Three years ago, Microsoft was finalizing the development of the first version of Windows 10. But today, five versions later, Windows 10 is in a very different place. And while there have absolutely been some improvements, not everything is rosy.
Let’s start with what Microsoft has gotten right.
Ease of Setup. This has been true since the initial release of Windows, but it’s still amazing: When you install Windows 10 for the first time. set up a new PC, or reset an existing PC, you no longer need to then install hundreds of additional updates over several reboots. (As is still the case with Windows 7 and Windows 8.x.) Instead, you’re pretty much looking at a single cumulative update and perhaps a few driver updates. It’s wonderful.
Version upgrade speed. When you upgrade to a new version of Windows 10, most of the install process happens while the PC is online (e.g. in use), which dramatically lowers the amount of time that the PC is offline (e.g. installing updates outside of Windows). This, too, is a minor miracle.
PC-centric design. While Microsoft is still experimenting with mobile user experiences, Windows 10 represents a nice return to a PC-centric focus after the “touch-first” nonsense of Windows 8.
A new focus on productivity. After focusing on the inconsequential—3D, Mixed Reality, faux privacy improvements—over the past few releases, Microsoft has started focusing on core productivity enhancements. This one is tentative, but if the April 2018 Update and the coming Redstone 5 release are part of a trend, Windows 10 is in good shape. New versions of Windows 10 will never be truly exciting. But they will at least be better.
Windows as a Service. This one barely averted a place in the “ugly” category because Microsoft seems to be on the right track from a reliability perspective. But the sheer pace of change that Microsoft is inflicting on its customers both consumer and business is simply untenable. Windows is a mature platform, it doesn’t need major upgrades ever six months.
Inconsistent user experiences. Microsoft has trouble finishing the job, and you can see this all over Windows 10, from the Vista-era icons (Notepad) to the half-assed way it is implementing Fluent Design System over time to the dueling controls panels. It’s not a killer, but it’s irritating and says a lot about Microsoft’s culture.
Built-in apps are middling. The UWP/Store platform has never taken off, and the built-in Windows 10 apps, which should show off what’s possible with the platform, are almost universally (pardon the pun) middling. Which is the problem: They do show off what’s possible with this platform. And don’t get me started on Cortana and Microsoft Edge, the flagship apps that Windows 10 users have to deal with. Embarrassing.
Faux accessibility. Microsoft is all about AI and accessibility these days, and while many of the accessibility enhancements in Windows 10 are laudable, some are just nonsense. The worst offender is Cortana jiving at high volume during Windows Setup. Guys, Apple got this right years ago, and you can be accessible and friendly to the 99 percent of people who don’t need or want this functionality.
Crapware. Windows 10 Home and Pro ship with crapware. Now go back and think about Satya Nadella explaining that he wanted customers to “love” Windows 10. This is an affront, and it’s unacceptable.
Advertising. I first complained about the “slippery slope” of advertising in Windows way back in 2012, and as I feared, it’s only gotten worse since then. Much worse. Compared to macOS and Linux, neither of which feature in-box advertising, this is rather low-rent.
Windows Insider program. This one pains me because, like so many things, the Insider program was started for all the right reasons. In this case, a desire to reverse the hyper-secretive policies of Steven Sinofsky. But the Insider program has failed us: It gives too strong of a voice to the enthusiasts that would be attracted to this kind of program, thus skewing the focus of the product horribly. And this needs to change: Windows should be designed for its most numerous users, not its loudest users. (To be fair to Microsoft, it did start an Insiders program for business. But we don’t hear much about this, and I suspect that engagement is low.)