I like Windows 10 but I'm going back to Windows 8.1

If you rely on using OneDrive in the cloud, where it belongs, Windows 10 isn't ready for you.
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor

For someone who likes Windows 8.1 as much as I do, Windows 10 is a curate's egg of an operating system.

Windows 10 is a very good operating system. It crams in security improvements, especially for businesses, it improves performance, it takes up less disk space, and Microsoft has proved that it can cope with a fast pace of development by going from 'still really quite buggy' to 'pretty solid' in the last two months. But for me personally, and the way I use Windows, there are still issues.

The Windows 10 interface has come a long way since January this year, and more - but not all - of the features I rely on will come back. I still don't like the way the Start menu puts the All apps list in a tiny, cramped list with groups I have to expand to see where the Office programs have gone, but once I've dragged the menu to be larger and pinned things, I can mostly ignore it.

I can almost arrange windows where I want them on the desktop with my fingers now, rather than having to drop back to the mouse, although Office 2013 apps never remember their window size and even Edge forgets its previous window size and position after a restart.

Tablet mode lets me do finger arranging more easily. Today, Tablet mode is only two windows, but three windows will be possible in future, so if I give up the taskbar, I can have the Windows 8 layout I want - though that's a lot to give up.

I've mostly managed the switch from Charms Bar to Action Center by leaving all of the 'quick action buttons' open, even though I only need six of them - making them less quick action and more hunt-and-peck through the buttons I don't need. I still can't get used to touching a tiny icon on the taskbar to pick the wi-fi network instead of being able to tap the nicely finger-sized wi-fi charm - so I end up turning wi-fi on and off as I forget the button is a toggle.

Having to click the screen brightness button again and again to pick from the only four options it allows - and having to make the screen brighter to get to the dimmer setting I actually want - is both infuriating and much less efficient than the on-screen slider I got in the devices charm in Windows 8. (I counted less than 100 votes from people wanting the slider back, in the Windows 10 feedback app, so if you to miss the slider I urge you to ask for its return.)

I find the notifications in the Action Center even less useful than on Windows Phone, where they at least remind me to check Facebook. I have Outlook and Tweetium open so I can see on the taskbar when I have new messages. (I can close their notifications in the Action center but apparently not use them to open the relevant mail messages.) Similarly, the notification that Windows installed an update is useless because it doesn't take me to the details of what update that was. But it's a waste of screen space I don't mind ignoring.

Similarly, Edge is a lovely little browser with some excellent touches that reminds me why I use a Tracking Protection List in IE to block so much of what loads on most web pages (roll on Edge extensions, when I can install an ad blocker). Not having favourites or tabs sync from other devices (even in IE on Windows 10) puts a big dent in my productivity as I'm always jumping between devices.

I haven't found any pages that don't work well, other than Google Docs (which I don't use) and the Microsoft licence calculator (which I rarely visit). Reading view is nice and while I really, really, really miss the finger swipe to go back a page and the tab thumbnails that are in immersive IE on Windows 8, the Share button does a lot to resign me to going back to a desktop browser.

But I can't pin a tab to the taskbar from Edge, just from IE, so half the time I'm using IE on Windows 10 because I opened a pinned site. And I can't drag files into an Edge window to upload them to a web site like OneDrive, so I'm using IE for that. I can only just drag tabs from one Edge window to another because the target for dropping them on is tiny - and is on the left of all the other tabs, which is not where I want to put a new tab I'm adding to a window. Old to new should run from left to right, because that's what I'm used to.

I don't use keyboard shortcuts in Edge myself, but if you've internalised them in IE - where the menu keyboard shortcuts work even when the menus are hidden away - you'll miss them. What I miss is being able to select text and send it to OneNote, which I expect to see return when extensions show up.

There's a question mark over being able to pin sites to the taskbar from Edge because Store apps don't currently let you pin secondary tiles, but I'm told the feedback that this is a problem is reaching the right people on the Windows team, and many of my other problems with Edge are due to get fixes.

The Windows Store continues to be as unreliable as an unreliable thing, which is a huge problem for Microsoft. This is the way that the targeted billion users will install the apps that will show developers there's a market, so they stop ignoring Windows - and Windows Phone. For three days, the Store has refused to install any of the app updates I'm waiting for, despite me pausing and unpausing the downloads repeatedly, even after a reboot - and no, nothing else on my PC has had problems with the connection.

There are a few other things I stumble over - like having to hit Windows-R before typing a command I want Windows to run instead of hitting the Windows key, or the way Snap Assist throws up a bunch of tabs every time I Alt-Tab to an application. Seventy-seven percent of users currently pick one of those tabs to open a second window; but 23 percent of us dismiss it (according to the Windows team when I spoke to them just before launch) so why not let me choose to turn that off? If you want to get rid of Tab Assist when it pops up without losing the way your windows were arranged, you press Escape; I'm not sure 23 percent of people will have found that, so they may find it even more annoying than I do.

But, as I expected before I tried using Windows 10 as my main OS, it's OneDrive that's driving me back to Windows 8.1.

As with many things, I'm what Microsoft calls an edge case. I have over 100GB of files in OneDrive, including about 13,000 photos I've taken with a Windows Phone. (And I'm in the process of working out how to upload many more gigabytes of photos from my point-and-shoot and my archive of older but still useful PDFs, presentations, and other documents that live on a network drive, and probably a large chunk of music too.)

That's far more than would fit on most of my devices. The HP Spectre 360 I'm typing this on has about 40GB of space free from a total of 102GB (allowing for a recovery partition I might not need). Putting the entire 100GB of files on here would leave me no space for Windows itself - and no free space for the virtual memory that keeps Windows snappy.

And I don't need to have all my files with me; I just need to be able to get at them easily from the cloud when I'm connected, choose a few key folders to sync and be able to put new documents I open or create into any of the dozens and dozens of folders I've already created so they're always in the right place. In Windows 8.1 I can do that with only the occasional frustration (sometimes sync gets hung up and I have to restart to get it going if I can't find and resave the file that's unhappy).

In Windows 10, the frustration is almost total. Here's the specific sequence of events that drove me back to Windows 8.1: I was opening a PowerPoint from Channel 9 (Microsoft's video site); because the slides from the Ignite conference were useful, I wanted to add them to the folder I made for the Ignite event back in May. That's in a sub-folder of events, which is in a sub-folder, which is in another sub-folder - because I like to organise things. I'm not syncing any of the folders in that hierarchy to this PC - and because OneDrive no longer shows up in Explorer as a set of folders, I couldn't navigate to one of those folders to save the file onto OneDrive. The Save dialog in PowerPoint shows only the folders I have synced from OneDrive, not the full tree of folders even though I'm online.

The OneDrive web site can see all my folders, but Windows and Office no longer can; that's a huge step back for me.
The OneDrive web site can see all my folders, but Windows and Office no longer can - that's a huge step back for me.
Image: Mary Branscombe/ZDNet

This is a huge step back for OneDrive. I understand why Microsoft did it: To show the whole tree of folders and files offline, OneDrive saves placeholders for each file and folder. Those placeholders take up space and they overwhelm machines with a small amount of storage. There are also issues of making sync reliable when there is a separate file of metadata for each file. (Ironically, I've finally found a reason to wish that Microsoft had kept WinFS in Vista - something I never thought I would find a use for. It would have solved this problem perfectly.)

But as well as throwing away placeholders for offline use, Microsoft has abandoned the idea of using Explorer to navigate OneDrive when I'm online and that's the reason I was actually using OneDrive - because I could use it with a real file manager, not a toy web interface.

It's not even that Windows 10 can't find or work with those folders. I had a link to one of the unsynced folders in my PowerPoint history and I was able to open that and navigate through my entire OneDrive quite happily. It's a cryptic https://d.docs.live.net/ URL but for some reason, Office 2013 uses the local OneDrive folder instead of that URL when you ask it to look in OneDrive.

Yes, I could pin that folder in my Save history and use it to navigate my OneDrive but I would have to do that in every single application I want to use OneDrive with - and many programs don't let you pin recent folders, like Paint. I was able to map a drive in Explorer to the URL for the top level of my OneDrive that I extracted from the history and add that to the Quick Access section in Explorer so I can at least get to OneDrive folders when I'm online. But that's no help when I start writing a document on a plane and want to save it in the right place straight away.

That means my choices are syncing folders I don't want locally just to save a file; saving the file locally and remembering to open IE to upload it manually and then delete the local copy once I'm connected, which is unreliable; or reaching for my Windows 8.1 PC.

Like most people, I do the easiest thing. So until Microsoft brings out the promised replacement for doing something like placeholders in OneDrive (although not in the same way) - which might come with other updates to Windows 10 in late autumn - Windows 8.1 is what I'll be using most of the time.

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