Windows 10 review: Microsoft delivers a welcome upgrade

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alexander: Over-the-air TV for PC may be over.

Did you sign up for a free copy of Windows 10? The new software is the first to work across all Windows-powered devices, from smartphones to tablets and desktop computers, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox One games console.Q: My wife and I “cut the cable” over a year ago and have been pretty satisfied using Windows Media Center, (which allows a user to watch and record TV programs on a PC equipped with an internal or attached TV tuner). Microsoft is also introducing a new web browser — Edge — to replace Internet Explorer, while the firm’s voice assistant Cortana will also move to desktop computers for the first time.

Following a hostile reception to Windows 8, which launched in 2012 and introduced the concept of ‘live tiles’ for touch-based computing, Microsoft decided to bypass Windows 9 and jump straight to Windows 10, combining what it describes as the “best elements” of Windows 7 and Windows 8. It will also be the last release of Microsoft Windows as the company switches to a constant-software-update model instead of the every-other-year massive release that the company has done for more than a decade. Then you could be in for a big surprise: Windows 10 may have already started downloading to your PC… Microsoft ’s stealthy download uses a secret folder – C:\$windows.~BT – and it can be found by opening File Explorer and going to: Organize > Folder Options > View > Show hidden files, folders, and drives. And though the question of features and specifics can be asked – how is the new Edge browser (Internet Explorer’s successor) and will Windows 10 have Minesweeper (it will) – there is more to this update in what it says about not just the user’s experience of Windows in the future, but also the company’s view of what’s long been its flagship product.

That said the size of the download has also prompted some users on capped broadband plans to complain that they have no control over when the new operating system downloads. Millions of PC users are able to upgrade for free as Microsoft is making the update available at no extra cost to those who are already using Windows 7 or 8, though this offer expires next year. Windows users who have registered their interest will be notified once Windows 10 becomes available to them, with the roll out beginning this morning, and set to be staggered over the coming days.

The flipside to the argument is stealthily downloading Windows 10 to computers over days or even a week means Microsoft can distribute it more smoothly. And if there’s anything it’s been asserting over the past few years, it‘s that it’s crucially aware of where it falls on the tech giant spectrum.

I have used Windows 10 since the first beta back in October 2014 and I received an advanced press copy of the finished product and the costs come elsewhere. A feature called Continuum means that the software automatically detects whether there is a keyboard attached to the device and selects the most appropriate mode. So when the advertising campaign promotes that users of Windows 10 will be able to “do things” it’s entirely in line with what Microsoft knows its Windows users want, and what it wants itself to be.

It also reduces the bandwidth crush on launch day had it opted for manual downloads, especially with Microsoft belatedly admitting some users may have to wait weeks. Time and time and time again, Microsoft chief executive officer Satya Nadella has asserted that what makes Microsoft different from its competitors is that it enables its users to build things and collaborate. This lets users can start watching a video or listening to a playlist on one Windows 10 device, and then pick up where they left off on another device. Namely, that while Apple has gadgets, Google has search, and Amazon has storage, Microsoft has products that are more-or-less blank slates with the capability to build on top of them: Office, Azure, and Windows itself.

For Windows Vista see tinyurl.com/ppn7y4c and click “To change the download method”: for Windows 7 see tinyurl.com/ppc2oy8 and read the “To change settings” section. Windows 10 also comes with Microsoft’s virtual personal assistant, Cortana, which pops up with notifications and suggestions, and learns the user’s preferences over time.

Microsoft waited until July 17th to clear this up, but its lifecycle support page now states users Mainstream Support (adding new features) will continue until October 13, 2020 and Extended Support (security updates) will last until October 14, 2025. In 2001, it released its first tablet PC, which did not catch on as popularly as the tablets of the following decade in part due to its operating system.

Upgrade outside this period and you will have to pay the standard retail costs: $119.99 for ‘Windows 10 Home’ and $199.99 for ‘Windows 10 Pro’. Apple famously bragged about building iOS on the core of OS X, but Microsoft has now taken this one step further: Windows 10 is what runs on all desktops, laptops, tablets and phones. Unlike the Dell laptop I had before, this one has trouble getting an adequate Wi-Fi signal from my wireless router that’s located downstairs, only 30 feet away. In order to run Windows 10, users need a PC or tablet with a 1GHz processor or faster, 1GB of RAM and 16GB hard disk space for 32-bit machines or 2GB and 16GB for 64-bit machines, a DirectX 9 or later graphics card with a WDDM 1.0 driver and an 800 x 600 display or better.

The Wi-Fi signal is apparently weakened by passing through the walls and floor, and at best I’m getting about one-fourth the speed upstairs that I get downstairs. What can I do? (I can’t run cable from the router downstairs to the PC upstairs.) A: A home’s construction and building materials can drastically affect a Wi-Fi signal’s strength as it passes through walls and ceilings. The user can switch between them with ease by swiping right on the screen or opening up the notifications side menu, and the screen will rearrange itself depending on what the company thinks works best for that platform (larger icons and full screen applications for tablet view or a more conventional desktop view).

Microsoft’s Windows Phone voice assistant and Siri rival is now baked into Windows 10 so you can ask whatever you like and have the answers returned to you in seconds. Microsoft has reportedly reserved up to 40Tbps (terabits per second) of capacity, in an attempt to ensure it runs smoothly. “Around the world, millions and millions of people have registered for the upgrade, so we need to do this in a responsible way using the bandwidth of the internet,” said Michel van der Bel, Microsoft UK CEO. “At the same time of course, we need to be sure that people get bits in the right order and get a great experience. Office is available on several types of mobile, tablet, and desktop operating systems, and Microsoft is even allowing users to develop Android and iOS apps for its devices.

Like all voice assistants Cortana is far from flawless, but – for those not too embarrassed to talk to their computer – she’s a great addition and is only going to get better. Microsoft said that is was keen to see how the PC rollout goes before embarking on the next phase, but some analysts have expressed concern. “While it will win a growing share of enterprise tablet purchases, the plans for Windows 10 don’t show enough potential to create a differentiated mobile experience that will draw developers and customers away from iOS and Android.” Apple is releasing its Apple Music software across multiple platforms, and there’s a push to standardize what remains of Windows Phone to support non-Windows apps.

In essence, the software giants aren’t competing anymore to decide what is or what wins; they’ve decided on what works and are working on moving that thing forward. While initial reports that it brought a 30-40% performance gain over DirectX 11 have actually proved to be closer to 10-20%, switching to it long term is a no brainer.

I have been highly critical of Microsoft’s veil of silence surrounding Windows 10 (some key questions remain unanswered – more next) but the core operating system is excellent. It is fast, has great security and the Start menu is back which should be appreciated by Windows 7 users in particular who stayed away from Windows 8. ‘Snap’ has been enhanced so it lets you resize multiple windows around your screen in just a few clicks, file transfers are smarter so moving around a lot of heavy files doesn’t slow your computer to a crawl, there’s an attractive new media player with greater codec support, a notification center to group together alerts from both Microsoft and third party programs all in one place, and much more. Microsoft has recovered from some truly horrible icon choices in the early betas, and it now looks every bit like Windows but with a subtle and stylish modern twist.

Given the Windows upgrade market is just a tiny slice of the company’s revenues (the vast majority comes from purchases of new PCs) it irks me that Windows 10 has a number of restrictions. This could be an important security update, a new feature (even if you don’t want it) or a driver (the version number and changelog of which you can’t see). Delays are possible (Home users can stall up to one month, Pro users up to eight months) but after this they override and are installed automatically. Worryingly historically Microsoft has a poor record with updates and there have been some epic Windows patch meltdowns and “40 or so” problematic patches have been released by Windows Update in 2015 alone.

Confusingly and contradictorally Microsoft has released a tool which can uninstall updates on Windows 10 and keep them uninstalled but only after they have been installed in the first place (which isn’t much good if one stops your computer booting up) but the tool isn’t part of Windows Update and seemingly contravenes the company’s own EULA.

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