Further Adventures with Windows 10
(A not so free upgrade)
Did I say without significant issues?
I thought the upgrade to the final release of Windows 10 Pro on my laptop, which had previously been running the technical preview, had gone smoothly. That was until a Windows (10) update failed to complete and left the system in a reboot loop. When I finally got out of the loop I tried the repair option, which failed, leaving me a choice between going back to my previous version of Windows or "resetting," (i.e re-installing Windows 10). When I opted for the first choice I got a response that Windows was unable to restore my previous version. The choices then offered were reset while retaining personal files or a full reset. Since my data was all backed up, I went for the full reset. Although it took a while, it went well enough, although I was faced with the prospect of having to reinstall all the applications I regularly use. I suppose I was lucky that I got to the point where it was time to activate Windows 10 before investing the additional time to reinstall everything else. None of my keys (all legitimate: Windows 7 Home, which came on the laptop, upgrades to Windows 7 Ultimate and then Windows 8/8.1 purchased directly from Microsoft and the Windows 10 Technical Preview) were accepted. The only alternative offered was to go to the Windows Store and buy an activation key (I think the price was $249). Some free upgrade!
Getting my unactivated system to boot from a DVD didn't seem to be an option -- when I changed the BIOS setting and tried to boot from a Windows 7 Ultimate recovery or installation disc the DVD drive spun up but I kept ending up back at the Windows 10 lock screen. I eventually managed to boot from a Linux USB image, reformatted the system drive and then boot from the Windows 7 Ultimate installation disc and reinstall it from scratch. After also reinstalling all my applications and restoring my data I had burned the better part of 2 working days -- so even though I didn't opt to pay for my free upgrade, I wasted numerous of what would have otherwise been billable hours only to end up back at Windows 7: one generation earlier than my starting point. I won't be reinstalling 8.1, because 7, with whatever other shortcomings it may have, is far more productive. Will I try 10 again? Maybe -- I'll eventually have to support clients running it. In the meantime, I have a Windows 7 laptop, as well as a Windows 7 partition on my desktop, when I need a Windows system but my preferred day to day operating system will continue to be Linux.
If at first you don't succeed...
Nearly 2 months after the official release of Windows 10 I decided it was time to try again with the laptop, which had been successfully running a dual boot with Windows 7 and Ubuntu Linux 15.04. As insurance against having to spend another two days undoing a failed attempt I started by cloning the hard drive. I reinstalled the "Get Windows 10" applet (KB3035583) which I had previously removed and hidden from Windows Update and waited (about 3 days) until it prompted me to proceed with the upgrade. It took quite a while, but this time around it installed and activated successfully and, although there was a bit of tweaking required for other applications, only one had to be reinstalled to work properly and, most surprisingly, I didn't lose my Linux partition or dual boot capability, which had happened previously with both Windows 8 and my earlier Windows 10 attempt. I can't say if the somewhat unexpected success on my second time around was due to a simpler upgrade path (leaving 8, 8.1 and the technical preview completely out of the equation) or if there have been improvements in the upgrade process but, at least for the time being, it's working and peacefully co-existing with other versions of Windows and various non-Microsoft devices on my multiplatform network.
A month later I should add that I have successfully set up and upgraded to Windows 10 on multiple systems (laptops, desktops and one all-in-one) which were sold with Windows 8.1. It's also worth mentioning that, in the case of one of the laptops that problems with setting up a persistent network connection uder 8.1 disappeared under Windows 10. I still have concerns about privacy issues and background processes, and can offer no guarantees about the upgrade process, but if you're not yet looking to convert to Linux or play in the more restrictive Apple workspace, Windows 10 may make sense for you -- especially if you're one of the billions already willingly sacrificing your privacy on the Google altar.
Finally, at the end of 2015, it's still not my preferred OS, but I do regularly leave the office with a laptop with Windows 10 as at least one of its boot options. You might say that I have made peace with Microsoft's lastest OS -- I will support it and even use it and, under certain circumstances, recommend it, but it's still a somewhat uneasy peace and I get really tired of having to check and sometimes restore my preferences for not exposing my location, data input, etc. after certain updates.
After several months supporting and using Windows 10...
I would rate Windows 10 as a usable and reasonably stable alternative for those who have to or even prefer to stay within the confines of the Microsoft universe. My primary reservations have to do with its propensity to build even higher walls around that universe. It's ironic that, at the same time Microsoft is officially embracing and extending olive branches to the open source community, its flagship operating system and the way it has engineered/implemented the UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) BIOS specification makes it difficult, and, in some cases, virtually impossible to dual boot or even install an alternative operating system -- and, no, a virtual computer running under Hyper-V is not always an effective alternative to a dual boot or the ability to boot to a non-Windows OS from an external device for the purpose of cloning a system partition or removing malware. I am also still very skeptical about the push towards subscription-based software and cloud-based computing in general. I also think there have been some losses in the area of end-user configurability and feel that the Settings/Control Panel dichotomy must eventually be addressed and rationalized.
However, all that being said, there are improvements in memory management and security and I have to somewhat grudgingly admit that the new MS Edge browser probably has more plusses than minusses. In the final analysis, Windows 10 appears to me to be a significant improvement over 8/8.1 and, although I'm not sure it ranks as an improvement over 7 in the area of productivity, there are some enhancements and, at the very least, it's not worse.
Just when I was ready to give Windows 10 a passing grade...
I finally decided to let Windows 10 take over my desktop computer, secure in the fact that I had working alternatives on other machines and a solid backup strategy. The "upgrade" went smoothly and we peacefully co-existed for several weeks. I was actually working in Windows 10 almost as often as in one of my Linux options. Then one afternoon I returned from lunch to be told that Windows had discovered a problem with one of my disks and had to scan and fix it in order to continue. After well over an hour of waiting I was sentenced to the Windows 10 purgatory of "Windows was unable to start properly..." which one ofthese futile options do you want to try before being presented ith this same screen again? I dutifully tried everything until the only remaining option was to "reset" Windows. I figured that if I was going to have to start fresh with a clean operating system I was better off with one I trust. I'm still working with a Windows 10 partition on my laptop (along side a Linux partition) but my desktop is now running Ubuntu Linux.
And then came the anniversary update...
And with it the ability to easily turn off Cortana and her privacy-compromising ways is gone. You can still do it with a registry hack, but that is not an improvement. Bitlocker is turned on by default, which presented some special problems on at least one dual-boot machine running Windows 10 Home. Until I found a way to disable it, every time after booting to the non-Windows OS it was necessary to enter a 48 digit "Bitlocker Recovery Key" to boot the computer. Search the Microsoft sites & forums for information for how to disable bitlocker and you get lots of information about how secure and wonderful it is and how to enable it but nothing about turning it off -- or at least nothing that works on the home edition post-anniversary update. I might add that the same issue cropped up on a client's laptop which had to be booted from a non-Windows USB thumb drive to clean off a malware infection, only to be told that the drive was not accessible, which meant it couldn't be scanned and cleaned until I booted to the compromised OS in order to disable bitlocker. Somehow that doesn't strike me as making the computer more secure -- in fact, it's almost like Windows 10 with Bitlocker is a new form of ransom ware. They may not demand payment, but retrieving and entering that recovery key is, at best, a tedious exercise. An on-line search for Windows 10 Anniversary Update will reveal a mixed bag of complaints, compliments and random issues. My take on it at this point: changes aren't always improvements.
If I had to make a recommendation...
As for whether or not I would advise someone to opt for Windows 10 for a new system or a clean install, calling it "an improvement over its immediate predecessors" may be damning with faint praise, but I still consider Windows 10 to be something of a productivity siphon when compared to Windows 7 or most of the Linux distributions I use. Some of the shortcomings of the new start menu and search functions (sorry, but, at least for the time being, I consider Cortana more of a toy than a tool and, when your consider "her" data tracking and accumulation inclinations, a not entirely benign toy) can be overcome with shortcuts on the desktop and taskbar to make the apps and folders or files we routinely use more readily accessible. Being touch friendly and favouring so-called "modern" apps over the ones most of us still use on an everyday basis to get things done is not necessarily a change for the better. If your requirements are more oriented to content consumption than content creation or maintenance and if you prefer a touch interface but sometimes require a mouse or physical keyboard, and you aren't overly concerned about its data accumulation tendencies and privacy implications, then Windows 10 might be right for you.
Would I pay for an upgrade? Probably not. Would I purchase a new Windows 10 computer? I probably would if I needed applications that only run under Windows, but I would want to make sure it would support alternative operating systems should the need arise.
Some other perspectives on Windows 10: