Windows 10 after one month: Hits and misses

Nothing about Windows 10 has followed the standard timeline for a new Microsoft operating system release. Even the FUD is flying faster than usual.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
Microsoft released Windows 10 to the general public on July 29. In a bygone era, we'd still be waiting for another month or two for boxes to appear in the retail channel and for PCs to appear on store shelves

That kind of thinking is so 2009.

In the "Windows as a Service" era, releasing software to the web is the new "general availability."

So what's the story, a month after the big launch? A surprising amount of sound and fury, especially for a midsummer release. In this post, I call out some of the hits and misses, with the caveat that this is all going to continue changing very quickly in the coming months.

A (relatively) problem-free rollout

Judging by my inbox and my unscientific survey of user forums, the initial rollout of Windows 10 has been smooth. Remarkably so, given that the user base is at 75 million after less than a month and is continuing to grow. Yes, there are bugs, but that's true of any point-zero release for a new operating system (ask a Mac owner about Yosemite in its first few months). The Threshold 2 release, coming this fall and available now in preview form for members of the Insider program, should resolve a lot of those early bugs, but the new features it adds will probably bring a fresh crop of brand new bugs.

Privacy paranoia

Ironically, a lot of the reason why the Windows rollout so far has been so smooth has been telemetry. Or, as a vocal chorus of critics call it, spying. It's literally impossible to deliver "Windows as a Service" in a way that doesn't involve a lot of information passing between Windows 10 clients and Microsoft servers. The furor over Windows 10 privacy is overblown, but Microsoft was caught flat-footed by the first wave of criticism and still hasn't figured out a reassuring explanation for what is, at its core, a perfectly reasonable design.

Maybe the biggest problem is that communication of these important issues has so far been done exclusively through legal documents. Privacy statements, service agreements, and license terms are almost never reassuring documents--they're written by lawyers to reduce the risk of legal action and are filled with scary language. Microsoft's business customers are used to that sort of language. Consumers aren't.

Device-based activation

As I explained a couple weeks ago, Microsoft dramatically changed the rules of product activation with Windows 10. Most people will no longer have to deal with product keys; the activation status for a device is stored in the cloud, making activation automatic even after a clean install. In the long term, this is going to be a huge usability success, although it's going to confound anyone who doesn't understand that Microsoft's one-year, free Windows upgrade offer requires that you actually, you know, upgrade.

I heard from one reader this week who was shocked to learn that his usual routine--wiping a dozen machines and installing a clean image of the new Windows--wouldn't work. He has a lot of work ahead of him, restoring those Windows 7 installations, activating them, and then upgrading to Windows 10.

Mandatory updates

When we look back on the release of Windows 10 in a few years, I am confident this will be the one feature that will stand out above the rest. The idea of shrink-wrapped software that doesn't evolve quickly and update automatically will seem as quaint as physical keyboards on a smartphone seem today. But given that roughly 90 percent of all malware today arrives because the target device is unpatched, it's necessary. Of course, making those automatic updates work reliably will require a lot of automatic feedback from the installed base.

Not spying. Feedback.

Seriously, this is how healthy, modern systems work.

Bandwidth woes

Throughout the nine-month preview program, every new build of Windows involved delivery of a gargantuan installer package, typically somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 GB. That's what the first wave of upgraders are getting as well. For some Windows users, that's not much of a burden. But slow Internet connections and data caps are still a thing for a significant minority of Windows users. Finding a way to deliver upgrades in smaller packages has to be a priority for Microsoft in the next year or so.

Microsoft Edge

This new browser makes a very good first impression. It's fast, it's clean, and it handles modern web pages that choke on Internet Explorer. If a page will work in Google Chrome, it will probably work in Edge. It's so edgy, in fact, that you'll be able to watch the live stream of Apple's September 9 product launch on Edge, but not on Chrome.

Some of Edge's unique features seem gimmicky. Reading View is nice but hardly new. And are people really going to annotate and share web pages the way every Edge demo implies we will? Color me skeptical.

The real challenge for Edge is continuing to evolve at web speed. There's a laundry list of core features due before the end of the year--with Favorites syncing and support for extensions sitting at the top of the list. If the Microsoft Edge we see in six months isn't dramatically more full-featured than the one we see today, something's not working.

The OneDrive reset

In a cloud-first, mobile-first world, Microsoft's gigantic stumble with OneDrive on Windows 10 has been embarrassing, to say the least. Suffice it to say Microsoft basically tossed out a year of development, maybe two, when it abandoned the "placeholders" feature that it rolled out with much fanfare in Windows 8.1. The new OneDrive sync client won't arrive until the fall (although Insiders should see a preview release soon), and no one knows exactly how the company plans to rewrite the sync engine so it can keep its promise to replace the placeholders feature with something that works on devices with very small storage devices.

Windows 10 Mobile uncertainty

How many reboots does Microsoft's phone division get, anyway? Windows Phone has always been one upgrade away from greatness, but it hasn't been able to make a dent in the iPhone-Android duopoly. Windows 10 Mobile is beginning to take shape and recent builds have been promising. But we're still waiting for new flagship hardware (coming soon!) and a stable fall release. The platform can probably survive for a few years as a niche product fueled by the energy of enthusiasts and a few regional markets. But it will take energy from developers to build Universal apps, and so far that energy seems sorely lacking.

The Windows 8 scrap heap: 10 features that didn't make it to Windows 10

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