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Mon, Oct. 21

Windows 10: Many good features, but upgrading isn't for everyone

Windows 10 restores the Start menu. (Microsoft/Courtesy)

Windows 10 restores the Start menu. (Microsoft/Courtesy)

We're three months into the life cycle of Windows 10, and the new operating system from Microsoft has been met with cheers and sneers depending on your relationship with Windows. Even with the skyrocketing popularity of mobile devices (also met with cheers and sneers depending on the situation), personal computers are still a hub in many homes.

But, as with the myriad of new software releases overwhelming even the most wired of geeks, the question is whether the new software is worth the upgrade.

What is Windows 10?

Windows 10 is Microsoft's latest operating system release, available to the public since the end of July. In the three months since release, the system has been installed on over 120 million devices worldwide, securing just shy of 8 percent of all desktops out there today.

Microsoft has been branding Windows 10 as a more familiar OS, returning the Start menu to the desktop while still keeping the touchscreen-friendly app buttons from Windows 8. The operating system has a whole slew of new features, but ultimately feels like Windows and should be more popular to many of the users put off by Windows 8.

What's new?

I never really appreciated the Start menu in Windows until they took it away. When Windows 8 hit the market, I never felt so lost. I would give myself a migraine switching back and forth between the desktop and the universally-despised "Metro" view just to try and find everything.

In Windows 10, "new" actually feels more like refinement. They bring back the Start menu, and it's way more useful this time around. Navigating it feels like the systems of old, and even though I had some Windows 8 flashbacks with the Metro view on the side, I came to appreciate pinning my favorite applications right there for when I need them.

"I think it's good software," said Andy Raynor, general manager at Bits and Bytes Computers. "There's a lot of features, with apps especially. They've turned it more into a subscription model like Apple. With the memory management, they've made some good changes. The privacy collection, that's somewhere between neutral and negative."

The most notable additions this year are the Microsoft Edge browser and the implementation of Cortana. Microsoft Edge is an answer to Chrome and Firefox, and while it doesn't "edge" out the competition, it's notably faster and more responsive than Internet Explorer and much more pleasant to use.

Cortana, or Siri for your computer, is smart and she does work fairly seamlessly with Windows 10. I can ask her questions or do searches on my computer with relative ease. I'm not sure how well Cortana will catch on, though, because part of the appeal of voice assistants on smartphones is to make up for the lack of a keyboard or mouse and help boost productivity when away from a computer. She's not a needed feature for Windows, but some users might like her.

Should I upgrade?

Depending on what system you're coming from, Windows 10 is either a sigh of relief or a headache. Microsoft designed Windows 10 to work on a ton of legacy devices, and its minimum requirements are modest enough that many Windows XP computers can run it. Many critics, this author included, love the familiarity of Windows 10 as well as some of its new features like the notifications tab on the right and a "desktop view" of all your open windows near the start button.

"It really depends on what they're doing," said Raynor. "For the older crowd, I would not recommend it because the whole menu structure has changed. They got rid of it in Windows 8, and halfway brought it back in 10. For those used to XP and 7, they have a hard time going around."

Susan Raynor, one of the techs at Bits and Bytes, often recommends Windows 7 to customers on the fence about 10.

"Windows 7 is good 'til 2020. That's five more years from now. Computers typically don't last that long," said Susan Raynor.

How much is it?

If you're upgrading, it's free!

Seriously. How much is it?

Seriously. Free. Microsoft is itching to get people to upgrade to Windows 10 and is offering the operating system for free to everyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1. Users will have until July to upgrade their systems for free. If you're building a system from scratch, you can find a home edition of Windows 10 for $110.

If your system is eligible for the free upgrade, you should see an upgrade icon on your taskbar. Just follow the instructions there and your product key will transfer over to a new edition of Windows 10.

Are my programs/computer parts compatible?

For the most part, yes. Programs are built on the same foundation (Windows NT), and nearly anything you could run on previous versions of Windows you can run on Windows 10.

There may be some issues with drivers on certain computer parts such as your video card or sound card, but most can be updated and get working again.

What's this about Microsoft spying on me?

It's the telemetry system Microsoft is using for feedback and updates, and it's arguably the most controversial feature Microsoft implemented with Windows 10. By default, Windows 10 will regularly send diagnostics from your home computer to Microsoft. This includes applications crashing, error codes, and in some cases what applications you use and some of the information in documents you produce.

Microsoft claims that this is necessary to produce timely patches and address OS issues well before people start reporting in that they have an issue. So far, it's been working well for them. Updates have streamed in constantly, and I've had significantly fewer crashes or freezes with Windows 10 than in previous editions.

Unfortunately for privacy proponents out there, the feature can't be shut down entirely and is heavily embedded in the Windows 10 operating system.

"They haven't publically released everything they've collected," said Andy Raynor. "At the very least, they're tracking marketing information. What they're sending back is unknown at this point. It's a potential security risk for some people."

I hate it. Can I go back?

You can, yes, but you have 30 days after upgrading to do so. An option in your Control Panel will allow you to revert back to Windows 7 or 8, but after that 30-day window that option disappears. You'll need to use a recovery disk provided by your computer's manufacturer to reinstall a previous edition of Windows.

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