I took the Windows 10 plunge, and for the most part, I am a satisfied customer with an experience that I can call "better than seven." But does Windows 10 live up to the hype that Microsoft created when it skipped a whole number generation, bypassing Windows 9 as it hopes to shed the negativity surrounding Windows 8?
If you're expecting a "Whoa, this is brand new and different" reaction, you're in for a disappointment. With Windows 10, Microsoft went with a more reserved less is more approach by keeping things the same, and that's been my experience with Windows 10. Rather than reinvent the wheel, an approach that Microsoft tried to push on to users with Windows 8, Microsoft appears to be smoothing out the rough edges of Windows 7 with a more polished 10 OS.
I decided to go all in with Windows 10. After having tried out the Insider Preview on a few test systems around the office, I was ready to fully commit to the "last version of Windows" on my personal Surface Pro 2.
Once the install files are downloaded through Windows Update, the entire process took about thirty minutes. Initially, the update ran a compatibility scan, and alerted me that my hardware is Windows 10-compatible, which means all my drivers should work after the upgrade.
On earlier preview builds, for instance, the compatibility check found that a WiGig driver on my Dell wouldn't work and I would lose the wireless docking capabilities had I upgraded to Windows 10 on a review unit of the Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250), and that a Lenovo utility was incompatible on an older ThinkPad model. This time, we're good to go.
Next, the upgrade asked if I wanted to start fresh, migrate just my files over or keep everything. I chose the last option, placed all my faith in Microsoft's process and opted to not create any backups of my existing files.
My most important files are my photos, and those are already backed up in the cloud. I figured that if the upgrade deleted my personal or work files, it would be a blessing in disguise as I could be given an opportunity to start with a fresh drive.
With a Microsoft ID associated with my computer, it took another ten minutes on top of the time required to upgrade, but Microsoft transferred my settings, apps and files over at the end of the process. To my surprise, my old desktop wallpaper even migrated over, but I opted to use the new smokey Windows image that Microsoft captured for Windows 10.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the upgrade process went compared to prior versions of Windows. When I migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7, I had to manually backup my existing files to an external hard drive, as Windows 7's new system architecture required my computer to be completely wiped for the upgrade.
The migration from Windows 7 to Windows 8 required less work than the jump from XP to 7, but the upgrade broke drivers, and I had to manually hunt for upgraded drivers to get common peripherals, like printers and scanners, working again.
What didn't work
Most things just worked. All my programs opened without a hitch, including Microsoft Office Professional 2013 and Adobe Creative Suite 6. This is to be expected, as most applications that work with Windows 7 or later should be compatible with Windows 10, with 'should' being the operative word.
I only had an issue with one program. My transition from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 broke Mediafour's MacDrive 9. Since I work with a PC and a Mac, MacDrive allows my PC to read and write to my Mac-formatted drives. I reached out to Mediafour, and the company said that a Windows 10-compatible version is in the works.
To be honest, I wasn't really surprised that MacDrive didn't work with Windows 10. In the past, new versions of Windows usually broke compatibility with existing versions of MacDrive, and Mediafour has been good about upgrading its software. However, you usually end up having to pay an upgrade fee for the new, compatible version, but the price is worth it if you work in a hybrid environment of Windows and Mac.
New love for the old desktop
Microsoft's most noticeable upgrade for Windows 10 may be considered a downgrade for those coming from Windows 8, but for me it is a joyous occasion.
Now, when you boot into the desktop mode of Windows, hitting that small Windows logo in the bottom left corner of the screen brings back a Windows 7-inspired Start menu. Gone is the separate Start screen from Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
On the left side, the list of frequently used programs and a second list of recently added programs makes it easy to juggle tasks. You can also view all your programs and apps installed by going to the All Apps menu.
If you're one of the few people who love Live Tiles and the separate Start menu, Microsoft didn't forget about you. Those are still present on Windows 10, but in a more usable place to the right of the list of apps on the Start menu instead of on a separate screen. When you hit that Windows logo, you can jump to your apps and get quick updates on your emails, sports scores, financial news, and whatever other tiles you have.
This feels much more natural than the Windows 8 Start experience for me. Now, it doesn't feel like I am getting interrupted with my work when I try to launch a new app or program. Whereas Windows 8 focused on touch, 10 embraces the old desktop again. Right clicking on the desktop, or a long tap and hold for touch users, brings up a list for contextual menus with more white space that makes these lists much more finger friendly for touchscreen environments. It feels less cluttered, too.
The windowed existence
Whereas the old Windows 8 experience launched apps into full-screen mode to make it easy for touch users, Windows 10 focuses more on productivity. Microsoft didn't abandon its plans for touch, it's just taking a more practical approach.
Those Metro or Modern UI apps are called Store apps, and those launch inside windowed panels that can be moved and resized across your desktop. It's like Windows 95 all over again, but with a more attractive chrome design.
A forgetful Continuum tries to bring continuity
For tablet users, Continuum makes it easy to switch to a finger-friendly tablet mode and a more productive desktop mode.
Theoretically, on my Surface Pro 2, if I attach the keyboard, Continuum would automatically switch to desktop mode to make my experience easier for keyboard and mouse input. Once I remove my Type Cover, the Surface Pro 2 would switch to a UI with a full-screen Start menu to optimize for touch. Apps would also launch in full-screen, and Windows would show slightly expanded icons in the taskbar.
On my Surface Pro 2, this works sometimes. When I pop off my Type Cover keyboard, a small pop-up on the lower right corner – Microsoft informed me that notification pop-ups have moved to this location, rather than the top right of the screen on Windows 8 – asks if I want Windows 10 to remember my action for the next time.
Windows 10 seems to have early onset Alzheimer's when it comes to remembering my selection, and Continuum so far hasn't been smooth. I ended up just locking my Surface Pro 2 in desktop mode, so I don't have to switch out of tablet mode if Continuum forgets that I have my keyboard attached.
Most of the glitches that I've experienced are on minor, but they're still there. Sometimes it takes Windows a few seconds to be responsive.
I would try to launch an app or open the Start menu, and nothing would happen. I would end up clicking on all the apps pinned on my taskbar or the shortcuts on my desktop, walk away, and five seconds later, a cluttered mess invaded my desktop when Windows 10 decides to wake up and become responsive again.
Another issue that I found is that sometimes my Wi-Fi would not connect, or it would connect but I would get no internet connectivity. Restarting my Surface Pro 2 would resolve the issue, but I hate having to interrupt my workflow and close windows just to make something work.
The biggest complaint I have is that my Surface Pro 2 would occasionally not charge. I usually work with my Surface Pro 2 plugged in when I am at my desk, but Windows 10 would show my battery is draining and that I am not charging. If I shut down the Surface, leave it plugged in for twenty minutes and then power it up again, the Surface would register that it is charging.
I haven't experienced this power management issue on hardware from Dell, HP and Lenovo running test builds of Windows 10, but on the Surface, it could mean that business users may arrive to their next meeting with a dead battery rather than a full one, resulting in lost productivity.
Another power-related issue with my Windows 10-powered Surface Pro 2 is that it exhibits erratic standby behavior. Ideally, when you close the Type Cover, the Surface Pro 2 would enter standby, saving battery life. After using the Surface Pro 2 for a full day in the office, I closed the Type Cover, and took my 1.5-hour commute home to find an extremely hot laptop bag because my tablet was still running and didn't hibernate properly.
Smaller glitches include icon images not showing, brightness settings not saving properly and infrequent crashes when attempting to launch the Store app.
For me, the Store icon sometimes would disappear from my taskbar, but its position would still be there, marked by a blank space. It's not quite as heartbreaking as Taylor Swift's song of the same name, but the appearance of having a black, incognito icon is still as jarring as having a missing front teeth. The blacked out icon still works, and I can still launch the Store if I clicked it.
For Xbox One owners, the ability to stream your console games to your Windows 10 PC or laptop is a big feature. For me, it means that if my guest is watching television in the living room, I can still play my Xbox game in my den on my Surface Pro 2 or my Latitude.
So far, the gaming experience is great, and the few titles that I tried exhibited no lags or stutter. We'll definitely take a look at Xbox integration more closely in the future with cheaper hardware to see how performance holds up.
In many ways, the Windows journey for Microsoft parallels BlackBerry's attempt to modernize its operating system for the post-PC era. Both operating systems attempted to embrace touch by shedding the comfort of old ways, only to return to the familiarity of the past after user outcry.
For BlackBerry, it was the return to the BlackBerry Classic that satisfied loyal customers, and I suspect that Windows 10 is the BlackBerry Classic for Microsoft.
Windows 10's embrace of the desktop, classic start menu and powerful multitasking capabilities will help Microsoft win over users again. After all, Microsoft's new OS brought back familiar features of the old Windows 7, which proved to be quite a popular operating system in its day. There are still issues to work out for early adopters, but considering the sheer number of hardware that Windows 10 is designed for, my experience so far has been surprisingly pain-free, especially considering that old upgrades to 7 and 8 caused.
Be sure to check back on this post, as I'll keep it updated with my experience as I continue to use Microsoft's new OS, but for now, be sure to stay up to date with our Windows 10 coverage.