Week 1: Start menu, Cortana, openness
Even though Windows 10 appears to cater more to desktop users than tablet owners, there are features that tablet users will appreciate. After spending a week with Windows 10, I found that there is lots to love, but the minor bugs continue to add up to a major annoyance.
Yet, a week in, and Windows 10 is now the default operating system on my personal Surface Pro 2 as well as a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Third Generation and Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250). These are some things that I’ve observed in my testing:
Let’s get «Started,» again.
Despite its early quirks – Microsoft rolled out a huge 1GB launch day update to address some early user complaints – Windows 10 feels familiar, yet modern. It’s a mashup of the desktop experience of Windows 7 with the modern oomph of Windows 8 that makes Windows 10 easy to use. I let my colleagues, family and friends play with my Windows 10 laptops, and there was no pause or hesitation when they picked up the device, unlike with the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8.
Part of that reason is that the Windows key and icon act like they do on Windows 7 by pulling up a Start menu, rather than taking you out of the desktop and into a new Start screen, like on Windows 8. When I upgraded my Surface Pro 2 on launch day, I thought the Start menu would be the biggest improvement in making my workflow easier, as I no longer needed to juggle between the classic desktop mode and the new Metro-inspired Live Tiles.
After a few days of using Windows 10, I barely touched the Start menu. It’s far quicker to use Cortana to launch programs. I can either tell Cortana to «Launch Word 2013» or I can type «Microsoft Word» into the search bar adjacent to the Windows icon on the taskbar. It’s easier than having to click or tap on the Windows icon, clicking «All apps» and then scrolling to find Word 2013 nestled in the Microsoft Office folder.
Cortana can also take you inside settings and search the internet. For quick web searches, rather than initiating my browser, I just default to Cortana for help.
As easy as Cortana is, she is still a temperamental digital creature. She can’t launch Word if you tell her to «Launch Microsoft Word.» Instead, you have to know, and tell her, the exact name of the app, which in my case is «Word 2013.»
Cortana’s ability feels a lot more limited on the desktop, especially if you’re used to Siri and Google Now. Both rivals are able to deliver a number of search results as cards within the digital assistant experience. Cortana, on the other hand, likes to take you to the new Microsoft Edge browser.
Even though Cortana could track your packages based on information from your emails, asking her to do that will just pull up a Bing search result inside the Edge browser. Telling Google Now the same thing on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Android smartphone, and I was presented with recent orders and delivery information.
Even though Cortana may not have the same polish as Siri nor the predictive intelligence and integration that Google has bundled into its Google Now search, Cortana’s quirkiness makes her feel more like a human assistant. Like a college intern who may not know her way around the office, Cortana seems eager to help, and her best feature is her ability to integrate context with people.
You can tell Cortana to remind you to send a congratulatory note to a friend about her job promotion when you email her next, or you can tell Cortana to remind you to send a scathing note about missing the last team meeting to your colleague the next time you message him.
I usually have Post-it notes around my desk with reminders to talk to specific people about specific things, and now Cortana does that beautifully. The next time my boss emails, for example, Cortana will remind me to update him on my travel plans and the events I have lined up. It’d be nice to see Cortana integrated with other apps as well, like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Slack, Yammer, HipChat and other communications services.
On Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone, Cortana can also activate these contextual reminders when someone calls or sends a text message. Hopefully, her people context will also expand into the new Skype and messaging experience that will arrive on Windows 10 later this year. The new messages and Skype experience is Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Continuity feature on iOS and OS X with Messages and FaceTime.
As long as you’re invited, the playground is open
Windows 10 also feels more open. The stock Mail, Calendar and People apps integrate beautifully with Google services.
On Windows 8, even though the Mail app was able to retrieve my emails from Gmail, the People app could not synchronize my contacts stored on Google’s cloud. On Windows 10, I had no synchronization issue with any of the apps using Google, Microsoft or Yahoo services.
I like how fresh the apps look, and Microsoft did a great job of balancing the experience of using these new apps for both touch users and those on systems with keyboard and mouse. The one thing missing from the Outlook Mail app is a unified inbox. Currently, I have three personal email accounts and a work account that I have to switch between. Fortunately, I can just open the Action Center and get all my different email account notifications in a consolidated place as a workaround.
Another good thing about Action Center is that it will provide you with notifications about new email messages, even if you haven’t launched the Mail app. Action Center alerts you of new email messages, like on a consumer smartphone or tablet, as soon as Windows 10 boots up.
Outlook Calendar works as described, but Microsoft still needs to unify the user experience with its other products. On the web, Outlook Calendar has charms, so you can add a picture of an airplane to your date to quickly identify when you have a flight when at a glance. That feature is missing in the Windows 10 desktop app.
Coming from Windows Phone, the new People app on the desktop version of Windows 10 seems like a downgrade. It’s simple and does the job of not only pulling contacts from different cloud services, but combining contacts. This way it’s not showing three instances of «John Doe» if I have the person saved in Google, Outlook and Yahoo. However, what’s missing still is the ability to see quick social updates like on Windows Phone.
The ability to integrate social apps is present in the settings of the People app, and I see the option to add a social account, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. I would like the ability to look up «John Doe,» and if he is connected on Twitter and LinkedIn, I would love to see his recent updates. This way, if it’s a client I don’t frequently communicate with, I can bring up some relevant information that he’s shared to break the ice.
Even though Microsoft has welcomed Google into its wheelhouse, it’s another story with browsers. Microsoft has made it more difficult to move away from the Edge browser, even if you have Chrome or Firefox checked as your default browser. Now, there are more settings and toggles to adjust before you can be unshackled from the leashes of Edge, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you want to give Edge a try.
I chose to not live on the «Edge»
The Edge browser allows you to not only take a screenshot of a web page you’re looking at, but it also lets you to mark up the page and highlight relevant or important information to share. It’s a useful tool, and it feels a lot like scrapbooking or annotating a PDF.
Another useful tool is that Cortana is deeply integrated with Edge. She’ll pop up and help you with store hours, user reviews and directions if you’re searching for businesses or restaurants.
However, currently, Cortana doesn’t support plugins for password managers. I use 1Password and LastPass to help save, manage and regularly change my passwords, and it becomes a hassle when these plugins aren’t integrated to make logging into websites secure and easy.
Hopefully, in lieu of supporting password manager plugins, Microsoft will create single-sign on experiences with Edge through technologies enabled by Windows Hello and Microsoft Passport. Ultimately, what I’d like to see is for Edge to prompt you to enter a simple PIN or scan your iris, face or fingerprint before it automatically populates your username and password for your favorite banking, email or shopping sites.
Week 1: glitches, tablets, conclusion
Fortunately, I have only experienced the Blue Screen of Death (BSoD) on Windows 10 once on all three test systems. And yes, there is a BSoD on Windows 10; it just comes with a slightly more cheerful smiley face emoticon that alerts you that it is gathering data to send to Microsoft about this unfortunate occurrence.
But just because Windows didn’t crash doesn’t make me feel less like a crash test dummy.
I frequently experience issues with the screen blacking out for a second or two on my Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) and Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Third Generation laptops. Usually, it’s a quick flash, but when it happens, I am never sure if the system just failed and crashed or if it’s just a screen refresh issue.
I am not sure what is causing these problems. The blackout issue appears to be happening more regularly after I installed VMWare, even though the VMWare program is not running.
Additionally, I’ve noticed that sometimes a black window pop up, and it would disappear as quickly as it appeared. As this happens so fast, I am not able to read the text in the window, but it looks more like a Command Prompt window than a pop-up from a webpage.
Poking the sleeping bear
As a notebook user, I hate shutting down my laptop. Instead, I prefer to just shut the lid and put my laptop into standby or hibernation mode. It’s faster to resume, doesn’t consume too much battery life and provides a better experience for my lazy self as I don’t have to re-open the twenty or so Chrome tabs and relaunch the eight running apps I have in the background.
On Windows 10, the resume from sleep mode appears glitchy. When I resume, sometimes my wireless connection would not reconnect until I restart my PC. Other times, I am able to launch or open anything pinned to the desktop or taskbar, but I can’t access the Start menu, and Cortana just hides and won’t respond to my beckoning cries for help.
Additionally, I’ve noticed on more than a few occasions that it could take two or three reboots to get my PC working again after a restart. At times, a single reboot would present my notebooks with the same issue, but restarting it for the second or third time could cure whatever ails it was suffering from.
Battery life varies between systems. My Surface Pro 2, with the Power Cover keyboard, gets about the same battery life on Windows 10 as it did on Windows 8.1. I’ve noticed a small jump in battery life on the Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250) review unit, which is a plus.
However, battery life on the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Third Generation dipped a little. It might be a little early to tell what effects Windows 10 has on battery life, and manufacturers are likely still tinkering with drivers to squeeze more power out of Windows 10.
Even though Windows 10 appears more tailored to desktop users, Microsoft made subtle UI changes that make the OS even better for touch users.
In the desktop, compared to Windows 8, contextual menus are now more finger-friendly. I’ve noticed that if you right click on the desktop, or long tap if you’re using your tablet, the contextual menu now has a little bit more white space between each line on Windows 10. This makes it easier to tap on the correct target, even though the menu is still text heavy.
I also found the new task switcher to be convenient. Tablet users can either swipe in from the left side of the display or tap on the task switcher icon to the right of the Cortana search bar. This makes it far more convenient than connecting a keyboard to use the Alt+Tab command.
I am not sure that I like the Continuum Start menu experience in tablet mode. On the Surface Pro 2, for instance, when I undock my keyboard, the Start menu goes full screen to make it more accessible for finger input. With this view, it almost feels like I am going back to Windows 8 and having a separate Start screen from my desktop. As a result, I just lock my Surface into the desktop mode and opt not to use Continuum.
Continuum will be a bigger draw for devices with smaller screens, like 8-inch tablets and phones running Windows 10 Mobile. Continuum will provide huge advantages for new Windows 10 Mobile devices with display-out support. With these smartphones, some apps, like Microsoft Office, will scale its UI when you connect your keyboard, mouse and display.
When you dock your Windows 10 Mobile phone, Microsoft said you should have a Microsoft Office experience that looks exactly like running Office on a desktop PC. This is different than connecting an Android or iOS phone to a display. With these rivals, you’re just getting the exact screen on your phone, except now it fills the larger display of your desktop monitor.
Un-dock your Windows 10 Mobile phone and you’ll get a scaled down UI with Microsoft’s Reflow technology to adapt the experience to a smaller screen.
Giving the finger
Microsoft toned down its use of finger gestures with Windows 10. On Windows 8, Modern apps had settings that were buried, requiring you to either swipe down from the top or in from the left or right edges from the screen. With Windows 8, a more unified UI with hamburger menus provide additional settings and information.
This makes it a lot easier to use Windows 10 as you don’t need to learn gestures or figure out where to swipe.
Despite the improvements coming from Windows 8, I am not ready to give Windows 10 the thumbs up yet. Early glitches mean that the experience is still not as reliable for enterprise users, especially for those who work in mission-critical environments. For consumers willing to bear the occasional glitches, Windows 10 is shaping up to be a great OS that marries the familiarity of Windows 7 with the modern design of Windows 8.
What are your thoughts, problems or issues with Windows 10 so far? Even though there were early problems with upgrading to Windows 10 on launch day, Microsoft deserves a bit of credit for a fairly smooth launch, considering the OS was installed on over 14 million systems in 24 hours.
Original story as follows for our Day 1 with Windows 10 experience:
Day 1 experiences
I took the Windows 10 plunge, and for the most part, I am a satisfied customer with an experience that I can call «better than seven.» But does Windows 10 live up to the hype that Microsoft created when it skipped a whole number generation, bypassing Windows 9 as it hopes to shed the negativity surrounding Windows 8?
If you’re expecting a «Whoa, this is brand new and different» reaction, you’re in for a disappointment. With Windows 10, Microsoft went with a more reserved less is more approach by keeping things the same, and that’s been my experience with Windows 10. Rather than reinvent the wheel, an approach that Microsoft tried to push on to users with Windows 8, Microsoft appears to be smoothing out the rough edges of Windows 7 with a more polished 10 OS.
I decided to go all in with Windows 10. After having tried out the Insider Preview on a few test systems around the office, I was ready to fully commit to the «last version of Windows» on my personal Surface Pro 2.
Once the install files are downloaded through Windows Update, the entire process took about thirty minutes. Initially, the update ran a compatibility scan, and alerted me that my hardware is Windows 10-compatible, which means all my drivers should work after the upgrade.
On earlier preview builds, for instance, the compatibility check found that a WiGig driver on my Dell wouldn’t work and I would lose the wireless docking capabilities had I upgraded to Windows 10 on a review unit of the Dell Latitude 12 7000 Series (E7250), and that a Lenovo utility was incompatible on an older ThinkPad model. This time, we’re good to go.
Next, the upgrade asked if I wanted to start fresh, migrate just my files over or keep everything. I chose the last option, placed all my faith in Microsoft’s process and opted to not create any backups of my existing files.
My most important files are my photos, and those are already backed up in the cloud. I figured that if the upgrade deleted my personal or work files, it would be a blessing in disguise as I could be given an opportunity to start with a fresh drive.
With a Microsoft ID associated with my computer, it took another ten minutes on top of the time required to upgrade, but Microsoft transferred my settings, apps and files over at the end of the process. To my surprise, my old desktop wallpaper even migrated over, but I opted to use the new smokey Windows image that Microsoft captured for Windows 10.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the upgrade process went compared to prior versions of Windows. When I migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7, I had to manually backup my existing files to an external hard drive, as Windows 7’s new system architecture required my computer to be completely wiped for the upgrade.
The migration from Windows 7 to Windows 8 required less work than the jump from XP to 7, but the upgrade broke drivers, and I had to manually hunt for upgraded drivers to get common peripherals, like printers and scanners, working again.
What didn’t work
Most things just worked. All my programs opened without a hitch, including Microsoft Office Professional 2013 and Adobe Creative Suite 6. This is to be expected, as most applications that work with Windows 7 or later should be compatible with Windows 10, with ‘should’ being the operative word.
I only had an issue with one program. My transition from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 broke Mediafour’s MacDrive 9. Since I work with a PC and a Mac, MacDrive allows my PC to read and write to my Mac-formatted drives. I reached out to Mediafour, and the company said that a Windows 10-compatible version is in the works.
To be honest, I wasn’t really surprised that MacDrive didn’t work with Windows 10. In the past, new versions of Windows usually broke compatibility with existing versions of MacDrive, and Mediafour has been good about upgrading its software. However, you usually end up having to pay an upgrade fee for the new, compatible version, but the price is worth it if you work in a hybrid environment of Windows and Mac.
New love for the old desktop
Microsoft’s most noticeable upgrade for Windows 10 may be considered a downgrade for those coming from Windows 8, but for me it is a joyous occasion.
Now, when you boot into the desktop mode of Windows, hitting that small Windows logo in the bottom left corner of the screen brings back a Windows 7-inspired Start menu. Gone is the separate Start screen from Windows 8 and Windows 8.1.
On the left side, the list of frequently used programs and a second list of recently added programs makes it easy to juggle tasks. You can also view all your programs and apps installed by going to the All Apps menu.
If you’re one of the few people who love Live Tiles and the separate Start menu, Microsoft didn’t forget about you. Those are still present on Windows 10, but in a more usable place to the right of the list of apps on the Start menu instead of on a separate screen. When you hit that Windows logo, you can jump to your apps and get quick updates on your emails, sports scores, financial news, and whatever other tiles you have.
This feels much more natural than the Windows 8 Start experience for me. Now, it doesn’t feel like I am getting interrupted with my work when I try to launch a new app or program. Whereas Windows 8 focused on touch, 10 embraces the old desktop again. Right clicking on the desktop, or a long tap and hold for touch users, brings up a list for contextual menus with more white space that makes these lists much more finger friendly for touchscreen environments. It feels less cluttered, too.
The windowed existence
Whereas the old Windows 8 experience launched apps into full-screen mode to make it easy for touch users, Windows 10 focuses more on productivity. Microsoft didn’t abandon its plans for touch, it’s just taking a more practical approach.
Those Metro or Modern UI apps are called Store apps, and those launch inside windowed panels that can be moved and resized across your desktop. It’s like Windows 95 all over again, but with a more attractive chrome design.
A forgetful Continuum tries to bring continuity
For tablet users, Continuum makes it easy to switch to a finger-friendly tablet mode and a more productive desktop mode.
Theoretically, on my Surface Pro 2, if I attach the keyboard, Continuum would automatically switch to desktop mode to make my experience easier for keyboard and mouse input. Once I remove my Type Cover, the Surface Pro 2 would switch to a UI with a full-screen Start menu to optimize for touch. Apps would also launch in full-screen, and Windows would show slightly expanded icons in the taskbar.
On my Surface Pro 2, this works sometimes. When I pop off my Type Cover keyboard, a small pop-up on the lower right corner – Microsoft informed me that notification pop-ups have moved to this location, rather than the top right of the screen on Windows 8 – asks if I want Windows 10 to remember my action for the next time.
Windows 10 seems to have early onset Alzheimer’s when it comes to remembering my selection, and Continuum so far hasn’t been smooth. I ended up just locking my Surface Pro 2 in desktop mode, so I don’t have to switch out of tablet mode if Continuum forgets that I have my keyboard attached.
Most of the glitches that I’ve experienced are on minor, but they’re still there. Sometimes it takes Windows a few seconds to be responsive.
I would try to launch an app or open the Start menu, and nothing would happen. I would end up clicking on all the apps pinned on my taskbar or the shortcuts on my desktop, walk away, and five seconds later, a cluttered mess invaded my desktop when Windows 10 decides to wake up and become responsive again.
Another issue that I found is that sometimes my Wi-Fi would not connect, or it would connect but I would get no internet connectivity. Restarting my Surface Pro 2 would resolve the issue, but I hate having to interrupt my workflow and close windows just to make something work.
The biggest complaint I have is that my Surface Pro 2 would occasionally not charge. I usually work with my Surface Pro 2 plugged in when I am at my desk, but Windows 10 would show my battery is draining and that I am not charging. If I shut down the Surface, leave it plugged in for twenty minutes and then power it up again, the Surface would register that it is charging.
I haven’t experienced this power management issue on hardware from Dell, HP and Lenovo running test builds of Windows 10, but on the Surface, it could mean that business users may arrive to their next meeting with a dead battery rather than a full one, resulting in lost productivity.
Another power-related issue with my Windows 10-powered Surface Pro 2 is that it exhibits erratic standby behavior. Ideally, when you close the Type Cover, the Surface Pro 2 would enter standby, saving battery life. After using the Surface Pro 2 for a full day in the office, I closed the Type Cover, and took my 1.5-hour commute home to find an extremely hot laptop bag because my tablet was still running and didn’t hibernate properly.
Smaller glitches include icon images not showing, brightness settings not saving properly and infrequent crashes when attempting to launch the Store app.
For me, the Store icon sometimes would disappear from my taskbar, but its position would still be there, marked by a blank space. It’s not quite as heartbreaking as Taylor Swift’s song of the same name, but the appearance of having a black, incognito icon is still as jarring as having a missing front teeth. The blacked out icon still works, and I can still launch the Store if I clicked it.
For Xbox One owners, the ability to stream your console games to your Windows 10 PC or laptop is a big feature. For me, it means that if my guest is watching television in the living room, I can still play my Xbox game in my den on my Surface Pro 2 or my Latitude.
So far, the gaming experience is great, and the few titles that I tried exhibited no lags or stutter. We’ll definitely take a look at Xbox integration more closely in the future with cheaper hardware to see how performance holds up.
In many ways, the Windows journey for Microsoft parallels BlackBerry’s attempt to modernize its operating system for the post-PC era. Both operating systems attempted to embrace touch by shedding the comfort of old ways, only to return to the familiarity of the past after user outcry.
For BlackBerry, it was the return to the BlackBerry Classic that satisfied loyal customers, and I suspect that Windows 10 is the BlackBerry Classic for Microsoft.
Windows 10’s embrace of the desktop, classic start menu and powerful multitasking capabilities will help Microsoft win over users again. After all, Microsoft’s new OS brought back familiar features of the old Windows 7, which proved to be quite a popular operating system in its day. There are still issues to work out for early adopters, but considering the sheer number of hardware that Windows 10 is designed for, my experience so far has been surprisingly pain-free, especially considering that old upgrades to 7 and 8 caused.
Be sure to check back on this post, as I’ll keep it updated with my experience as I continue to use Microsoft’s new OS, but for now, be sure to stay up to date with our Windows 10 coverage.