Windows 10 isn't simply the best version of Windows ever; it's one of the best examples of a properly designed operating system since the dawn of time.
Four decades: Independent, honest, reliable Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously online since 1983


Windows 10: At last, an outstanding effort from Microsoft

July 25, 2015

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2015, Al Fasoldt

On Wednesday, Apple is introducing its new Windows 10 operating system.

Oh, sorry. I mean Microsoft is doing that. It's easy to make such a mistake. Windows 10 is so much like Apple's OS X operating system that you could run it for a week without realizing it didn't come from the folks who make the Mac.

That's not a dig at Microsoft. Its a compliment. For the first time ever, the creators of Windows have looked at the Mac as inspiration instead of competition. The result is delightful.

Windows 10 isn't simply the best version of Windows ever; it's one of the best examples of a properly designed operating system since the dawn of time.

Yes, Win 10 has its idiosyncracies -- drive icons should automatically show up on the desktop so you can find them, darn it! -- but I have no problem giving Windows 10 the crown: It's superb, easy to use and powerful. It's cleverly crafted to work the way all of us from Windows 7 users to Mac users want to work -- and ideal as a sort of graduation present for suffering Win XP and Win 8 users, too. As for Windows 8.1 users, get ready for the sun to shine, the cool breezes to blow, the guy at the bar to shout "Everything on the house!"

It's also free, at least for users of the last three previous versions of Windows -- Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. (Those who have Windows 8 will need to do a free upgrade to Windows 8.1 before they can upgrade 8.1 to Windows 10.)

Windows XP users, caught napping by the decade-long age of XP, can't upgrade for free. Windows 10 will cost $119 for XP users.

I could be wrong about this (Microsoft itself has changed its mind on upgrades a couple of times), so go to the Windows 10 upgrade website for definitive info. It's at http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/windows-10-upgrade?OCID=win10_null_vanity_win10upgrade.

Let me try to explain.

If you have a system running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you can upgrade to Windows 10 online.

If you have a system running Windows 8, you have to upgrade to Windows 8.1 before you can update to W10.

Here's a partial list of what can't be upgraded (in other words, you have to buy Windows 10 and do a clean install):

-- Windows 7 Enterprise

-- Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise

-- Windows RT/RT 8.1

Windows RT is what Microsoft put on cheaper versions (non-Pro) of the Surface tablet. It can't be upgraded to Windows 10 because RT is not Windows at all. Microsoft (under the old management) actually stuck a non-Windows operating system in the Surface and called it Windows. It was no doubt responsible for a good part of the market nosedive of the Surface; anyone who bought one and found out that Windows doesn't mean "Windows" surely dragged the heavy little tablet back to the store.

Windows 10 is installed over the Internet for those upgrading from W7 and W8.1. Apple has been doing this for a few years and it's been working very well.

Whatever version of Windows you are running now, on July 29 it will officially be a pile of old-fashioned crud. It will be disgraceful. An embarrassment. The butt of jokes from that day until the day Steve Balmer, the guy who drove Microsoft into the weeds, the guy forced out because no one could take his company seriously any more, the one who tossed chairs on stage -- ahem -- until the day no one is able to remember Blue Screens of Death and Registry corruption.

I've been running the for-sale version of Windows 10 for some time now. As most of you know, I'm a Mac user for most of my work, and have been since 2001 or so. All versions of Windows prior to Windows 7 were unacceptable to me -- and, of course, to millions of others. That's one of the reasons Apple's Mac became so popular.

But Win 7 marked the beginning of the end for the traditional design of Windows. It had a lot of promise, but Balmer's gang made sure no one could possibly mistake Windows 7 for a change in the way Microsoft designed anything; the successor to Windows 7 was, as you know, Windows 8, the biggest embarrassment to any American company since Coca-Cola turned up with "New Coke" and lost billions in profits and customers.

Windows 8.1, engineered by a new team of Microsoftians, gave us hope that somebody at headquarters was leaving the lights on at night. But Windows 10 is to Windows 8 and 8.1 as my Cummins diesel Ram is to a Smart Car. Once you have driven the Ram, the Smart Car is ridiculous.

Windows 10 took a long time to install on my ASUS laptop, probably because my laptop had a lot of software and a great deal of documents that had to be kept intact in Windows 10. (I did an upgrade. Don't wipe out your current system. Please don't. I don't want to hear from someone who is crying on the phone.)

When W10 finally finished installing, everything was there -- my screen actually looked exactly the same as it did in W8.1 -- and I was able to continue whatI was doing.

One program, a little utility, was missing, so I shouldn't have said "everything" was intact. But it was the Classic Shell, a free app that restores a classic Windows look to Windows 8 and 8.1. It's not needed in Win 10, which organizes things perfectly, or as close to perfectly as possible, obviating the need for a kludge like the Classic Shell.

Let me try to explain Windows 10. Unfortunately, Microsoft got itself into a genuine, will-someone-please-kick-me-in-the-butt conundrum with its Windows 8 "Metro" interface, which uses huge blocks representing apps and shows only one program on the screen at a time. This annoyed just about everyone except the five people who actually bought Windows 8 tablets. Nobody with a normal PC thought this idiocy was a good idea, and pundits like me declared Windows 8 a turkey of the first order.

With Windows 10, Microsoft emphasizes good-old Windows software, so the entire computer seems to be a normal Windows PC. But the Start Menu betrays the mistake the guys from MS now have to live with: Big blocks pop up alongside normal Start Menu items in an attempt to get your attention to what is still lurking in Windows 10 -- Windows 8! The blocks give you weather, news, photos and other simplified stuff. I found it dull and stupid and just ignored it. I'm waiting to hear of a way to strip all the Windows 8 garbage away.

The taskbar at the bottom, copied elegantly from the Mac, is a joy. Right click on any icon on the taskbar for options, including a Close function. With apps that are running multiple windows, a right click pops open miniature detailed views of those windows, and clicking any of them opens that window back on the screen. Hovering your mouse over a window shows it on the screen for as long as you hover.

Also copied perfectly from the Mac is Task View, which shows large views, sort of like half- or quarter-size windows, spread over the screen, in almost readable sizes. You can click on any of these small views to open the full window on the screen. Task View opens with the Win-Tab key combination.

Is everything perfect? Not yet. The ASUS worked fine with my Apple Wireless Bluetooth keyboard before the upgrade, but lost all Bluetooth abilities afterward. I'm still looking for a fix.

That's a pretty good record -- only one problem with a brand new operating system.

I'll have more on Windows 10 next week.

Al Fasoldt is a retired technology writer for The Post Standard newspaper in Syracuse, New York. His landmark column, Technofile, is the world's longest running online column. Read any of the thousands of current and previous columns at technofileonline.com.