Windows 10: the review
It’s loaded with changes, many improvements, but still the odd feature that makes us wince. plus some important unanswered questions. Darren Yates reviews Windows 10As we’ve noted elsewhere, Windows 10 has a lot to try and live up to, from Microsoft’s ‘Windows Everywhere’ strategy to giving Windows 7 users reasons to come back after Windows 8. It has to appeal to consumers and business alike, which effectively means innovation and predictability in almost equal measure. It’s a tall order — so how well has Microsoft done?
The new Windows 10 OS will be available in three basic versions, two for general use — Windows 10 Home and Windows 10 Pro — plus Windows 10 Mobile for phones and smaller tablets. At time of writing, no local Australian pricing had been announced, however, Microsoft US had declared Home would sell for US$119 while the Pro version would cost US$199. If you decide to jump from Home to Pro, the upgrade will cost an extra US$99. As we’ve already discussed, all three will be available as a free upgrade for genuinely-licensed non-Enterprise Windows 7 SP1,
Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 users, respectively..
There’ll also be a number of other editions, including Windows 10 Enterprise (built on the Pro version), Windows 10 Education (built on Enterprise) and Windows 10 Mobile Enterprise (tinyurl.com/oedx95d)..
As for how it works and performs, we’ll start with the obvious first. Keeping in mind that we’re working off the latest Windows 10 Preview Build 10159 we had available and not final-release code, we think the Start menu looks great, but has lost some of its configurability. For example, in earlier Preview builds, you could choose to add the Control Panel to the left-side Start menu list. But as Start’s Settings controls have been progressively ‘Modern’-ised, adding the Control Panel seems no longer an option..
Also, the ‘Taskbar and Start Menu Properties’ applet no longer has Start Menu options. And surprisingly, right-click on File Explorer in the Start list, select Properties and it launches the Control Panel’s System applet — not something we would’ve picked..
Microsoft has been continuously tweaking the Start menu throughout the Preview Builds process, so we’ll be surprised if there aren’t more changes before the final-release. However, the fact the Start icon no longer sends you out to the Modern UI galaxy is definitely the right move. Combined with new Tablet Mode, it puts choice back into the user’s hands and that’s exactly what you want..
The new web browser and its new lean Trident-esque render engine have definitely found a yard or two of pace and now more-or-less match the latest Firefox and Chrome releases on our testing. We can see the value of Web Notes, and as of Build 10158, it’s now working on every web site we tried. It’s a cool feature, although we’d like to have greater choice in where Web Notes are stored, rather than just the browser Favourites folder. As of 10159, a fair chunk of Edge’s Settings panel, including F12 developer options, are still greyed out..
However, it’s clear Edge has been dunked solidly in the ‘Modern UI’ bucket and will take some getting used to for those with Internet Explorer leanings. Otherwise, Internet Explorer 11 is still included in Windows 10, but since it’s no longer the default browser, you have to go looking for it (Try ‘Start > Windows Accessories’)..
Windows 10’s new voice-recognition digital assistant from Windows Phone has been a bit up and down in the preview builds — good in 10130, slow and buggy in 10158 and back to good again in 10159. In this latest build, it’s now much faster, whether you’re asking it the time of day in Sydney, to ‘tell me a joke’ or to open an app. The configuration options are good, but right-clicking on the search bar no longer provides a quick-link to Settings (you now have to use the unintuitive Notebook/Settings menu one-two)..
We’re stuck with tech demo previews for now, but DirectX 12 is still shaping up as one of the most signifi cant releases in years. The three killer features for us are better access to lower-level GPU coding, which in turn, is delivering better performance from the same silicon, plus more efficient coding leading to lower power consumption (and better battery life) and finally, ‘Multiadapter’ that enables discrete and integrated GPUs to work together. Some of the effects we’ve seen, like ray-traced shadows in recent Nvidia demos, look sensational. Like all other new DX releases, it’ll likely take some time before we see DX12 delivering its full potential, as game developers pick their way through the new additions. But it’s clear they now have lots of new toys in the cupboard to play with..
You’ll need to grab an Nvidia Kepler (GeForce 600) or AMD Radeon 7000-grade GPU to gain full benefit (reportedly less on Xbox One), although Nvidia also says older Fermi-class GPUs will be supported later. But given we’re not talking brand-new silicon here, that’s still an excellent result, bringing the latest gaming capabilities to older systems..
When you’re invited to a free upgrade of a new operating system, you’re probably not expecting to lose functionality from your existing system, yet take up the free Windows 10 offer and that’s exactly what you could get..
For starters, Microsoft has given Windows Media Center the axe for Windows 10 — in fact, Windows 10 doesn’t even come with DVD movie playback capabilities. It also means if you’re using your Windows 7 or 8 PC as a home theatre setup with Media Center and DVD movie playback — even if you’ve paid for the Pro pack in Windows 8 to get Media Center — upgrade and those features disappear. There are numerous free alternatives for Media Center — we suggest Kodi (kodi.tv) or MediaPortal (team-mediaportal.com) for starters — and DVD movie playback can be restored with VLC Media Player (videolan.org). At this stage, Microsoft has intimated it will provide a DVD playback option sometime after Windows 10 launches — most likely at a small cost. But for those who paid extra for Windows Media Center, it’s hardly the best solution. However, it’s probably a good lesson in the long-term wisdom of finding your own third-party software solutions rather than relying on in-OS bundled apps..
There’s something else making us wince and it has to do with rumoured plans for Windows Update. For those in the Insider Program, all updates are compulsory, sensibly for a beta program. However, there is growing speculation Windows 10 Home users — and possibly Pro users — will also have to cop all updates, whether they like it or not..
What’s partially responsible for the angst is Microsoft’s Windows 10 specifications page, which, under ‘feature deprecation’, lists ‘Windows 10 Home users will have updates from Windows Update automatically available’ (tinyurl.com/pql9fs2). It goes without saying every Windows 10 user will have Windows Updates available, but ‘automatically available’? And why only Windows 10 Home users? And why list it under ‘feature deprecation’? The page caveats the OS specs as for a ‘pre-release’ version of Windows, but the Windows 10 Pro Preview also has compulsory updates, so singling out Home doesn’t make sense. However, the answer might have come in a Microsoft blog post intended for enterprise customers (tinyurl.com/nzakzne). Here, Microsoft’s Jim Alkove says to enterprise buyers that they’ll be able to receive feature updates ‘after their quality and application compatibility has been assessed in the consumer market’. Now apart from sounding like consumers are to become Microsoft ‘bug-bait’, is that assessment possible, thanks to those compulsory updates? If it’s all true, it’s quite staggering and you can’t help wanting to brace for impact. Many of us have Windows updates on ‘automatic’, sure, but seemingly having ‘Hobson’s choice’ in joining the Microsoft testing ground doesn’t exactly give me the warm-and-fuzzies..
While the free upgrade offer is tempting, here’s why we’ll hold off for a month or so. First, once you upgrade, if or how you can revert back to your old OS isn’t certain. The Windows 10 Preview includes a rollback feature to recover your old OS from the point of Preview installation (tinyurl.com/pw7rfqt), but without certainty of final-release code, there are no guarantees..
Next, Windows 10 is such a monumental shift in core design, it’s hard to believe every app you own will install or continue to run perfectly on this new OS. We’d certainly hold off switching over production or mission critical systems until this new OS has been in the wild for a bit and had time for the paint to dry..
Then there’s device drivers — the extent to which device support is carried over from previous Windows releases is unknown. Depending on the level of changes within the Windows core, it’s possible that some legacy peripheral devices might be no longer supported. There’s also the issue of device driver availability for current generation peripherals. You should check that Windows 10 drivers exist for your gear before jumping head-long into the upgrade nettles..
And finally, there’s all the ‘how-do-you-do’ with Windows Updates, something we need Microsoft to explain much more clearly..
In fact, we recommend you first run the Preview OS either on spare kit or alternatively, as a virtual machine in something like VMware Player 7.1.2, get a feel for it, install all your must-have software and make sure it all works before you commit. That’s our plan..
Don’t get us wrong — it looks great and has some killer new tech, but give it time for the gremlins to be rounded up before you sign on the dotted line.