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Windows 10 - initial install upgrades

Alastair Grant | Friday 31 July 2015

So Windows 10 is finally upon us. I often pick up the early builds of an OS to try it out, but this time I really couldn't be bothered. I guess old-age has provided me with an apathy for Microsoft builds. It no longer seems new and exciting but more an inconvenience. This perhaps is a good sign that the operating system has matured.

In reality, I think it's more than I have lost faith in Microsoft to bring some innovation to the desktop. The tablet styling of Windows 8 has been pretty much universally agreed as a failure - something I think is a shame as I've long thought that the Start Menu should be a full-screen affair. Cramming everything into that small menu just doesn't seem to make any sort of UX sense. But I was expecting something more akin to Gnome 3.

Windows 10 reintroduces the Start Menu (instead of Screen); but in a bid to hold on to live tiles as the main feature, crammed all the normal icons into a small list - but at least now you can have sub-menus. A full-screen menu with support for small icons with jump-lists and submenus would have been so much more useful - but hey, here we are.

So how was the experience for me? Woeful. I downloaded the ISO from Microsoft to save having to wait for it to trickle down through Windows Update, burnt it to a DVD and when about the upgrade. If failed on the first two attempts with an obscure SAFE_BOOT or similar message with a generic hex error code that Google suggest is the standard "Your windows upgrade has failed" code for every previous version of Windows. I narrowed this down to a failing Windows Update on the existing install.

I then settled into an evening of hung installations and hard-reboots. For some unknown reason the installer would hang on a reboot without any useful feedback, after leaving it for a suitably long time a hard-reboot would be required. And I have to say that the team the developed the installer should be credit for how well it handled rollbacks. I would be dumped back into my Windows 8.1 desktop as if nothing had happened, albeit with an utterly useless error code. Still, on one of my many attempts and many hard-reboots the installer actually finished and I have been dumped into Windows 10 world.

Windows 10 does one thing well, highlight how the home-technology industry has changed. The install options are no longer about how you'd like to partition your drive (I don't even recall seeing that as an option) but how you want your advertising ID shared. Sure it's a free upgrade, but it's not a free product, I'm not sure I like this brave new post-Google world where it's all about interfering with you and what you're doing. If Valve are successful with SteamOS I don't fancy Microsoft's chances of keeping Windows on my desktop.

The experience is still all over the place, some features and settings are in new RT style application screens and others are the same-old, same-old. You still have to know how to get to the Control Panel, you just need to be aware that not everything is there any more. I still chuckle that the driver install dialogue is still something straight out of Windows 95 asking me for my A: drive (that'll be your floppy disk drive).

Putting aside the fragmented OS aside; we also have updated applications bundled in. Edge has replaced IE as the default browser (but the latter is still there). It seems nice enough, but already I've found it struggles with presenting SSL certificate information and seems to fall apart completely with digest HTTP authentication - forcing me to fall back to IE. Mail works, just about, it gets my IMAP mail, but the settings are all around polling, so no indication whether it accepts push. Sub-folders aren't visible by default, so if you have unread mail in other folders, you have to go through a few clicks before you can check. There is no support for S/MIME (not that many people use that these day) but more critically, there doesn't appear to be a way of plugging it into my LDAP address book. So all in all, it's a long way behind Netscape's 1997 Communicator product for functionality - apparently I'm not embracing the modern way of computing.

Hopefully it won't take me too long to wade through the reams of unsupported devices on my obscure "Sony" laptop and find or hack about some drivers. And I'm sure it won't be too long before an update is released to allow my track-pad to continue to work after the system goes to sleep.

Major reasons to upgrade are - they'll stop updating Windows 7/8 eventually; they're not releasing DirectX 12 for Windows 8; the command prompt window can now be maximised.

Now my upgrade has been done, I should be able to install from a CD from scratch - the installer will ask for a CD key, but the only one I have is the Windows 7 key that I used originally before updating to 8 and now 10. My searching on the Internet suggests that this doesn't matter and it's now keyless. You can skip entering the CD key and just install, as your computer has already been activiated, Microsoft will have a record of it's hardware ID and just activate it anyway - this kind of makes sense, but pushes further the tying of your key to a piece of hardware. If you want to change the hardware or move it to another computer with a non-OEM license, you no longer have a key that you can show you've paid for the product. It'll be interesting to see how this gets dealt with in the future.

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