OPINION

The Best Unsung Features of Windows 10

There are things about working with large companies that can be really frustrating. For instance, when both Windows Vista and Windows 8 were coming to market, a number of us pointed out that things needed to be fixed before the product was released, but we were ignored, with catastrophic results. This time, however, Windows 10 is looking better than any OS I've ever reviewed.

There are things about working with large companies that can be really frustrating. For instance, when both Windows Vista and Windows 8 were coming to market, a number of us pointed out that things needed to be fixed before the product was released, but we were ignored, with catastrophic results.

This time, however, Windows 10 is looking better than any OS I’ve ever reviewed, and it is largely because Microsoft did two things I’ve been requesting since Windows 95.

I’ll share my thoughts on these “features” and Windows 10 in general this week, since we now know it is showing up two days after my birthday on July 29 (I think I’ll still call it my “birthday present”). I’ll close with my product of the week, an offering that reminds me of Bill Gates’ house.

Microsoft’s 1st Strategic Mistake

I spent my first year as an analyst, well outside of IBM, at Dataquest, and I can honestly say Windows made my career. That is because I was hired to be the OS analyst, and I released a five-year forecast that accurately predicted Apple’s decline (it didn’t recover until two years after the forecast period), as well as the decline of Unix, the elimination of OS/2, and the success of Windows.

The Apple fans, even inside my own company, as well as the Unix and OS/2 fans, wanted me killed, and I became really famous (and surprisingly wasn’t killed).

However, the first time and most every time I sat down with the Windows folks, I pointed out that they had a critical strategic weakness they had to correct. I’d been a competitive analyst for years, and one of the things that job entails is looking for things that either could enhance our firm’s success or cause the firm to fail.

The thing I pointed out was that the PC industry, including Microsoft, lived on churn. In other words, it wasn’t new sales but hardware replacements that increasingly drove the market. Windows was painful to upgrade, but it was excessively painful when you bought a new PC.

It could take up to a day to get anyplace close to where you were on the old hardware, and people started locking down their PCs. I can recall talking to an IT manager at Intel who said employees were refusing new PCs, because they didn’t have the time to get them running. When that happens at a tech company, you have a problem.

The other issue is that if it is really hard to move to a new Windows PC, then moving to an Apple PC isn’t that scary, because you have to pretty much go through the same mess. However, if you spoke to an Apple user, Apple migrations were drop-dead easy by comparison. Apple understood that churn was important, and it didn’t have that problem.

Microsoft’s 2nd Strategic Mistake

A related issue was the fact that if you were part of the beta program for Windows, you could install the beta product over your existing version pretty easily — but when the beta was over, you had to do a clean installation.

Often, that meant you had to run down the earlier copy of Windows to validate you qualified for the upgrade price, and then, as with every new machine, run down every disk related to a program you used.

As a result, even at Microsoft, testers had two machines — one running the beta, which they rarely if ever touched, and one they actually did work on. So, while Microsoft thought it had a legion of folks, both internal and external, testing the product, there were only a few of us — I was typically one — running the product in actual production. When we few complained about a problem, our voice was lost among the masses of folks who seemed to be testing the product but rarely touched it.

Windows 10 Fixed Both

Migrations started to get a lot better with Windows 7, but they are brilliant with Windows 10. You basically log in with your Microsoft — or if you’re on a work PC, your work ID — and all of your settings, apps and personalities transfer down from the server (be aware that this doesn’t apply to legacy apps or if you are coming from Windows XP).

Once on Windows 10, getting one, two or six PCs is login-easy, and as you move to the newer apps, the experience is similar to what you currently get with iOS or Android. You buy a new PC, log in, and after a short wait, your new PC looks like your old one.

The even bigger move, at least when it comes to creating a reliable product, is that those of us testing Windows 10 automatically will get upgraded to the final version with Windows Update. Since we started with a valid version of Windows 7 or 8, we still get a free upgrade to Windows 10 without having to figure out what happened to our old Windows disks.

This means more of us actually are using Windows 10 in production, and that the number of testers Microsoft thinks it has internally and externally is one hell of a lot closer to the number it actually does have. I do think it is likely going to take a while for some people to break a decades-old habit of using two machines, but it is still a huge step in the right direction.

Wrapping Up

Just like the testers, I too am going to now have to break a decades-old habit of whining about the upgrade and new hardware process for Windows. There are a lot of new features in the offering that fix issues with Windows 8 — like Continuum, which morphs the product between tablet and PC mode.

However, the one that I think is the most powerful, because it fixes a problem that is decades old, is the feature that lets you almost painlessly migrate from an old to a new PC. That’s something that should have been fixed in the first version of the product but actually did get fixed in this one.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

We all have a lot of regrets. I have two with regard to Microsoft: One is not going on an interview there in the late 70s; the other is turning down a tour of Bill Gates’ house. He’d offered to take me, but I’d thrown out my back and was in massive pain and felt I needed to address that first.

In hindsight, I should have sucked it up. Even though I was given a rain check, I was never able to call it in. The part of the house I really wanted to see was the home automation component, particularly with regard to entertainment.

Gates had a unique system. The pictures on the walls were flat-panel displays, and music changed automatically with the pictures, according to the tastes of the person viewing them. You wore a badge that told the system who you were, and it knew your preferences. I always thought it would be really cool to have something like that.

Well, a startup called “Artkick” has launched a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter for Look— a next-generation large form digital picture frame (up to 40 inches) that can bring you art personalized to taste, and take feeds from your — or anyone else’s — social network account.

Look Digital Picture Frame

The Look Digital PictureFrame From Artkick

It doesn’t yet change based on who is viewing it, and there is no music aspect, but those could be future features — and given the cost is in the display, likely not very expensive ones to add.

I’m thinking that if you had a lot of kids who were away, rather than mounting a large picture of each child on the wall, you might enjoy a dynamic digital picture frame showing what they’re posting on their social network. That would let you feel like you were in touch with them — or perhaps occasionally have the crap scared out of you (kids can do some crazy things).

In any case, when my old friend Sheldon Laube came by the house to show me this product, it brought back memories of missing that Bill Gates tour (thanks, Sheldon) but it got me thinking about how I could emulate what Bill had done in my own house. As a result, the Look digital picture frame is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

4 Comments

  • For years to test new OS’s in beta, all I’ve had to do is partition a drive and dual boot, or…in some cases, simply buy another drive and boot to that one. When I was done, I could simply wipe and install the next one. Nowadays, it’s even easier, as all it takes setting up a Virtual Machine and you’re ready to go.

    I haven’t found much that stood in the way of testing an OS from Microsoft, but rather the apparent disregard for the daily use of the OS and lack of care put into making it friendlier for those of us that need these features to work properly.

    • Well, after doing some research, I decided to take the plunge and install the preview version of Windows 10. My concerns were basically unfounded. For me Windows 10 is turning out to be a better version of Windows 7, and that’s without Cortana, which is unavailable where I live right now.

      It’s been less than two weeks, and I’ve already got it set up as nicely as I had Windows 7 set up. A couple of my favourite games don’t work, but I’m fairly confident those are just driver issues that will be fixed before long. Beyond that, EVERYTHING works, and most of it just worked with little or no fiddling.

      In fact, I uninstalled a few apps that I assumed would no longer work, O.S. specific apps that did things like automatically set process affinities. I assumed I wouldn’t need them, and they wouldn’t work anyway. I was wrong on both accounts – which is both positive and negative. Yes, I’m impressed they still work, but I’m not impressed that I can still improve performance by micro managing process priorities and affinities.

      However, for a born tweaker like me, I suppose that should just make me happy…

      • And it turned out that some of my fears were well founded. You can change where Windows 10 installs Windows "Apps", but it isn’t simple, and I’m certain isn’t intended. That kind of Apple/Google hyper control is exactly what I was worried about in Windows 10.

  • "be aware that this doesn’t apply to legacy apps"

    You’ve put your finger squarely on my primary concern. I have signed up for the free Windows 10 upgrade, but I have a very non-standard setup. I have three drives. One is a systems ssd with the OS on it. One is a ram disk with the paging file, temp directories and prefetch on it. The third is divided into two partitions, one with programs (apps) on it, the third with files on it.

    I AM upgrading from Windows 7. I dislike, and distrust, default file structures, for various reasons, including security concerns. Linux allows you to get around that by allowing to you choose what partitions you place your default file structures in. My experiences with Microsoft products have rarely shown them to be designed in such an intelligent or flexible manner.

    My ssd is far too small to have anything but the systems files on it. Is Windows 10 going to allow me to continue to install "apps" outside of the standard directory structure, or is it going to force me to install everything into a rigid directory structure? Hopefully there will be a workaround for that, such as symlinks, or better yet it will continue to set up my file structure as I wish.

    So while I AM looking forward to Windows 10, when I read statements that upgrading is going to be "seamless", I maintain a healthy degree of skepticism. I will believe it when I see it…

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