Friday, 28 August 2015

Windows 10 - how does it seem so far?

Having been an IT consultant before I retired, it will not be a surprise that I was one of the first in the queue to get Windows 10 installed on my laptop. As no doubt other less technically enthusiastic souls will be considering it in the weeks and months to come I thought I’d share my experiences and views after a month of using the new version.

Firstly, the upgrade. I was impressed at how easy and clean Microsoft had made the process. You could say it is in three parts.

Part One happens once you ask Microsoft to give you the upgrade. To do this, look for the Windows 10 icon in your system tray – that’s the bit at the bottom right hand end of your screen. The W10 icon looks like a perspective monochrome picture of the English St George’s flag. If you don’t see it there, you are not up to date on updates to your current Windows version, and you really should be, as mostly these are about fixing security flaws. For more info, follow the instructions on this Microsoft page: Anyway, once you have requested the upgrade, you will need to wait a few days as Windows 10 software will download to your computer in the background. It’s about the size of a third of an HD movie, so won’t happen quickly.

Part Two is preparing for the upgrade. You should take a backup of your computer as there is always a small risk of things going wrong enough that you need to recover your previous version. If you are already backing up your files to the cloud (e.g. Google Drive, BT Cloud or similar) – and if you are not then you should be! – then all you need to do is create a ‘Restore point’. See Microsoft’s instructions here: Otherwise, Google ‘create a Windows system image’ and follow guidance. Note that a system image (essentially, a complete copy of your hard drive) will require an external storage device with as much capacity as your current hard drive usage.

Part Three, at last, you kick off the upgrade – Microsoft will let you know when it is ready and provide a nice automated process. Mind you it will take a long time: in my case a couple of hours, and you need to be around to answer the occasional prompt.

But having done all this, is it worth it?

Well, Microsoft claims to have much improved the boot-up time, but although it might be a bit quicker, there’s no significant gain. The home screen comes up quicker, but there are still things going on in the background and response times initially are a bit slow. Just hum “You’d be surprised what I can do, When I’m starting Windows” to George Formby’s well known ditty whilst you wait.
Overall the look and feel is a bit more modern and clean, albeit a bit too small at times (the slider bars at the right and lower edge of a window are quite hard to find and require more precision to click and drag accurately).

As with Windows 8, you have to work much harder on setting up the launch screen than in earlier versions, which were based on the Start menu or on desktop shortcuts. However, the desktop shortcuts work just as well as ever and remain in place after upgrading. You lose the ‘recently opened programs’ list – oh and don’t forget that programs are now called Apps. I find it hard to think of Word or Excel as an app, but that’s modern thinking. I would like a notifications panel for things like latest emails and upcoming appointments, either in the Start menu or on the desktop, but I haven’t worked out yet how to make that work properly. The available information on how to set up and optimise your desktop for your preferred way of working is pretty scant, even from the Googlesphere.
Then there are the new features: Edge and Cortana, both of which aren’t great at the moment.

Edge is the new browser replacing the late and not much lamented Internet Explorer. It is fairly quick, but spoils the effect by waiting for images to load before it lets you scroll. At least you don’t seem to get the annoying movement up and down of text as the browser rearranges the page to put images in, like you get with Chrome.

One issue to note with Edge: if you currently use IE, it will import those bookmarks. If you use Chrome, and you try to import your Chrome bookmarks, it annoyingly reverses the order of them. And once there, it is nearly impossible to change the order or rearrange them – for some reason Microsoft hasn’t put that facility in. I am still sticking on balance with Chrome and occasionally Firefox. Maybe it’s that Microsoft wants you to use Cortana to access your favourite web pages, except that...

Cortana, the much heralded ‘digital assistant’, isn’t available yet for UK users. So you can’t use it or try it out, unless you are prepared to set your Windows location as the USA, and accept all the Americanisms that go with that.

One last point about Windows 10 is that just like Google, it assumes the right to collect and use all sorts of personal data from your usage. If you are nervous about Privacy issues, click here for a useful TechRepublic article that explains these and how to increase your own protection.

So for an overall summary, I’d say make sure you do upgrade to Windows 10 whilst it is still free (Microsoft says it will be free for one year, so upgrade by July 2016), but don’t feel the need to hurry in the short term – Microsoft is still developing some of the features and there are rough edges. Good luck and happy computing!