Windows 10

April 25, 2015

Microsoft’s latest operating system will be released in July of 2015. In about a month from my writing of this, Microsoft will need to release the software to manufacturing so that discs can be produced in time for their appearance in stores, and so it can be in the hands of laptop manufacturers ahead of back-to-school season.

In the digital world of software, that doesn’t mean the end of revisions. It does, however, mean we’re nearing the end of the development cycle for Windows 10’s initial release. By now the operating system should be feature locked and hopefully feature complete. At most, there should only be a little polishing left.

With that in mind, I updated my copy of the Windows 10 technical preview to see what the latest pre-release build looked like.

I was happy to see that some things changed. Microsoft seems to be cutting down on some of the legacy junk, at least when it comes to things you can easily find. For example, there are no longer three different calculators and two different programs for changing your screen resolution. Likewise, if you search something like “update” in the search bar, the first result is now a system settings result, not some questionable software on the Windows Store.

Despite those positive changes, I still think the operating system is a huge mess, and I don’t see myself updating to it. It looks like I’ll be keeping my gaming computer on Windows 7 indefinitely.

For people who play PC games, Microsoft is trying to entice you with the same thing they did back in Windows Vista: The newest version of DirectX will only be available on Windows 10. But that isn’t much of a reason to upgrade; DirectX 12 isn’t out yet, so games that require it haven’t even started development and shouldn’t begin coming out for another three to five years.

As an aside, remember how the PC version of Halo 2 was a Windows Vista exclusive, as only Windows Vista had DirectX 10, which Halo 2 didn’t use?

Anyway, Windows 10 is ugly. The operating system’s aesthetic is informed from Microsoft’s lineup of unsuccessful mobile devices. Microsoft tells shareholders that three percent market share is a success for a number of reasons that I don’t care to bring up, but that’s nonsense. To elucidate on why Windows 10’s aesthetic is what it is: Microsoft’s strategy going forward is embodied in their slogan “Mobile First, Cloud First.” As such, when those three-percent-of-the-market Windows Phone users get on any Windows tablets or computers they may own, Microsoft believes they should be able to use the same applications and services they already know and love, as well as have a vaguely familiar desktop environment to use them in.

That’s a smart strategy for a consumer electronics company — more people own, use, and access the Internet through mobile devices than they do computers — but Microsoft isn’t a good consumer electronics company. In fact, most all of Microsoft’s endeavors in consumer electronics have been market failures, if not disasters. Microsoft’s strength is enterprise solutions. People use Windows because businesses use Windows, and Microsoft’s Office, Exchange, and Lync Skype for Business software are used by businesses everywhere.

Things like Xbox One and Windows Phone are distractions from Microsoft’s strength in enterprise solutions, and Hololens doesn’t even exist beyond that one video they contracted some visual effects studio to make. Microsoft needs to think more like IBM, but that’s boring; there’s no world-changing story to sell shareholders in enterprise solutions; there’s nothing flashy about stability that raises Microsoft’s stock price.

Back to Windows 10, an operating system should be a sandbox, not a delivery mechanism for advertising or a way to drive engagement to Microsoft’s failing web ventures. Windows 10 by default starts with advertisements in your Start menu. There are also “recommended” advertisements shown to you whenever you try to use your search box, and if you turn them off, they are replaced by “popular now” advertisements instead. The search box as a whole seems deceptively designed to drive traffic through Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, probably so Microsoft can seduce advertisers by showing how many people unknowingly use Bing. I truly haven’t found a way to turn all that garbage off. I shouldn’t have to dig through my registry and system files to disable things like that.

Something else I disdain is that in order to use the operating system, you need to log in with a Microsoft account. Why? I don’t know, but I assume it’s to log you in to Outlook, Bing, OneDrive, and whatever other Microsoft nonsense you probably don’t use. All those services are automatically setup, installed, and running, as soon as you log in, whether you wanted them or not.

Honestly, and this is certainly skin deep, but I just hate Windows 10’s look. There’s senseless whitespace everywhere. The interface is bright and garish in all the wrong ways. Some of its symbols are non-intuitive and the isometric icons not only look gross, but they’re also lacking symmetry. In Windows 10, you can still find icons from Windows operating systems released over fifteen years ago. I also simply dislike the ribbon interface in Explorer.

Many applications also have splash screens and no attempt has been made to disguise them. Applications don’t even try to use whatever the most abundant or neutral colors in your user theme are. Microsoft instead just opts for some random shade blue. For comparison, in iOS, the splash screen of an application is disguised as a screenshot from when that application was last used, and as a result, I’m sure most people don’t realize iOS applications have splash screens.

Screen scaling is better than it was in the past, but it is still inconsistent. That wouldn’t be too much of an issue if Windows tablets and laptops weren’t beginning to come out with high resolution displays, and if people weren’t buying 4K and 5K displays for home use, but it is, and people are. Maybe Windows 11 will finally get screen scaling right?

The user interface occasionally fails to register mouse clicks, requiring multiple clicks to interpret commands correctly. I don’t know how you mess that up after thirty years of mice working fine.

I also don’t know what Microsoft changed about ClearType’s anti-aliasing, but text in Windows 10 looks markedly worse than it does in Windows 7.

I never thought that by 2015 even some Linux distributions would look slicker and more consistent than the latest Windows release.

In all, Windows 10 comes off not as a space for you to use or make you own. Instead, it’s a machine missing one final piece: a user. The operating system isn’t there to help you; you’re there to help Microsoft. What do I mean by that? I mean that you are constantly connected to a number of Microsoft online services, which means their metrics for active users and other nonsense go up without outright lying. It’s the same reason Microsoft will give you a $5 gift card for searching 1,000 things on Bing.

You, as a single user, are quite useless to them, but hundreds of millions of active users is a great thing to sell their investors, advertisers, and business partners.

Each new user of Windows 10 means another machine completed and a slightly larger active-user number to sell.