Thursday, July 30, 2015

Microsoft Windows 10 - What you need to know

Microsoft released Windows 10 this week, and although a new version of Windows isn't the line-up-around-the-block event it was when the Rolling Stones Start Me Up was used to kickstart Windows 95, it's still a notable milestone given the fact that over a billion machines still run some form of it. Like it or not, this could touch you in some way soon.

I ended up doing a lot of talking yesterday. I chatted with John Venavally-Rao for CTV National News (report video herenewscast video here, report starts at 20:00), spoke with Marci Ien on CTV's Canada AM (video here, web article here), did a live hit with Michael Hainsworth on BNN, Marcia MacMillan on CTV News Channel (video here) and joined Todd van der Heyden's weekly Tech With Todd panel (video here). I chatted with CBC Radio stations across the country, as well as CKTB in Niagara, NewsTalk 1010 in Toronto, and CJAD in Montreal, among others.

I had jotted down a point-form Q&A that I used as a high-level visual guide through much of the day, and in retrospect I realize it probably answers many of the questions folks may have about Windows 10. So without further ado, here's my quick take on Microsoft's new make-or-break operating system:

1 - Is Windows 10 a big deal for Microsoft?
  • Yes. In many ways, its success or failure holds tremendous importance for the future of the company.
  • Windows 10 must make up for the relative failure of Windows 8 to win over consumer and corporate buyers.
  • Windows 8 was a radically different beast, and it tried to bridge both desktop/keyboard-and-mouse and tablet/touch-based devices and use cases. The result was a two-sided beast that pleased no one.
  • It didn't look, work or feel like the traditional Windows users had gotten used to. Removing the Start menu was another big boo-boo. Would you take a kid's binky away?
  • Not surprisingly, users didn’t take to it - right now, only 16% of PCs run either Windows 8 or 8.1. Windows 7 is at 60%. Even XP - which was first introduced in 2001 and is no longer supported by Microsoft - still has 12%.
  • Worse, the market for traditional PCs - which are Microsoft's bread and butter - has been shrinking for years. The total PC market is 21% smaller now than it was in 2011, with no signs of a turnaround. That's because the do-it-all desktop and laptop computers that once represented our only way of getting work done are now competing for attention - and budget - with smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies.
  • So… Microsoft needs Windows 10 to recapture consumer interest to drive flagging PC sales, reignite interest in Windows and give it control over the next generation of PC users. Whoever owns the software through which more people go online can control the revenues - advertising, subscriptions, additional software sales, etc. - that are made along the way.
2 - What's new in Windows 10 that separates it from Windows 8 and 8.1
  • The first thing you'll notice is it boots into a conventional-looking desktop. You can still find tiles if you really look for them - hint, they're in the reborn Start menu - but the two-in-one philosophy of Windows 8/8.1 is gone forever. It's like the Windows 7 desktop got a fresh coat of paint.
  • There's good news on the browser front, too. Internet Explorer, the creaky old browser that we've all come to hate, isn't completely dead - it's included mainly to keep corporate folks happy - but for the rest of us it has largely been replaced by a new browser, known as Edge. The new browser is Microsoft’s answer to newer and more popular browsers like Firefox and Chrome. It’s faster, more secure, and it has some slick new built-in features let you easily mark up a web page, then share it. It sounds kinda meh, but it's a transformational way to experience the web. Edge also includes some trick new features to make it easier to read articles, which makes sense given how much time we spend reading stuff through our browsers.
  • Continuum adjusts the interface depending on what you're doing. So if you've got a convertible laptop and you flip from PC mode to tablet mode, Continuum makes sure you're not stuck stabbing tiny little buttons on the touchscreen with your big fat fingers. Less fiddling, more creating.
  • It includes the Cortana digital virtual assistant which tries to out-Siri Apple's Siri not just on your smartphone, but on your computer and tablet, too. Just talk to it - Hey Cortana - and it’ll do pretty much whatever you ask, from checking the weather to getting the day’s work ready for you.
  • If your hardware supports it, Windows 10 will let you log in using facial recognition - no more passwords, if you don’t want.
  • It also sets the stage for new Universal apps that adapt depending on whether you’re using them on your PC, your tablet, or, eventually, a smartphone. Developers need to get on-board, of course, but the promise of seamless services across multiple devices is at least there.
3 - Windows 8 was all about touch, but it didn't balance touch and conventional computing all that well. Does Windows 10 achieve a better balance?
  • No one likes all-season tires. They're lousy in summer, and they barely grip in winter. Windows 8 was like a cheap set of all-season tires. Windows 10 is still trying to pull off the all-season trick. It achieves it more effectively than 8, but even jacks-of-all-trades have their limitations.
  • Windows 8 tried to be all things to all people. It stretched so far beyond the traditional desktop-based way of earlier Windows versions that users were turned off. It ended up failing on all fronts. Windows 10 dials back the newness. The traditional desktop now dominates. The Start Menu is back, and it’s supercharged. The somewhat misunderstood Tiles are still there, but you’ll have to look harder for them.
  • All in all, Windows 10 does a far better job balancing the very different worlds of traditional keyboard-and-mouse computing, and touch-based tablets. It isn't perfect, but it's less maddening than its predecessor.
4 - Windows 10 is available for FREE for some Windows users. Why?
  • Microsoft is giving Windows 10 away for a year to anyone who uses Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. I'm willing to bet that after the year is up, it'll still be free. If you're not running 7, 8 or 8.1, it's available for purchase for $249, though no one with sense would ever pay that much. If you're already running an ineligible old OS like Vista or XP, your hardware wouldn't be able to handle 10, anyway.
  • Everyone else - namely Apple and Google - is now giving away their software for free. It’s what consumers expect, which makes it impossible in 2015 to charge for an operating system and expect anyone to pay for it.
  • Instead, you give it away for free so that you can build the largest possible audience or market for all the stuff you'll sell them afterward. It's kind of like giving away the razor for free, then charging for the blades.
  • Microsoft will make money on subscriptions, advertising, services, and other forms of revenue to be made THROUGH the new operating system. They just need to get us hooked first, in much the same way that Google gets us addicted to its online services, apps and Android, and then makes money through these gateways.
5 - How do you take advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer?
  • Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 machines are already eligible for a free upgrade. For months now, your machine has likely had a notification letting you know just that.
  • Look on the bottom of your desktop, in the tray beside the clock on the lower-right-hand side.
  • There should be a Windows icon there. Click it and you'll be taken to the Get Windows 10 app.
  • You'll be walked through registering for the upgrade - just provide your email address, then wait until you get an email confirming that the download is ready for installation. Warning: This could take some time, as it's a big download, and millions of users are hammering Microsoft's servers as we speak.
  • If you don't see the Windows icon, go to Windows Update to get started.
6 - What should you keep in mind before upgrading from old Windows to new Windows?
  • Although Windows 10 system requirements are virtually the same as for those suggested for Windows 8, some older hardware may not have the horsepower to run it.
  • If your computer is a more than 3 or 4 years old, doesn’t have a lot of RAM, free drive space or a fast enough processor, it may be wise to stay put and simply get Windows 10 when you buy a new computer.
  • Anything bought within the past couple of years should be fine.
  • Before proceeding, make sure your data is backed up. If you’ve got to deliver that paper to a deadline today and don’t have another machine, you may want to wait until after your deadline.
  • If you've got an extra PC or two and can afford to have it out of commission while you do real work on your primary, production computer, by all means download it anytime you wish and have fun with it.
  • If you have only one computer for work or school, you'll want to wait about 4 to 6 weeks for the first set of bug fixes from Microsoft to be released. Every new operating system has its fair share of bugs. It’s considered less risky to wait a bit before upgrading, as the OS will be more reliable once those fixes are available and applied.
7 - How are the initial reviews?
  • Windows 10 is more evolution than revolution.
  • It fixes most of what was broken in Windows 8 and 8.1 and finally delivers on the promise of marrying traditional computing with tablet computing, all in one operating system on one device.
  • If you've already gone over to Apple's dark side, it won't lure you away from your Mac, but it could be just enough to kickstart some XP, Vista and 7 holdouts into upgrading. We'll know in a few months if it's enough to keep Microsoft's stranglehold on a shrinking PC market in place.
Your turn: Will you upgrade? Why/why not?


kenju said...

Thanks, Carmi! This helps a lot.

Kalei's Best Friend said...

For the time being, NO, I will not upgrade.. I've had my laptop since 2008 Win. 7... have had no issues... I've learned upgrading too soon, usually the upgrades have a mountain of bugs and from what I've read, there's a lot of frustration from those that have.. driver issues, as well as the fact there is no start up like before... ( tho that complaint was a few months ago)... I agree w/you on your advice if the laptop is more than a few yrs. old... Will wait till I truly need to get a new one.. for now, I've got no complaints about the speed and have more than enough space on it.

21 Wits said...

I'll have to pass this post to my hubby, we were just discussing this! Thanks, Carmi!

Alexia said...

Thank you very much, Carmi.
This was really helpful, and relevant. I had already decided to stay with Windows 7 on my desktop, as it's now nearly 5 years old, and I plan to buy a new one in 4-6 months.
The info was clearly expressed, clarifying and confirming most of my own thoughts.

My husband's laptop has Windows 8, and we both hate it!