Like most of the tech savvy world, I have been rocking with Windows 10 since early morning of July 29th. Well actually, much longer than that with the Windows Developer Preview. But until just a few weeks ago, the builds were so unstable it wasn’t worth talking about. Having setup four machines, resolving glitches (not worth discussing as they are all resolved) and doing a bunch of navigating across screens and menus, I think I am in a position to provide an honest assessment. It should be noted that back in 2012 when I jumped into Windows 8, I was coming from Windows XP. Aside from dabbling on other’s machines to solve a problem, I never got to experience the joys and features in Vista or Windows 7 on a daily basis. So Windows 10 is almost as new to me as Windows 8 was. Generally, I’m liking this new iteration. But things can always be a little better.
Let’s face it. The biggest knock on Windows 8 was the loss of our beloved Start menu. People couldn’t understand what all those big icons were for and the App list was overly confusing. Only days after setting up my first Win 8 PC, I figured out how to add the old Start Menu to my Task bar. Without it I don’t know what I might have done. The new Start menu combines the best of Windows 7 (as I’m told) and Windows 8. I like the “fixed” links to; Documents, Downloads, Settings, File Explorer, Power, etc. And I may even be able to get used to the Most used section. Launching All apps is really sweet with the ability to jump to an alpha letter quickly. The Tiles to the right of the Start menu list is a good compromise from the full screen of tiles that existed with Windows 8. But as you can only see them when you launch the Start menu, Live Tiles lose some of their relevance. I have already downsized the number of tiles I have on my Start menu, and expect to downsize even further in another week. Most any tile remaining that is not live will be set as Small (as long as I can recognize the icon), much like icons on the desktop. The grouping/labeling of tiles is a nice plus. Something I am thinking would be nice, but not 100% sure if it’s necessary, on the All apps list.
On my Surface, in tablet mode the Start menu gets a little silly. Not sure what all that dead space is between each group of tiles. I don’t need to see behind the tiles as all the apps run full screen. Hopefully, Microsoft will reevaluate Tablet mode and maybe give us 2 groups of 4 tiles. Hopefully.
The Yoga Tab 2 looks a little better. Note that the Surface 3 (10.8” screen) is 1920 x 1280 at 150% scale (recommended) and the Yoga Tab 2 (8.1” screen) is 1920 x 1200 at 100% scale.
What’s not to like about the world’s best personal assistant. Cortana setup quickly and within minutes, she was providing me with pertinent information and replying to my queries. From the weather, to Yankee game stats, to top local, world, sports and business news, Cortana has you covered. She can even track your packages (she’s tracking two right now after finding the details in emails) or your travel plans. And the more you, and the rest of the world, use Cortana the more she will learn. It’s gets a little scary when you think about it.
But all is not perfect in Cortana land. I got the below message at the office yesterday each time I tried unsuccessfully to create a reminder. Same thing happened today as I was writing this article. In Microsoft’s defense, as I was struggling to figure out how do a screenshot (worked fine on my Surface 3) I tried again and Cortana successfully created two reminders. One location specific (work) and one time specific (tomorrow). Hopefully they will work their way to my phone. Another beef I have is with Cortana’s connected accounts. Looks like she can connect to a school or business Office 365 account, but nothing else. Microsoft still does not understand that a.) not every business uses Office 365, and b.) some people have more than one Microsoft account. I would have liked to set a reminder on my office PC, logged into my business Live account, and have that reminder make it’s way to my Windows Phone , which is connected to my Personal account, but is used for everything; both personal and business. But that is not to be. Interesting how Microsoft makes services available freely to iOS and Android ecosystems, but limits their own ecosystem users functionality. Oh well.
I’ve never had a any issue using Internet Explorer, but it’s nice to see a refreshingly new browser from Microsoft. It’s quick to open and navigate. And the annotation is really slick. I mean, really! I sort of miss the Home button, docking me at the MSN page. But I do like the Favorites Bar. I still haven’t made a final decision on the Favorites pane, but for now it appears a bit too noisy. Maybe I just need to get used to it.
Mail & Calendar
Not sure what Microsoft was thinking when they created this new Mail app for Windows 10. The Windows 8.1 Mail app worked pretty well. If they just added a little Windows 10 polish to it, fixed the printing limitations, and did some other small housekeeping, it would have been good to go. But I suppose this is all part of the Windows 10 across all devices thing and Microsoft is building a single Universal app for; phone, tablet & PC. (Btw, the Windows Phone Mail app, also works pretty damn good today, although it does lack some key features). I have five mail account on my home PC. I have seven on my office PC. I used to be able to see at a glance if any of those accounts had new mail. Now, it’s not bad enough that I have to tap accounts to see my list of accounts. I literally have to open each mail account to see if I have new mail. Hey Microsoft, what’s up with that. And no, I don’t want all seven accounts dumping into Action Center. That could mean a couple hundred tingles a day. No thank you. But here are a few ideas. How about a “new Mail counter” on the little Mail tab in the Task bar. I would still have to hunt and peck to find the unread mail, but it would be better than searching for nothing. Or maybe this, SHOW A COUNT OF MESSAGES ON THE FLYOUT WHEN YOU TAP ACCOUNTS. What were they thinking. At least highlight in bold when an account has unread messages. Hopefully this will get fixed very quickly as currently it’s simply unacceptable. Next problem. Who decided that Conversation View was a good thing. FIRE HIM PLEASE! I will admit that a couple of my accounts do benefit from Conversation View, but that should be my choice. Not even providing an option to turn Conversation View on/off for “all” or “specific” accounts is plain silly. Btw, the option did exist in early builds of Windows 10 preview. It was for all accounts, but disappeared a few months back. One more little thorn. If you go to Settings and change any of your Account settings, make sure to select another Mail account (at the top of the dialog) before closing settings. If you simply click out of the Options screen, your changes won’t be saved. At least that has been my experience. I entered a rather long business Signature three times before I figured that one out.
I honestly haven’t spent enough time with Calendar to comment. But my first impression is that it’s clean and provides some nice views. I will need to spend some time with it though.
Why do all photos have to be sorted by date? Not sure what the Photos app is trying to do, but I see three Albums; Camera Roll, Saved Pictures & Screenshots. And another 26 dated albums below that. A few of the albums only show a single subject. But most of them are a mishmash of people, places, things, holidays, broken parts, whatever. If family came to visit the same week I broke the windshield on my car, may fence fell over in a rainstorm, and I took a photo of a part I needed to pick up at Home Depot, it’s all in the same album. What relevance does each photo have. And how am I supposed to remember where to find each of them. I do know what’s in each folder I put my photos into, but I don’t want to remember what date I took each photo. Damn. In File Explorer I currently have 53 subfolders in my Pictures folder, along with some loose shots. Shouldn’t each of those sub folders, organized with a purpose, be my Albums? The Photos app is all pretty and such, but I will be sticking with Photo Gallery and File Explorer for now. Easier to find what I’m looking for and perfect for quick crops and edits.
What’s not to like about Task View. In Windows 8.x I found the Windows Switcher action that was controlled with Win+Tab and added it as a Quick Button on my keyboard. I have searched, but haven’t found the LNK or EXE responsible for Task View. I know it’s in that Windows folder somewhere. By either tapping the Task View button in the Task Bar or entering the Win+Tab combination, all your open applications will appear on the desktop. You can move around them with the arrow keys, click with your mouse, or in my case tap one to bring it forward. It’s a quick way to bring up a screen when you have multiple windows layered over each other. I did some searching on my Microsoft 2000 keyboard and found an action called Instant Viewer. Not as clean as Task View, as it generally displays nine windows even if you only have four or five opened, but at least I have a Quick Button on my keyboard again. Speaking of Quick buttons, I was able to add WIn + A, to launch Action Center (sadly, Win + Tab is not currently an option).
Another nice addition to Windows 10. Information is good. And information that’s not forced upon you is even better. It’s nice to know that Action Center is there, even if your not currently using it. A quick swipe to the right, or click on the X and the notification is gone. This is one of those features that will grow on you over time. By next year we’ll probably be wondering how we survived without it.
As with all new things though, there are sometimes a few bugs. I don’t know if the blame goes to the Mail app or Action Center, but even though I have three mail accounts set to Show Notification & Play a Sound, I haven’t seen or heard much the past two days. Even though I have gotten plenty of emails. Not sure if all is working as it should. Something I will need to monitor for a day to see what is, and what isn’t appearing on screen and in Action Center. One other little thing. It wouldn’t be bad to see which Mail account has delivered mail rather than just showing Mail. Like Mail – Mob Digest would be nice. Depending on which account mail was received I could determine it’s importance. That may just be me though.
The first time I visited the new Windows Store I’ll admit that I was just a tad frustrated. Nothing was as it had been. But after some navigating I found My Library. And with another click, My Apps. Downloading what I needed to setup each of my devices was pretty easy using touch or mouse. All of your previously installed/purchased apps appear on the list as, “Works on this device”. They are sorted by date (there they go again with dates) which makes it a bit difficult to find a particular app that starts with M, for example. I do wish the option to sort alphabetically was built in. Further down the list you will find, “Doesn’t work on this device”, which in Microsoft Speak means, “for Windows Phone”.
As with the old Store, I really wish there was a way for me to hide from view apps that I will never, never, ever install on any device. For example, I still have to look at All My Storage (the free app) and All My Storage Pro (the paid app), every time I sort through apps. And then of course, there are the crap apps that you installed, tried for 10 minutes, and then uninstalled. I won’t bother counting, but between PC and Phone apps, I have to be over 600 by now. Possibly much higher. Of those, only about 150-200 are sort of relevant, and even less are installed on any of my devices. That’s a lot to look through. And I don’t understand what the problem is. If you unintentionally hide an app from the list and happen upon it in the Store one day, Microsoft will tell you it’s already purchased or downloaded. Or maybe a bottom at the top of the screen; Hide/Show Hidden (unused) Apps. Simply.
I suppose from Microsoft’s perspective, it was a good thing to combine PC and Phone Stores, as well as Music, Video & Apps, all in one central place. Time will tell if the changes were simply for change or for better.
I use the Maps app all day long at the office, searching for and verifying addresses for sales and service calls, and looking at properties to see if someone’s roof is a good candidate for solar equipment. Just recently, I gave up a little of my privacy and installed Google Earth on my office PC, as there are features like measurement, that Microsoft does not offer. The new Maps app has made some subtle, but important changes. For starters, there is a new Tilt 3D view that can give you a little more perspective of a property in Aerial view. Like verifying if a house is one or two stories. I can zoom and rotate with touch (something I can’t do in Google Earth yet).
Another new feature is Streetside, which is sort of like Google’s street view. This was a separate app, available as a preview in Windows 8.x. Now it’s a part of the Windows 10 Maps app. The below image is my company. FACT: That’s my old red Mercury Sable in the first parking spot. I haven’t parked there in about two years though, so it’s a pretty old image. I tried the White House, but could only get two blocks away. Guess they don’t want you getting too close. I’ve only been using this new app two days, but so far I like what I see.
Grove Music, Movies & TV
Windows Media Player, Zune, XBox Music, Groove Music. Please, just decide on a name and stick with it for a few years at least. Grove Music looks a bit simpler to navigate than XBox Music, which always appeared a tad clunky to me. I’ll have to get used to the circles for people and squares for things thing. It synced my music faster than XB Music ever did. And I am really digging the dark background. Creating a playlist on the fly is simple. I like simple.
The Movies & TV app looks equally simple to navigate, although that black background would be real nice. Come on guys. I do most all of my movie navigating on my XBox, although the app does offer a quick way to see new and featured titles. Might just compel me to watch a new movie tonight. The Videos section organizes my personal videos by Folder and alphabetically. Imagine that. Ok, I am offering to get the Lead Developers for the Photos app and the Movies & TV app together for a working lunch meeting. My treat, as long as it’s not more than $100. And as long as they resolve to do the right thing to that miserable Photos app.
So there you have it. My first four days with Windows 10. There have been a few hurdles with connectivity issues and other little niggles. But it’s what you should expect, force downloading a new OS onto your machine. Everything has worked itself out though and the next week will be dedicated to probing every screen, menu and feature that Windows 10 has to offer. Things look good, and as Win 10 is continually evolving, it should only get better. If you haven’t already updated, or are still using an old laptop that has to stay plugged in just to keep a pulse, stop your procrastinating and go see what Windows 10 is all about. This is the real thing. You can thank me later.