22 June 2017
A while ago my corporate laptop was upgraded, and in the process it was loaded with Windows10. I mostly avoid Microsoft products these days if I can, and I rate having to use them at all as one of the nastier aspects of my professional life. The good news is that Windows10 is steps back in the right direction, but I am still monumentally unimpressed how Windows has evolved.


In the distant past I have used Windows 2 and Windows 3.11, but I have little recollection of using them for serious work. Later on I used Windows95 (original retail version, and then OSR2), but until I went to University I used Apple Macs for anything not related to computer games and programming. From memory I was still using one or two old 680x0-era programs under emulation as late as 2002, but that is not relevant to this discussion. The release of Windows I have probably used the most is Windows2000, which I think I ran almost continually between some point in 2001, and 2011. I felt Windows had a good run with 2000 & XP as they did away with the instabilities of the Win9x setup, and in particular did not need reboots for very basic things such as changing network configurations.

Windows Vista was a disaster which in the end I hardly ever used, so there is not much I can really say about it. The general availability of Windows7 covers roughly my post-doc time working in the UK, and it is the one version I got my fingers dirty with grubby technical details such as the Windows DDK. It had its annoyances as it was not really appropriate for some of the products I was building at the time, being intended for workstation rather than headless/embedded server use, but on the whole I have favourable memories of it. Until recently I used it as my main OS on my laptop, as I've historically found Linux's laptop support (power management & Wi-Fi support basically) somewhat lacking.

Windows8: YUK!

The first exposure I had to Windows8's theming was with Visual Studio Express 2012, which at the time I thought was a turn for the worse, but my first actual use of Windows8 (Windows 8.1 specifically) itself was when I joined my current company. I am not sure if it was same day or not, but my reaction to having to use it was to go and order in an OEM copy of Windows7 while it was still under general availability. From the first moment it was clear that Windows8 was not something I would ever want to run on my own systems. The way it was designed really required a touch-screen, which was OK when on the move with a touch-screen enabled laptop, but for real work it was painfully inappropriate.

Back in 2012 Microsoft had this idea of a common platform for both desktop and mobile, with Windows 8 & Windows Mobile 8 having a common code-base. As a result Windows 8 was clearly designed for touch-screens rather than mouse & keyboard, best shown by the botchup of displaying a mobile-style start screen rather than the desktop by default, which was instrumental in why Windows 8 was a failure. Even though this particular aspects was fixed in Windows 8.1 as boot to desktop, it still included annoyances such as clicking on an icon in the full-screen start menu preferentially raising an existing instance of a program rather than starting a new one.

On to Windows 10

First impression of Windows10 is that it is much more of a desktop OS than Windows8, most notably making start menu clicks run a new instance of a program rather than pulling up an existing one, and having the option of the Start Menu not taking up the whole screen. I think Microsoft have admitted to themselves that they are finished in the mobile & tablet markets, with a market share of 0.3% and falling. As a result Windows10 feels like an attempt to mix Windows 8's styling with Windows7's structure, in an attempt to make it more desktop-friendly. There is the usual annoyance of things being moved around, but the level of revulsion was nowhere near as bad as that I had with my first use of Windows8. The system configuration windows are still appallingly bad, but they are not something I have to use on a regular basis.

Windows10 issues

What I am not impressed with is Windows10's overall stability, build quality, and adherence to usability metrics. Windows8 had clear UX issues that were cleared up in Windows10, but Windows10 then bought in issues it should not have. Below I list the annoyances I have come across:
Blue-screen if docking station used
I suspect this one isn't Microsoft's fault, but it does raise questions given that this is hardware supposedly “designed” for Windows. Using the DisplayPorts on the laptop dock results in a :( crash on boot-up.
Stay unpinned!
Every time I restart, Microsoft Edge & Outlook re-pin themselves to the taskbar. This pisses me off no end because it wastes Taskbar real estate, and in any case the programs are within easy reach within the Start Menu. To me this is Microsoft not applying their own lessons regarding user friendliness.
Laggy mouse movement
Mouse movements across the start menu, when dragging windows and when highlighting text, are intermittantly jittery. This is even after the catch-all solution of reinstalling graphics drivers and setting high-performance mode. For some reason only sure-fire fix is to use VGA output rather than HDMI/DVI, which to me is not an acceptable solution. This most often happens when a suspended system is woken up, and this seems linked with the next issue..
Sluggish & buggy transition effects
Any transition effect involving transparency, such as raising and lowering windows & dialogs, is prone to unacceptably high latency. To make matters worse sometimes the content of dialogs, such as Word 2013's unsaved changes prompt, never actually show. Incidentally trying to take a screenshot causes a refresh that shows the buttons..
Migrating icons on desktop
This is expected when screen resolutions change, but with Windows10 desktop icons don't stay put if the screen deactivates for any significant length of time. To make matters worse icons tend to be spread all over the place, rather than simply migrated to the top-left of the desktop.
No window borders
There is a thin shadow effect around the edge of windows, but I find it inadequate for my preferences.
Screen sleeping disables HDMI port
Or rather, it often takes a reboot for external displays to be recognised. Certainly annoying when taking a laptop off to a meeting, but for some reason also happens in cases where the external display is kept connected.
Some of these might be partly down to issues with my company-issued laptop, but being a company issued “built for Windows10” laptop, I feel it fair game to assign fault to Windows.

Privacy disaster

As far as I can tell, running Windows10 is a privacy piss-take, with even the “basic” information transfer setting still leaving 12 seperate non-privacy setting enabled. My view is that the amount of data Windows should be sending back to Microsoft on a day-to-day basis is zero. Information on installed Microsoft software is just about acceptable when doing a Windows Update check, but as-is that is a grey area where bounds are being pushed. The lack of a single send-nothing option in Windows10 points towards a business & technical model that relies on taking liberties with observations on how a system is being used. Being a corporate laptop I reasonably expect my company's lawyers will have looked into making sure private information doesn't leak back to Microsoft, because if private information can leak, then so can company secrets. However for a non-corporate personal install my gut feeling is that too many leaps of faith are needed for me to really trust what it is doing in the background.

Overall view

Windows10 is an improvement on Windows8, but it is still steps backwards compared to Windows7, and it has no realistic chance of replacing Linux as my choice of operating system for installation onto bare metal. I have unactivated Windows7 licences in reserve for the future possibility of a dedicated games system, so I doubt I'll ever have to use this monstrosity on my own bare-metal hardware.