Windows 10: Free Upgrade?

On July 29th, Microsoft launched the latest version of Windows, the much-anticipated successor to the ill-received Windows 8.  Oddly enough, they skipped the moniker 9 and dubbed it “Windows 10.”  Furthermore, they offered it free of charge to anyone running Windows 7 or later–regardless of whether or not the license is genuine.  The hope is that many will (and about 18 million users have, within a week of launch) upgrade and by doing so simplify product support for Microsoft.
The big question: is it worth it?  Should I upgrade now, or will the price be too high?  Even


Cortana, your new assistant

if you qualify for the “free” upgrade, there are valid concerns that suggest you wait a while. Firstly, instability has always been the hallmark of new releases and Windows 10 is no exception.  For some, the upgrade process is extremely simple, but for others, bugs abound. Additionally, time is money and re-learning an operating system takes time. Make no mistake, Windows 10 is an excellent hybrid of new technology and a worthy upgrade for most–just not at the moment. Users of Windows 7 appreciate the stability and user experience, while Windows 8 users largely wish the user experience was more like Windows 7.  Microsoft has listened and adapted Windows 10 to suit the majority of users and stability will come in time. My short recommendation?  Wait about six months for Microsoft to work out the kinks before upgrading.  Don’t wait too long, though–the free upgrade offer expires after one year. If you’re adventurous, willing to deal with bugs, and just want to be on the cutting edge, what’s stopping you?

Let’s examine a few reasons why Windows 10 makes sense.  Firstly, users of Windows 8 largely hated the Metro interface that replaced the start menu in previous versions of the operating system.  Settings were no longer simple to find and the user interface just felt clunky, with many clicks being necessary to do something as simple as shutting the computer down.  This left many users sticking with Windows 7, which, while rock solid and refined (for the time), was missing several key improvements Windows 8 brought to the table.  Secure boot and integrated antivirus software brought users a much-needed boost to system security, and lowered boot times dramatically in most cases.  The ability to synchronize account settings across computers, multi-monitor improvements (such as a task bar and the ability to set unique backgrounds on each), comprehensive system restore functionality, improvements to search/indexing, Windows to-go (think bootable USB with Windows on it, like a Linux Live disk) and a host of other under-the-hood improvements made Windows 8 a worthy successor to 7.  In short, Metro and the absence of a proper start menu largely overshadowed many meaningful advances.

Windows 10 solves the problems of Windows 8 by providing users with an experience similar to Windows 7–start menu included–but clearly optimized and inclusive of all (and more) of the positive features 8 brought to the table.  Additionally, search functionality has

Windows 10 Work Spaces

New work spaces

been further improved by including a personal assistant (think Google Now or Siri) dubbed Cortana that allows users to treat their desktop like a smart phone in a way that is actually helpful.  Furthermore, the addition of virtual desktops is both welcome and well-implemented.  Performance is a major concern for many users and Windows 10 has it in spades over its predecessors. Boot times are quicker. Windows updates run faster. Windows Explorer hardware acceleration just feels better, providing fluidity, with subtle tweaks to the file management system (the Up button is back!) giving power users functionality that was glaringly missing from previous iterations.  Windows 10 brings improved power management as well, providing mobile users with better battery life.  DirectX 12 promises improvements for PC gamers down the road as developers bring new titles to market using the new API.

New Start Menu

Windows 10 Start Menu

So.  All of these improvements may make the upgrade to 10 sound like a no-brainer.  But is it?  As an IT professional, it is my job to ensure that major upgrades negatively affect my clients minimally.  Stability trumps performance and new features, every time in the business world. If workers cannot work, it doesn’t matter how quickly than can do it, or with how many new tools/toys.  Because of this, it is tough for me to recommend that any business users make the jump to Windows 10.  We’ve upgraded several PCs of varying configuration to Windows 10 and so far have not had a single one that has not presented us with at least a few minor problems out of the box.  Minor problems range from Skype freezing on a window resizing attempt, program DPI settings massively out of sync after the upgrade, resolution improperly set per monitor, and Nvidia SLI settings failing due to a problem with a Windows Update managed driver installation.  Major problems range from persistent BSODs and Windows Explorer freeze/crashes to failure to complete upgrades resulting in non-bootable systems.

Windows 10 Updates

Going to happen automatically, no matter what.

Windows10Updates1The fact that Microsoft has chosen to mandate driver updates alongside of security/system updates presents many users with system-breaking scenarios and presents system administrators who choose to adopt the new operating system with significant hurdles to overcome.   Microsoft came out with a Update Removal Tool that allows users to uninstall and hide problematic updates, at least for a while but this is hardly a long-term solution.  Like it or not, system administrators simply require the ability to manage updates on a granular level and cannot allow critical systems to simply update themselves without absolute assurance of stability.   I hope that Microsoft will see reason and change this policy, as if they do not I will have limited ability to recommend the upgrade to any of my commercial clients, much as I did when Windows 8 came out without the simple inclusion of a start menu.  Unfortunately, stability and usability aren’t optional when it comes to environments where people require their computers to maintain any standard of productivity.  All that said, Microsoft has recognized this hurdle by allowing users/admins to subscribe to “fast” (downloaded and installed as soon as available) updates or to “slow” updates, which will wait for one month before applying/installing the updates automatically.  I would say that this is not enough but is at the very least a step back in the right direction.

Bottom line:  if Microsoft can solve stability issues, Windows 10 will likely find its place among the greatest operating systems in history. Widespread adoption will be a no-brainer for home users looking for the best personal computing experience.  As for the enterprise and business world, Microsoft will have to make significant changes in the realm of update deployment for adoption to take place.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

4K: Revolutionary Productivity

“Full HD, 1080P” is a phrase many of us in the electronics consumer world understand. It refers to the number of pixels on a screen in a given area, in this case, just over 2 million pixels. This translates to a clear, defined image that allows us to see quite a bit of detail. Examining a low resolution screen (say, 480P, standard TV resolution from a few years ago) and comparing the video quality to full HD yields nearly immediate realization of the improvement. Images on the HD screen are clear. Fuzzy, grainy, pixelated content simply doesn’t look as good. With 4K, the latest buzzword in consumer electronics, we have advertisers promising four times the detail of full HD, or greater than 8 million pixels.

In a previous article I examined the diminishing returns of 4K content compared to full HD as it pertains to the entertainment sphere. Here I want to discuss the productivity gains 4K offers people in the computing world. Dragging around, resizing and scrolling through windows takes time. We do it because we only have so much room on our computer monitors. 4K increases the amount of room we have 4-fold, providing the equivalent of four full HD screens in one seamless area. In the working environment, a 4K screen should take up as much screen space (minus the screen bezel) as the four monitors it would be replacing in order for you to see the productivity gains I’ve realized. Imagine stacking 2 monitors on top of one another, then putting another two similarly stacked monitors beside them. If you use 24” monitors and appreciate the size and image, you should get between a 40” and a 50” 4K to see a similar image with a four-fold increase in surface area. I find that sitting about 3’ from the screen is comfortable. At 3’ it is difficult to see individual pixels on a 60” 4K screen with 20-20 vision. This represents ideal conditions for viewing. This size calculator should help you choose the optimal screen size for your viewing environment.

The sweet spot in price point for these 4K monitors is between 40” (currently $600) and 55” (currently $1000). Refresh rate is also a concern. Make sure you get a 4K screen capable of natively displaying 60Hz (60 frames per second) for use as a computer monitor as manipulating a mouse at 30Hz feels sluggish. Remember, you’ll need both a video card capable of displaying 3840×2160@60Hz and a monitor or TV capable of displaying the same, with matching connectors. Currently the only connections that allow for this are HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.2 or later. As an early adopter of 4K, I had my first monitor back in 2012. I can attest to the incredible productivity boost a 4K system can provide those who spend considerable time in front of the computer. This is another case where—like the difference between hard disk drives and solid state drives—the difference must be seen to be believed.

Posted in Hardware | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment