Last week I handed over my perfectly working Surface Pro 3 to our IT department who upgraded it from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10. Here’s my report after spending a week with Microsoft’s latest operating system on Microsoft’s latest tablet/laptop.
Firstly, it’s stable. I have used beta versions of Windows before, from XP to Vista to Windows 8. They all have their own niggles, but Windows 10 is fine. I haven’t had a single crash, despite plugging in all sorts of displays, docking stations, printers and USB devices.
The problem hasn’t been niggles, it’s the huge inconsistency.
One of our Front End Architects at Endava, Rob, showed me the inconsistency between icons in Windows 8. The Start screen has flat icons. Desktop icons such as folders, are 3D. Then there are semi-transparent icons such as the Recycle Bin. Moving around applications such as Word introduces further types of icons – with a light, almost technical drawing style.
Windows 10 takes this event further. The icons are a combination of four versions of past and present Windows, but here we have two Control Panels – the Windows 8 and a new one. The Start menu has been redesigned in extraordinary detail, but every window has a set of icons for maximise, minimise and close that are so bad that I reported them as a graphics rendering error – Microsoft replied to say they were supposed to be like that. I’m not sure who is the most embarrassed over that one.
I like the notifications area. It has a mobile ‘feel’ to it, mainly because all major mobile
operating systems have a similar feature. The notifications area isn’t quite finished yet and some buttons take you to the Control Panel (the new version). If you are constantly interrupted at work by incoming emails, the notifications area will make your day even less productive!
I was looking forward to using the voice activated Cortana – the desktop version of Siri. However Cortana currently only works in the US. The search feature on the taskbar works well, although the facility to place a search box on the tasks has been in Windows for many versions.
In fact, search has improved across the operating system. There are many places to search for something, and results are logically grouped across Bing, documents, apps, photos, emails and so on.
For a while now, Linux has offered multiple desktops. Finally Windows is offering the same functionality. I imagine this will be a major usability issue (read: IT headache) for the majority of users who will be unable to find that program they were working on five minutes ago. At the moment, the ‘Add Desktop’ feature is hidden until you press Windows Key + Tab. Then again, it’s not obvious how to create the equivalent on Android either.
Types of applications
I’ve been using Windows 8 and then 8.1 for a while. I tried using only Windows 8 apps on my first touchscreen laptop, but they were so functionally restricted that I had to go back to the desktop equivalents.
Windows 10 now offers Windows 8 apps – now called Modern Applications – to run in resizable Windows. This means you can have Word, the traditional Windows Application, running in a smallish window next to Word, the Modern Application in another smallish Window. Microsoft will need to describe this very carefully in their product launch because it has all the potential to ridicule the Operating System.
In reality, Modern Applications can be downloaded to a Windows device and will then appear on any other Windows device you might have, because Modern Applications are device independent. At some point Microsoft will accept few people outside of Microsoft own (or want to own) a Microsoft phone, and Modern Applications are a solution to no one’s problem.
Real phone features
Last year the screen on my Samsung S4 smashed. My IT department gave me a replacement device. I entered my Google Account credentials on the new phone, and within minutes the new phone was an exact replica of the old one. If I were Microsoft, this is what I’d be aiming for in the Windows world.
Instead, when I switched from Windows 8.1 to 10, some settings transferred, but most didn’t. Users have come to expect devices to store their preferences, and this has been a missed opportunity for Microsoft.
Instead, Microsoft are concentrating on the superficial details of phone-style features at the expense of the really useful stuff. It only further plays into Google’s hands… as soon as I received the Windows 10 Surface I downloaded Chrome, entered my Google details and every setting, my history, bookmarks, all my account usernames and passwords were available to me. My web browser has become portable, but the operating system hasn’t.