Windows 10 review - A good Start


Updated: October 4, 2014

Good day, ladies and gentlemen! Exactly approximately two and a half years after the ultra-controversial Windows 8 Consumer Preview was unleashed unto the Internet masses, we now have the latest and possibly greatest Microsoft operating system release available for early exploration. Released at the beginning of October, Windows 10 is a hallmark version for several reasons. One, Redmond guys have skipped a number, golly. Two, it might redeem the company from the two and a half years of failure inflicted by the previous release.

Since my techno barometer is absolutely accurate, which you can now totally relate to after reading my Consumer Preview and Enterprise RTM review, my verdict today shall signify the market success of Windows 10 in the coming years. So it is quite crucial that you read on and see what I have to say. Right now.

Teaser

Expectations

There are several things we need to clear up front, to avoid confusion and fanboyness. We will start with the number theory conspiracy. Microsoft has decided to skip number nine, which could be due to compatibility reasons with Windows 95 and 98, or it just needed to distance itself from eight as much as possible. It does not matter really. Who cares.

Second, much as we have seen with Windows XP visual customization and then a similar process of making Windows 7 look like Windows 8, there ought not to be any huge changes in the way the operating system works. It's Windows after all. Reliably predictable. There are changes under the hood, but most people won't know it.

Still, I will try to address some of the architectural advances that make Windows 10 a whole new operating system, although, as some of you expect, the same way Windows 7 was just a somewhat improved Vista, Windows 10 is a much needed service pack for the catastrophe called Metro that made Windows 8 and its upgrade Windows 8.1 suck so much.

And of course, the big, BIG change is that the new hybrid Start menu is back. After it was yanked away in favor of temporary smartphone insanity, it's now once again as an integral part of the desktop, as it always SHOULD have been. I told you so, did I not? Now, let's get to the testing and exploration in earnest. You have probably seen a hundred reviews by now, but they are all tinged with political correctness, I'm afraid. Hence, this article.

Installation

I tried Microsoft 10 Preview on a T400 laptop, which has two cores, 4GB RAM and an 80GB SSD. Furthermore, we also get Intel graphics and Intel Wireless. More than plenty for this kind of installation. The system already runs Windows 7 plus this or that Linux flavor, albeit with less success than expected.

I decided to keep Windows 7 in place and dual-boot Windows 10 alongside it by destroying the Linux partitions and installing the new release into the free space. 20GB was sufficient for the process, with the final product, including all its little bits like Recycle Bin, Pagefile and the rest fitting into about 14GB of disk equity. No change from Windows 7 or 8.

The installation process is identical to all previous releases. Simple, fast and without any great configurations. There's a short post-install customization stage, where you can setup some privacy options and such. You can also connect to a Wireless network. Last but not the least, there's the user account setup. Unlike Windows 8, Microsoft did not repeat the mistake of offering only the online option, so you can go with the local one, too. Still, you will need to do a bit of mouse clicking. Slightly hidden away, in order to get people to sign up for an online account, but doable. Okay.

The desktop

After about 20 minutes, if you're installing from DVD, you will boot into a desktop. It's a pleasant, familiar thing. Now, I have always claimed that Windows 8 is pretty. It just wasn't functional enough. Now, the oligophrenic design has been replaced with the concept that should have been used in the first place. The Start menu is there, reliable and dependable, and tiles are added in the right column as an optional extra.

Desktop

This is a much better solution than the Metro flip turdology. You keep your desktop in focus, you can use apps if you want to, they all open with borders and resize/close buttons and they do not invade your entire screen. You can uninstall or unpin applications as you see fit. Peaceful coexistence, and maybe one day, you might even decide to try some.

Redesigned Start menu

Start menu, all apps

Menu, right click

Effectively, this means there's no more reason to use Classic Shell as a pure replacement for the Metro tiled screen. You can continue using the product if you like its features, but you do have the desktop menu, as intended.

You can also add new desktop, w00t! Something that Linux has had for the past billion years, now you can actually do in Windows, natively. Plus, the new preview deck of your open application and programs is quite cool. Tiny, incremental changes, all of which add to the general feel and usability. Nice.

Expo preview

Add desktops

Microsoft Store and Apps

Now, not all is golden. The return of the Start menu is only one part of the equation. The apps are still designed for touch use, most of the time, and they want to be online. For example, I tried using the Skype that comes with the operating system. It insisted on using an online account and converting my local one. I tried using the option at the bottom of the screen, where it says I could sign in individually into each application, but this also mandated an online account. Don't want.

Skype app launched

Skype asking to convert my account

I then fired up a browser and downloaded the desktop version of Skype. Lo and behold, it started without any great fussing, and it allowed me to use my Skype name OR a Microsoft account, but it did not force anything. As it should be. This is a big minus for these little apps, because then, there's little incentive to be using them.

Normal Skype

The Store suffers from the same woes. You can browse for software, but if you like something, and you want to install it, you must use an online account. Thank you but no thank you. This misses the point of the desktop. But still, one day, maybe one day, if I'm in a good mood, I might test this.

Can't use Store without online account

Search

The little search icon at the bottom is probably the most unnecessary piece of this operating system. It searches for things, but so does the standard Start menu, and I sure do not need the latest would-be updates from the blogosphere. I don't watch news for a reason, I sure don't want crappy boring updates in my operating system.

Boring search functionality

Multimedia

Almost like I do with my Linux distro reviews here, I tried to play MP3, WebM and Flash. Well, MP3 works out of the box, and so does WebM, if you have a browser that comes with the right codecs. For Flash, you will need to do a separate installation, but Youtube can still play most of the clips. Ergo, normal people will not be too disappointed.

No Flash, by default

Youtube

MP3 playback

WebM playback

Task Manager

The task manager is mostly unchanged. It does its works well. By default, the CPU was very quiet, and memory consumption is about 1.2GB on idle, but you can't compare that to Linux, because it's a completely different story. In other words, if you have 2GB RAM or higher, you'll be fine.

Task manager

Updates

This was one function that confused me a little, I have to admit. First, you still get two different facilities, the old classic desktop one and then new Metro-style interface, both of which offer the same kind of behavior. In this tech preview, you cannot change the updates settings unless you dig into the Group Policies. This is probably in order to make sure all testers always get the latest software and fixes.

Windows Updates, classic view

Cannot change settings

Updates, ready

Network configurations

Easy peasy. Both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks worked fine, and you can manage your access points like a champ, without any great hassle. This is another improvement over the previous failure. Makes sense.

Network settings 1

Network settings 2

Security

Most of it is under the hood, so not really interesting to the common user. I still think Windows Defender ought to be turned off, and you can actually do that here, unlike the previous version, again. EMET is also a part of the equation, so nice overall.

Turn off Defender

Feedback

Now and then, a popup might come up, asking you about the desktop:

Feedback

Other stuff

You also get a new command prompt, and it accepts desktop shortcuts. So not only has the desktop not gone touch forever as some would have it, the command line interface has been improved. What says you?

New cmd

Stability, performance & battery life

I have to admit that Windows 10 Preview is rock solid. Not a single error anywhere. There were some tiny visual glitches with borders, icons and such, but nothing too cardinal. Suspend & resume worked fine. The boot time is impressive and well under 10 seconds. Updates worked fine, as you've seen earlier. The desktop is snappy and responsive, and it is quite evident that Microsoft engineers have invested time in making it appear as fast as possible to the user. This is a very good thing, and considering the somewhat aging hardware, an encouraging sign.

Battery life is probably the best thing here. With almost 6 hours 30 min of time, this is much better than previous versions, which normally offer about five hours of juice on this same platform. Whatever changes have been done under the hood are quite commendable.

So yes, the big incentive for moving from XP to Windows 7 was 64-bit support. Then, from Windows 7 to Windows 8, nothing really, except the visual polish, which you could get anyway. And from Windows 8.X to Windows 10, battery life and performance. Good.

Battery time

Final desktop

With a fresh new wallpaper, it's really nice:

New desktop

New desktop, with Start menu

Microsoft, you da real MVP

Time for praise. I've spent the last two years blasting fury at Microsoft for ruining the desktop. Now, it's time to do the opposite. They have actually gone back on one of their key business decisions. Incredible. That is virtually unheard of in the enterprise world. No big company has ever admitted making a mistake, but Microsoft just did.

It does not matter that they are motivated by money. It does not matter why they decided to do this. They did it, and they listened to feedback, through their surveys and their pocket, and I can imagine the look on the faces of some of those smarmy marketing executives who are now powerpointing the crap out of what happened since 2012.

But seriously, this is really nice. Kudos, Microsoft. It does not mean Windows 10 is awesome. It simply tells that a giant managed to adapt and evolve based on the customer feedback and market reaction. It's all good. First, the whole world is not slaving after the touch moronity as some would like you to believe. People still care for real productivity, and it's not all about playing silly games on tiny devices. That's encouraging. Second, Microsoft did not keep on marching blindly. They listened. Great work.

Dedoimedo, you da real MVP

Another entity needs praise here, and that's me. I'm always right. Damn. Go back to those early reviews and read. Look back at all those fellas who said, change is difficult, you need to embrace it, and blah blah. Wrong. I was right. As I always bloody am. Not only am I the king of everything, I now officially declare myself the Lord of the Internet and Beyond, the First of my Name, the Protector of Bytes and the Ruler of Nerds. If you send me emails, you will have to use the prefix Mighty Sir. There.

King

Conclusion

All right. So what gives? Let's not delude anyone. From the purely technical perspective, Windows 10 only slightly improves the existing baseline, well familiar to the user since Windows XP, and even more so since Windows 7. Some cosmetics, better driver support and such. Nothing to be too excited about. Oh, there's battery life, and that's good.

From the usability perspective, Windows 10 has restored the functionality has been missing since 2012, making this a very reasonable and desirable product for those who like Windows. Your human needs are met, you have good looks and stability, performance and battery life are very decent, and there's a feeling the company is actually listening to its customer base, even though the enterprise pace of change is slow. We could say this is Windows 8 redeemed, we could say this is a service pack, we could say Microsoft has pulled one on us, and now we love what we hate. Perhaps.

It does not matter. The sum of all things is that I have felt pretty relaxed during the review. Things fell into place the way they should. Windows 10 gave me the needed functionality and speed that I demand. The system was stable and beautiful. It does not matter that it's based on a failure, because that's the whole point. It fixes the failure and makes it good. So I believe that Microsoft will recover nicely with this release, and overall, the desktop scene is about to get exciting and fun once again. Quite nice, and for that, kudos Microsoft. As a release, Windows 10 is a pretty good one. Try it.

Cheers.

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