Thursday, November 19, 2015

Windows 10

I'm writing this from a newly-installed Windows 10 system, on my only Windows machine. (It's heavily outnumbered in my house by Linux boxes and Android devices.) I've been running Windows 7 for several years, but recently decided to make the upgrade.
Nearly everyone has heard of Windows 10 by now. Microsoft released the upgrade this summer, and engaged in a media blitz to make sure everyone would know about it. There were TV commercials, online ads, news stories - all kinds of publicity. The biggest selling point with Windows 10 is the cost...it's free to anyone with an existing Windows 7/8 install, as long as you upgrade by July 2016. (Why would Microsoft do this? It's a lot easier to support a whole lot of Windows 10 installs than a more evenly split Windows 7/8/10 install base.)

The Windows 10 release has had to deal with a couple of controversies:

  • Privacy. By default, Windows 10 contains "telemetry" features which send a lot of diagnostic data to Microsoft. I don't personally have much of a problem with the telemetry, but I certainly understand the concerns of those that do. There's also integration with online Microsoft services, most notably via the Cortana assistant service, but I don't intend to use any of that. The biggest problem I have with the privacy aspects of Windows 10 is usability - it's a royal pain to find all the things you have to disable if you don't want to share your data (and in some cases, it may not even be possible). That's poor customer service.
  • Automatic Updates. Windows 10 doesn't give users the same kind of control over when to apply updates that previous versions included. It's possible to get around the automatic updates, but it's not straightforward, and might cause other problems. I wasn't too happy about this when I first found out, because I've seen my share of updates in the past that broke functionality on my system. As I thought about it, though, I realized that there are very few Windows 7 updates that I haven't installed over the last few years, and I can't think of any that significantly compromised system functionality. I still wish that Microsoft had provided more control features, but in my case, I expect that automatic updates aren't actually going to be much different from what I had before.

So why did I wait until now, when Windows 10 was released months ago? As a general rule, I avoid "point zero" updates (the first release of any major upgrade). That's primarily because those initial releases are usually fairly unreliable. Once that major upgrade has been out in the wild for a few weeks or months, there will be additional releases fixing various issues, and that's when I'll start to get interested. The recent Windows 10 November update seemed like a good time to jump in.

I also added some new hardware: a 480 GB solid-state drive, which was on sale at NewEgg. This allowed me to install Windows 10 separate from my Windows 7 installation. If something went pear-shaped during the install, the recovery process is painless. Of course, I could have chosen to overwrite my Windows 7 install via the upgrade process, but I learned long ago that upgrading an operating system is never as simple as it sounds. Driver conflicts, failing programs, massive disk space usage...all kinds of things can go wrong. A clean installation is a whole lot easier in the long run.

Getting ready for the installation was a fairly simple process: I downloaded the media creation tool, and set up the installation on a USB drive. I actually had to tell the tool that I wanted an ISO (suitable for CD burning) and then put that on the USB drive with Universal USB installer, since the media creation tool didn't want to recognize the USB drive. But that was a minor detour in the process. After I had the USB drive, it was just a matter of rebooting and choosing the USB drive as the boot device. (This was only possible because I waited for the November update. Previously, you had to upgrade from an existing Windows 7/8 installation before you could do a clean Windows 10 install. Waiting saved me that hassle. Edit: This may no longer be possible. And now it's back again. Not so smooth, Microsoft.)

The installation process was fairly painless. I made one major mistake - when it asked for my Microsoft account login, I provided it. That meant the installation didn't set up a local account, instead trying to link my Microsoft account to the local computer. Not what I wanted, so the first thing I did once the installation was complete was go into Settings/Accounts and change to a local account. I can still log into my Microsoft account if I want to, of course, but this way what I do locally is limited to this machine. While I was at it, I turned off Cortana.

The next thing I did was download Chrome - the first and probably last time I'll use the Microsoft Edge browser - and sign into my Google account, which restored all my settings and add-ons. Then I installed Steam and a few stand-alone games. That takes care of 90% of what I use Windows for: games and web browsing.

Over the next week or two, I'll gradually add in whatever I need to cover that last 10%, as I need it. But for now, Windows 10 is up and running with a minimum of fuss.

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