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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Windows 10 - Why Bother?

Microsoft has decided to join Apple and Google in its control of users.  This, for me, is a great disappointment.  I'd like to say I would boycott its products, but I know that is not true.  Despite its reduced importance, Windows is still the only OS for PCs and laptops.  Sure, Macs are an alternative, although Apple gives you even less control over your system.   Much of what I dislike about Windows 10 involves its efforts to become more like the Apple OS.  There is also Linux, but the inability to run many of my applications in Linux makes that a nonstarter for me as well.

For me, Windows reached its peak with XP. This OS, which came out in 2001, was a masterpiece. The world flocked to its adoption because it was far more stable than its predecessors, had a good familiar interface similar to the previous versions we already knew, and ran just about any program ever made.  When Microsoft stopped support for it last year, there was great anguish among users who did not want to let it go.

Microsoft, however, could never stay with a good thing.  XP was replaced by Vista which was an unmitigated disaster   Vista, in turn, was replaced with Windows 7, which was reasonably good, very similar to the XP interface, but still gives me a great many problems with legacy applications.  In particular, many of my favorite old video games regularly crash on 7.  As a result, I have stockpiled at least a half dozen old XP machines (which you can buy for almost nothing today), so I can hopefully continue to use them for the rest of my life.  I don't use them for everything, but if I want to enjoy a game of Quake III or Return to Wolfenstein, nothing after XP will work properly.

After Windows 7, Microsoft jumped off a cliff with Windows 8 and 8.1.  These were complete disasters for the company.  Microsoft essentially tried to build a tablet OS for the PC, where touch screens remain unavailable (and unwanted) and where large graphic icons that move just hog screen space and distract the eye from what you want to do.  Microsoft also hid access to many features making them nearly impossible to find.  I remember my first Windows 8 laptop.  It took me over an hour to figure out how to turn it off.  I did not want to look it up since I thought it was crazy that such a basic feature was not obvious. I wanted to see how long it would take.  It was just that hard to use.  The market agreed with this assessment and rejected Windows 8/8.1 in a big way.

Now, Microsoft has released Windows 10 (formerly called Windows 9 while in development - not sure why they went to 10 for release other than to put as much distance between 8 as possible).  I have not upgraded any of my computers to 10. The first question I ask myself is why should I?  What benefit to I get out of Windows 10 that I don't have on my Windows 7 computer?

There is no "killer app" that I need on Windows 10 that is not available for 7.  In fact, I can't think of a single thing that 10 can do that 7 cannot.  I had hoped that 10 might improve on voice recognition, which is horrible in 7.  Alas, it seems just as bad in 10 as it always was, no improvement there.

Cortana received a great deal of hype on release.  The new search feature allows you to search both your computers and the Internet at the same time for something.  I find this to be mindbogglingly annoying.  When I use Windows search, it is always to find a specific file on my computer.  Showing me gobs of Internet results only wastes my time.  In fact, I often simply want to search a specific drive or folder.  I often want to search by date or some other factor other than content.  This seems impossible now.  I use Internet search all the time, but that is a completely different thing.  When looking for the answer to a question, I don't want to search my computer.  Combining these is beyond useless.  It is a huge step backward.

The new Edge Internet browser has also been touted as a great new advance. Sure, it's probably better than Internet Explorer, but who uses that anymore?  Most of the world lives on Chrome and Firefox, which as far as I can tell still beat Edge.  In fact, I still have a few Java enabled devices that newrer browsers won't even let me access. They don't just warn me. They absolutely forbid access, even though I know the device is safe.  Well, back to an XP machine running IE 6 for that purpose.  New browsers are no good if I can no longer do what I did with the old one.

If you are an Xbox fan, you may find some benefit to the integration of Xbox live feeds in Windows 10.  Since I've never used Xbox live and have no desire to start this holds no interest for me.  It can be a distraction for people who want to keep work on their PC and fun on their Xbox.

The biggest hype is the return of the Start Menu, which went missing in Windows 8.  For those of use who have remained on XP or 7, this return offers nothing new, just a move back to what we already have.  But even here, the new Start menu is not nearly as good as the old one.  The new start menu gives  you a Windows 8 style list of programs with large bulky blocks that waste screen space and distract the eye.  When I open my start menu, I want to see a list of all my programs, several dozen, maybe over 100, in a list that I can scan quickly and easily. Instead, I get bulky entries that waste space, forcing me to scroll through multiple pages to see everything.

So 10 offers nothing new that gives me incentive to upgrade. What am I losing? For starters, Microsoft no longer supports DVD movies.  These codecs have been built into Windows for many generations.  I can get a DVD movie, slap it into my computer at watch it.  That is no longer possible.  Yes, I can get a third party program that will do this, but that for me is a loss.

I am also a big fan of Tivo.  I not only have one attached to all my TVs, but I love that it allows me to download shows to my laptop to take with me on trips.  Unfortunately, my free Tivo Desktop software will not work on any version of Windows after 7.  So this is another feature I need to sacrifice.

There are a number of other old programs that are either not supported at all, or which require me to purchase a newer version. I get that change may require some of this, but since there is no incentive to change based on new must have features, I have no reason to go through the upgrade hassles or give up my favorite legacy apps.

Windows 10, however, does not stop there.  It makes a much greater effort to integrate the user experience into the Internet.  You now have no control over updates.  MS can update Windows whenever it wants with you having no way to stop it.  In its first few months, MS has released several updates that have caused problems for people.  Too bad, you can't uninstall updates.  You simply have to wait to see if MS every decides to issue a fix.

Windows 10 also tries to push you into using Bing search, for email and Office 365.  Using alternatives from other companies becomes much more complicated.  As a heavy user of Google's online services, I find this an unnecessary annoyance.  Windows is also apparently monitoring everything you do on the computer.  I get that Google does the same thing, but at least I know I have to go online to be public.  Microsoft reaches into my home and monitors even things I am doing locally on my computer without using the Internet.

I'm sure I'll eventually be forced to move to Windows 10 as support for 7 ends and there begin to be important new things which XP or 7 cannot do.  But for now, I see no good reason to upgrade anything.

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