took my tablet about a hour and half. The flash storage on it is not especially fast (definitely not a SSD), which probably explains why most people can do it in one hour.

All points taken into account, the upgrade process went surprisingly well and was fast, as appears to be the case with the majority of users. Much better than ending up with a system that doesn’t boot at all, or with driver issues (which some users are still having), which as far as I remember were popular problems in previous versions’ in-place upgrades. Also, kudos to Microsoft for making it work on devices with such a limited amount of system storage.

Initial setup

There was the first-run setup, where the polemic privacy defaults are located (I disabled almost everything), but the most complicated part is what comes when the system finishes installing. In my case, Windows understood this was a tablet and accordingly selected tablet mode automatically. Because on 8.1 I basically only used the desktop, and because I thought it would be easier to find most settings on the desktop mode, I immediately went looking for the switch and since then I have only used desktop mode.

The desktop mode still works very well with touch screens; I have gone back to tablet mode for five minutes just to check it out, but went back quite fast, as I deemed the desktop good enough. Tablet mode didn’t fix the problem of the touch keyboard appearing over other windows even when docked, which would have been its major selling point for me right now.

Windows 8’s modern apps were kept from the previous version, including the MSN-powered apps such as Travel, which have been discontinued and will stop working in September. Of course, those who have an Universal app replacement (Mail, Calendar, Twitter, Maps, possibly more) are replaced. In the case of Mail and Calendar, it remembered the previously added account, but I had to pair them again in the case of Google and Microsoft accounts, and re-insert credentials for IMAP accounts.

OneDrive apparently now refuses to have its folder out of the C: drive, or perhaps that’s only a problem when the folder you want to chose is on a removable drive. I solved this problem by mounting the SD card, where I had the OneDrive folder, on the C: drive (NTFS mountpoints FTW!), then pointing OneDrive to this mountpoint. Yes, I know what I’m doing and you should too. This SD card, unlike what Windows thinks, is never removed.

I also had to download desktop Skype. Before I was using the Modern UI version of Skype, which was discontinued some time ago. But the desktop version uses so much RAM and is less touchscreen friendly, making it one of the most annoying parts of my Windows 10 experience. It also doesn’t update with new messages during Connected Standby, which is a thing my tablet has and I’m going to talk about later, and it doesn’t put its notifications in the new Action Center, either.

Tablet usage

People are saying the tablet experience has actually gone worse with Windows 10, but to be honest if they fixed the touch keyboard I’d say it is as good as Windows 8. Of course, if you are used to the charms bar and to the gesture of “swiping down an app” to close it, you’ll be out of luck:

  • swiping from the top on a window does nothing except move or restore it (if it was maximized);
  • swiping from the left opens the Action Center (where some handy, more or less configurable shortcuts are located, so you won’t miss the “Settings” part of the charms bar);
  • swiping from the right shows the task view, where you can switch apps and desktops;
  • sadly there’s no longer a way to bring up a big clock, even when running full-screen stuff (games, videos…), something the charms bar was good for.

As it’s been widely reported, now Universal apps, Windows 8 apps and “normal” software made for the Win32 API all work together, with the same window borders and titles and showing on the same task lists. If only it had been this way since the beginning, Windows 8 would not have received so much negative critique and “Modern apps” could have actually been more used. Yes, I believe windows are adequate even for tablet devices (and not just by putting two windows side-by-side), and that is certainly one of Windows differentiating factors in the world of tablet OS.

Resource usage

I still can’t comment much on this part, because I’m having some issues with my Voyo A1 Mini that look not like Windows fault but driver problems. The “System” process (i.e., the NT kernel) is often using multiple MBs of RAM. I know I’m not the only user with this problem; there is at least one known bad network driver, but I don’t use it. I’ve also seen suggestions for disabling the network device usage service, but in my case that didn’t help. The result is that it always has 90-95% of physical memory used, and the commit charge at something like 3 GB of 3,9 GB.

I have also noticed search indexing stuff has gone more aggressive again on Windows 10, after being mostly quiet on 8.1 (as far as I could see). But since I haven’t done any serious monitoring, this could be just my impression.

The update could also have damaged the special CPU throttling set up for this device, given that it now runs much more hot than before, even for the same typical load. It appears the CPU (Intel Baytrail) works at higher frequencies more often – just a slight load and there it goes to 1,55 GHz or so (the “announced speed” of the CPU is 1,33 GHz). I have updated to the latest DPTF (Intel’s thermal stuff) drivers and it reduced the problem a bit, but it’s still present.

Now, this isn’t all that bad, given that Windows is very responsive even with the CPU at 75 degrees Celsius and 95% of the physical memory used. Let’s just wait for updates, both for Windows and for drivers, before taking more conclusions.

Connected Standby is still annoying

My tablet supports Connected Standby. On Windows 8, it was more or less like suspending the computer, but Windows Store apps could still run in the background to perform small tasks, and if you were playing media in such an app, it would keep playing even with the screen off – just like with Android devices.

The problem is if you want to use something other than a Windows Store app (read: 99,9% of the software available for Windows) to play music, or download files, or if you want to watch YouTube with something other than IE’s Modern UI mode. Windows will just suspend desktop apps and they will stop playing, or downloading, or crunching numbers. What makes this really annoying is that there is no way to turn off the screen without entering Connected Standby. So it’s burning extra battery and, at night, our eyes too.

In Windows 10, Connected Standby is more or less the same thing. I hoped that with Windows 10 they would add an option to be able to white-list certain “old fashioned” (Win32) apps into running during connected standby, or alternatively, a way to turn off the screen without going into standby.

At least, the “Sleep” and “Turn off the screen” settings now seem a bit better decoupled, and with my current settings (turn off screen after 2 minutes, sleep after 4) there is a bigger delay between when the screen turns off and the music stops playing. During this delay one can tap the screen and it will turn back on, instantly. Just like with a normal laptop that turns off the screen after a while. Let’s just hope Microsoft doesn’t consider this to be a bug and doesn’t “fix” it.

Cortana

I can’t comment much on the Cortana feature itself, but I can comment on the stuff surrounding Cortana and whether the feature is enabled or not. Here, Windows is set up with a system language of US English. The region was set to Portugal, and the time and date and formatting settings to Portuguese. I was told by a friend I had to set my region to US for Cortana to become available, and that’s indeed true.

I just don’t understand, if Cortana is going to speak in English anyway (because that’s the system language), why does it have anything to do with the region. Unless it is expecting to change the language it uses depending on the region setting, and not depending on the language I want to see (and hear) stuff in. Oh well.

Finally, I have watched Cortana tell me how awesome are all the things that can be done with this feature, but I didn’t enable it because of the privacy policy, and I don’t think I’d use the functionality enough to be worth yet another “I agree” on a privacy setting. I can always turn it on later.

Feedback

Microsoft seems really interested in listening to what the users have to say, so there’s a dedicated feedback app and everything. Unfortunately, this app filters content by region instead of filtering by language, which limits what reviews you can see and upvote. I wonder if anyone from Microsoft will look at the feedback of less populous countries like the one I live in, and even smaller ones.

Microsoft also seems really interested in learning how people use the OS, so much that only Enterprise users can completely disable this kind of feedback. Privacy concerns aside, I really hope the data generated with these feedback tools won’t be used as motivator or justification for taking away even more features and customization ability.

Rolling release

I always wanted to move to a rolling release Linux distro, but I’m yet to make the move; it appears I switched to a rolling Windows release before I did the same with Linux! I actually think it is a very good idea to stop releasing major versions and put new things out in a more continuous way. Major upgrades are a hassle, even when the upgrading itself takes just one hour – first, a giant download, then having to wait while the Windws upgrades and reboots multiple times, then having to set so many little settings that are new or changed with the new version…

I would be even happier if every user had the ability to refuse or at least delay certain updates (even because of, say, known driver and software incompatibility issues). The way things are done right now, only makes the whole thing look like a giant Microsoft-controlled botnet and by paving the way to Windows-as-a-service, makes people fear a future where you’ll pay for Windows by the month (and perhaps by the window/app/user?).

Finally, it’s about time Microsoft finds an ingenious way around the way file handles work in Windows, such that system files can be replaced without rebooting the system. Or at least, they could make the reboots less disrupting, for example by “suspending” the apps before the reboot, then restoring them.

Conclusion

My conclusion is to sit and wait. Windows 10 is actually pretty good for what feels like the end result of a development cycle damaged by setting a release date way too early. It should have been ready when it was ready, but I understand Microsoft not wanting to deal with another “XP to Vista” situation, where it took five years to release a new OS version with an abandoned revolutionary version in between, and a shitty end result. This way, the most people can say is that it’s shitty, but at least it came on time.

If you are using Windows 7 on a desktop and are happy with it, or using 8.1 on a tablet, I don’t think you have much to gain by upgrading now, unless you desperately want to use Cortana. People using Windows 8.1 without a touchscreen may find more value in upgrading now, especially if they use Modern UI apps and are annoyed by the context switches between them and the desktop.

Anyway, I always wanted to try Longhorn in its unstable and unpolished state, and now here is an opportunity – not with Longhorn, but with another revolutionary Windows version that while stable, has its own big polishing needs. But we already talked about that…

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