​Windows 10: Finally a decent Windows first release

Vista was awful, Windows 7 was okay, and the less said of Windows 8 the better. But Windows 10 looks to me to be the best first release of Windows in over a decade.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

I use Windows, but I've never loved it. I'll take Linux Mint or Chrome OS on a Pixel over any version of Windows any day of the week. That said, I've been using Windows since Windows 1.02, and on the eve of its release Windows 10 looks to me like the best first release since Windows 2000.

For the first time in ages, Microsoft has a Windows that ready to run on first release.
15 years is a long time. XP, when it first came out, was awful. Eventually, when XP SP3 showed up in 2008, Microsoft finally got a good desktop again. That was a good thing because at about the same time, Microsoft released Vista, a truly awful desktop operating system. XP SP3 was clearly superior to Vista.

Eventually even Steve Ballmer had to admit Vista was a flop, and he rushed Windows 7 into production. Thanks to Steven Sinofsky, the first release of Windows 7 in 2009 was much better than Vista. In particular, the combination of Windows 7 Enterprise Edition and Windows Server 2008 R2 was outstanding.

Then along came Windows 8. Ahem. Windows 8.0 was even worse than Vista, and that's saying something. Windows 8.1 fixed most, but not all of its problems. For example, Microsoft, after hemming and hawing, didn't give us back our beloved Start menu.

So, as Windows 8 sales circled the drain, I didn't think much of Windows 10's chances. I was wrong. Microsoft, with new leadership at the helm in the person of new CEO Satya Nadella, is giving us a good first release.

Oh, make no mistake about it, the Windows 10 that will appear this week is a work in progress. For example, the new universal OneDrive cloud client is a no show.

On the other hand, we finally get the Start Menu back. As someone who really prefers traditional windows, icon, menu, and pointer (WIMP) interfaces I count this as a major win. Why it took Microsoft years to realize that people wanted their Start Menu is a mystery. The millions of people who use StarDock's Start8 to give Windows 8 a Start Menu is proof that many users wanted this feature enough to pay extra for it.

I've also found that I like the new Edge browser. It's fast and it's free of Internet Explorer (IE) clutter. Chrome is still my favorite browser on Windows or any other operating system, but Edge is much better than IE 11.

To date, I haven't found any IE specific websites that won't work with Edge, but I'm sure they're out there. For 99.9999 percent of your web browsing Edge should work well. That is, so long as you don't habitually open a lot of tabs at once. Me? I seldom have more than a dozen tabs open at one time. Some of my colleagues go to 30 and beyond. They've told me that Edge really, really doesn't handle more than two-dozen tabs at once well. I've never seen that myself.

Windows 8's built-in apps were dismal. With Windows 10, the Mail and Calendar apps are downright useful. In particular, instead of being stuck with Microsoft-centric services, such as Exchange and outlook.com, I can easily use good old-fashioned Post Office Protocol (POP) mail, Gmail and Google Calendar. In other words I can use my mail and calendaring services of choice.

I also like Cortana, Microsoft's digital assistant. It doesn't get in the way and it can be darn useful. It's no Star Trek voice-activated computer yet, but you can see it from here. That said, what works well for me in the privacy of my home office, may not work well for you in a crowded office. Your co-workers may take exception to you talking to your computer all day too.

Windows 10 Photos, a Universal app that should work the same on PCs, tablets and phones, is far easier to use and more powerful than I expected. Video? Well, that's another matter. You can't watch DVDs or Blu-ray discs on Windows 10 natively. Instead, you'll need to get a third-party program. I recommend the open-source VLC.

You'll want VLC anyway. You see while Windows 10 comes with a Music and Movies & TV apps, they're pretty bare-bones.

Windows 10's Task View of multiple virtual desktops, however, is darn handy. Of course, over in Linux we've had this functionality for over a decade and Mac OS X has had it for years as well. Still it's nice that it's finally in Windows.

I'm pleased to report that on my Windows 10 test PC, an Asus CM6730 desktop PC with a third-generation 3.4Ghz Intel Core i7-3770 processor, Windows 10 runs well. This system also has a Nvidia GeForce GT 620 graphics card, 8 GBs of RAM and a one TeraByte hard drive. This three year old PC has horsepower, but no one would mistake it for a powerhouse.

Don't get me wrong. Windows 10 is far from perfect. For example, it's great that the networking icon is easy to find in the bottom right corner, but why is the Virtual Private Network (VPN) option hiding inside the Notifications icon?

Windows 10 could have used a bit more time to bake in the oven. That said, unlike so many previous first Windows releases, this one is much better than its predecessor. In addition, in the old days, you had to wait months, years, before Microsoft would clean-up its operating system releases with a service patch. Now Microsoft will be constantly improving and patching Windows 10.

What all this means is that, while I can't recommend Windows 10 for business production use yet I think it's worth working with today. I expect many of you will want to update your Windows 8.x systems by the next wave of improvements. I expect to see those to arrive in October 2015.

For now, if you're determined to stay with Windows as your desktop, it's time to start your pilot programs. You don't need to wait for the 0.1 release or first service patch. For the first time in well over a decade, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at a new version of Windows.

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