For Microsoft it is arguably the most important Windows release of all time. After 30 years, the company wants to change the game: new business model, new release strategy, new controls over updates. Everything changes.
All of which asks the question: should you upgrade to Windows 10?
Given the biggest headline about Windows 10 is it is FREE logic suggests this should be an easy answer. But it isn’t. 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.
Furthermore choosing whether to upgrade will prove a deeply personal question based on your own needs and concerns. So here is a breakdown of everything which has impressed me and everything that has left me with reservations. I’ll give you my own conclusion after that.
The Good Stuff
Yes, you read that correctly. Windows 10 is free. 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.
This is great news. These time spans fall in line with previous paid editions of Windows and whatever Microsoft has planned for ‘Windows as a service’ in future (subscriptions perhaps?), users can sit on Windows 10 until the end of Extended Support in 2025 without any worries.
The caveat: you can only upgrade to Windows 10 free if you do so within 12 months of release (that’s July 29th 2016). 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’.
One Windows To Rule Them All
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. Yes, the user interfaces may vary, but it’s the same codebase.
Windows 10 is the single operating system working across all Microsoft desktops, laptops, tablets and phones
This brings a lot of advantages, perhaps the best of which is ‘Continuum’ – Microsoft’s equivalent of Apple’s ‘Handoff’. This lets you pick up from exactly where you left off on one device and continue it on another.
In truth Microsoft is catching up here as Handoff and many of Google’s Cloud-based products like Docs, Sheets and Maps let you do something similar but Continuum also takes it one step further: a Windows 10 designed apps can run on any device. There’s no such thing as phone apps or PC apps, they are the same thing.
Obviously legacy programs are excluded from this. You won’t be running Office 2007 on your phone, but Office for Windows 10 can do this.
Moving onto specific Windows 10 tentpoles, the biggest is arguably Cortana.
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. Cortana also handles core commands like opening a browser, creating a new email, setting reminders or calendar appointments, etc.
Cortana brings Microsoft’s Siri rival to the desktop for the first time
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.
Read more – When ‘Free’ Windows 10 Becomes Expensive, You Must Know This
Technically Linux was the first platform to offer Virtual Desktops, but they have been popularised in OS X (Apple calls them ‘Spaces’) and now Microsoft is finally aboard as well. Windows 10 allows users to create multiple virtual desktops: this could mean one for work, one for leisure, one for holiday planning, however you wish to set them up you can. And it’s about time.
Windows 10 Virtual Desktops
DirectX 12 and Xbox Integration
For gamers DirectX 12 is perhaps the single biggest reason to upgrade to Windows 10. 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. Along with the usual clever visual enhancements of each new DirectX launch, DX12 is simply the future of PC gaming.
Windows 10 is also perhaps the future for Xbox One owners because it can stream Xbox One games directly to PCs and laptops. At this stage (and depending on the performance on your home WiFi connection) there is some slight lag, but it largely works very well. It is also a doddle to setup.
For Windows 10 owners this may even be enough to tempt them away from the PS4 to the Xbox One (though let’s not get into that debate here).
Windows 10 can stream games from the Xbox One
Despite launching six years after Windows 7, the demands for Windows 10 are not significantly greater:
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC
RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
Hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS
Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
In short: if you have an computer which is eligible for a free upgrade (more later on exceptions), there’s every chance it will happily run Windows 10. That’s no mean feat and it’s no doubt a byproduct of Windows 10 needing to be able to run on such a wide range of devices.
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.
Windows 10 looks and works like a hybrid of Windows 7 and Windows 8 and is arguably what the latter should’ve been in the first place. 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.
Windows 10 is a smart mix of the new and the familiar
While I’ve name dropped some of the biggest new features already there are also plenty of smart tweaks:
‘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.
I’m also a fan of the updated styling. 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.
The Bad Stuff
It’s Not Free For Everyone
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.
Firstly Windows Vista and Windows XP owners are excluded. Combined Vista and XP remain over 13% of the global PC market and anyone still running a Vista or XP machine is likely to have upgraded it during this time so it may be in a position to run Windows 10. If the PCs can’t then there’s no hit for Microsoft, but the good PR remains because the offer was made.
Meanwhile Windows 7 Enterprise, Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise and Windows RT/RT 8.1 users are excluded, as are pirates (more later).
Read more – ‘Free’ Windows 10 Is A Nice But Stupid Microsoft Idea
Easily the most controversial factor about Windows 10 is what you give up for the free update: Control.
Windows Update’s Nvidia driver update clashes with Nvidia’s own GeForce Experience update software leading to system instability and these contradictory notifications – Image credit Paul Monckton
For owners of Windows 10 Home (most consumers) and Windows 10 Pro (most enthusiasts and businesses) you accept to receive, download and install any and every update Microsoft sends your way with any advance notice. 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. It is actually part of the Windows 10 EULA (end user licence agreement) which you agree to and the consequences of this are troubling.
In just the last week a bad graphics driver and a buggy security update were automatically installed on millions of Windows 10 beta testers computers and caused repeated crashes on many machines without warning. If the troublesome updates were removed, Windows 10 automatically reinstalled them again.
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 canuninstall 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.
Microsoft has released Update KB3073930 which removes Windows updates, but leaves many unanswered questions – Image credit Microsoft
I asked for a Microsoft response about this, but was told it did not wish to comment at this time so the mystery continues.
Home Users Are Guinea Pigs
The direct result of forced updates is home users become guinea pigs as they cannot delay updates for as long as Pro versions and Windows 10 Enterprise is the only version which can stop them altogether.
Microsoft actually admits as much, promoting this feature to business customers in a blog post:
“By the time Current branch for Business machines are updated, the changes will have been validated by millions of Insiders, consumers and customers’ internal test processes for several months, allowing updates to be deployed with this increased assurance of validation,” explained Microsoft director of program management Jim Alkove in a little read Windows blog post in January.
Yes that’s a pretty blunt admission of Microsoft’s Windows 10 priorities: consumers can be testers for businesses. Which shows Windows 10 may be free, but it comes with a different kind of cost to the end users.
On the flip side current Windows pirates can sign up to be ongoing Windows 10 beta testers, which gets them a free, legitimate version of Windows but they then have no delay options at all. This means they (perhaps deservedly) become the first victims of any bad Microsoft updates.
Official Windows 10 upgrade details are still verbose and unclear – Image credit Microsoft
Unclear Enforcement Policies
Unsurprisingly the policy of automatic updates has led to a lot of reader outcry. Personally I understand Microsoft’s general aim: forcing updates on users keeps their PCs up to date, which makes them more secure and reliable in general. The problem is forced anything meets resistance.
To this end users have already talked about hacks to stop updates installing, but in April senior Microsoft product marketing manager Helen Harmetz said users who forcibly stopped any Windows 10 updates would eventually have their security updates cut off.
I have been unable to get a straight answer from Microsoft to confirm or deny this. The company’s latest statement to me was this morning: “Customers can expect us to take a similar approach with Windows 10 as we did with the Windows 8.1 Update.”
Taken literally, the upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 cut-off security updates within 30 days for consumers who did not upgrade (this was expanded to 120 days for businesses), but Windows 8.1 was a major update. If Microsoft is now adopting this 30 day countdown policy for every patch it issues there will be a lot of angry users.
Read more – Windows 10 Automatic Updates Start Causing Problems
Games like Spider Solitaire on Windows 7 (above) are removed from Windows 10
While these will only likely to affect a small number of users, Microsoft will cull a number of features in Windows 10 that were featured in Windows 8 and Windows 10.
Most prominent is the death of Windows Media Center which some users are wedded too and have already expressed their frustration in forums. That said the rest are less alarming and include native DVD playback (third party media players and codecs are widely available), desktop gadgets, USB floppy drive support.
Sadly natively installed games Solitaire, Minesweeper and Hearts will also disappear, though these should be available to download separately for those who love wasting time at work.
It’s Not Ready Yet
This will be a matter of personal opinion, but for me Windows 10 – good as the core experience is – feels rushed out the door. It isn’t so much a case of numerous BSODs (Blue Screens of Death), though I’ve had a few, it is about smaller glitches.
Right now on two PCs I find icons in the taskbar disappear, the Start menu occasionally refuses to open and there are several driver incompatibilities while third parties still ready Windows 10 support. Microsoft’s own new Edge browser is also mostly a shell at this point with no extension support and limited tab functionality.
Meanwhile Microsoft has already promised to release a major Windows 10 update in October (these are no longer called Service Packs, so expect it to be ‘Windows 10.1’) and the company has pushed out numerous updates over the last 48 hours in advance of tonight’s big launch.
Windows 10 will be great, but it needs more time – Image credit Microsoft
Windows 10 Upgrade Verdict: Wait
Historically the rule of thumb for new Windows releases is to wait. This lets Microsoft fix any major bugs that appear early on. In my opinion Windows 7 was the exception to this rule and was rock solid even in early betas, but the rule is back in force with Windows 10.
In some ways this verdict disappoints the tech geek inside of me. Long term I believe Windows 10 will be the best version of Windows ever made, it is certainly the most exciting and ambitious since Windows 95 – and it’s free. But it simply isn’t ready.
Furthermore, despite all the good stuff (and there’s a lot), there are numerous bugs at present and key questions remain over its automatic update and enforcement policies – especially when recent updates have causedserious problems. This is where the real cost lies.
So wait. I know the biggest Microsoft fans and those on the cutting edge will ignore me and that makes sense: they are prepared to accept flaws to experience the latest things. But for everyone else remember that eligible users get a whole year to upgrade and there’s no need to rush in with so many rough edges still on show.
Mark my words: Windows 10 is going to be great and you should eventually upgrade, but with a major update coming in October that’s the month I’d circle in my calendar.
If you have any queries/feedback, please write it in comments section below OR mail me here : Snehal[at]Techproceed[dot]com
Happy Upgrading :-)