I have a bunch of Mac minis here at Camp David. In almost all cases, I bought the server version, which ships with space for two laptop-size hard drives. The reason is simple: I put Windows on one drive and OS X on the other.
This, in turn, gives me a collection of highly versatile, small, easy-to-store machines that I can use for pretty much any application. For the kind of work I do, that flexibility is very helpful.
One such machine has been operating in OS X mode as a scanning station. The particulars of why it was in OS X mode and was being used for the scanning project aren't relevant to our discussion. The salient fact is that the scanning project is over, and I have another project that needs a Windows box. This Mac mini will serve my needs admirably.
Before I go on, I should point out that I'm differentiating here between Windows running natively in its own BootCamp partition from Windows running in a VM like Parallels. I use Parallels a lot for my main desktop, but there are often times that running native Windows on the hardware works best. That's why I'm talking about dual partition and not VM.
For example, the machine I'm setting up will be a hard drive processing station (for scanning, importing, and eventually nuking hard drives). Running all of that through a virtual machine is slower and substantially less reliable.
In any case, I set BootCamp to boot off the Windows partition, which hadn't been booted since last summer. I booted into Windows. Wow, was it slow. I'd forgotten that this was the one Mac mini I'd cheaped out on and ordered with 5400 RPM drives.
While OS X wasn't particularly sluggish on these drives, Windows 8.1 was dog slow. It took literally fifteen minutes for the system to fully boot up. After that, performance was adequate, but any reboot would start the cycle over again.
Then there were the updates. Having not booted this machine since around August or so, Windows 8.1 required 267 updates. It took two days for this machine to complete its update cycle. Thankfully I wasn't in much of a rush.
Up until last month, I'd been hesitating to update my machines to Windows 10. Most of my machines were rock solid, and I just didn't want to take a chance of introducing any new variables that might cause trouble. But when one of my boxes got cranky anyway, I updated it. With the exception of an out-of-date application causing confusion, I've had no problems.
I've even been able to stop using Start8 (sorry, Stardock!), and just use the Windows 10 Start menu and screen. Much to my great surprise, I found them efficient and pleasant to use. In short, Windows 10 has been a really benign, decent upgrade.
In thinking about where to take this soon-to-be drive processing machine, I thought about leaving it at 8.1, but realized it might be worth trying to move it to Windows 10. I wasn't sure how BootCamp would behave, because, after all, I was trying to install Windows on an old Mac. Although I've had a lot of luck using Mac minis as Windows machines, I still didn't know if there would be Windows 10 issues. Since this was not a rush project, I figured it was worth the experiment.
I had far less trouble installing Windows 10 on the Mac mini than I did on my old Windows 7 laptop. In fact, I had no trouble. No weird hoops. No start and stop of anything. I just hit the install button, let it run for an hour with a reboot, and I was up and running.
A few months ago, my ZDNet buddy Adrian Kingsley-Hughes wrote that Windows 10 works great on older machines, but that article had slipped my mind -- until I rebooted the Mac mini. Those 5400 RPM drives that made Windows 8.1 so incredibly slow on boot up? Not a problem.
The Windows 10 reboot went quickly, without any of the problems that used to dog this machine. I couldn't really believe it, so I rebooted a few times just for kicks. Each time, boot up was quick, and the machine was usable almost immediately.
This got me thinking about upgrading my other Windows 8.1 installs. Microsoft is now saying that free upgrades to Windows 10 will end on July 29. After that, home installs will cost $119.
Frankly, I'm not convinced this is to Microsoft's benefit. I predict that after they start charging for upgrades, reticent users won't rush to upgrade the older machines Microsoft is desperate to make current. But that's Redmond's decision.
I don't have nearly the experience with Windows 10 that Ed Bott has, but I can say that in my recent experience with the latest Microsoft OS, there seems to be no good reason to remain using Windows 8 or 8.1. Windows 7 is a different matter, because some systems are just so well suited to Windows 7 that it makes sense to keep running them to end-of-life on Windows 7.
Windows 8 and 8.1 don't bring anything to the table that Windows 10 doesn't. They're much-maligned systems, fraught with controversy. They need hacks and add-ons to be able to use comfortably. Plus, given both my experience recently and Adrian's discussion of older environments, Windows 10 seems to outperform Windows 8 and 8.1 installations hands down.
Finally, last month I made the case that upgrades must now be done to avoid sudden obsolescence. It's not something I like to face, and I'm certainly no fan of doing upgrades, but I think that's the world we're in now. So upgrading from Windows 8 and 8.1 to Windows 10 is a wise move from that perspective as well.
Here's the bottom line: I see no reason whatsoever to keep running Windows 8 or 8.1. If you're running either of those operating systems, upgrade now, before Microsoft starts charging for Windows 10 upgrades.