Windows 10 TH2 Review: So much potential but so very average

So, I’ve been running Windows 10 on my iMac since 9 November and wanted to see what Windows 10 was like when running natively on real hardware then see how things have improved with the Windows 10 TH2 update that came out later on in the week which was promised to have fixed the laundry list of issues that many early adopters were rather vocal about. Keeping in mind that as nice as it is to have an optimistic tone based on rumoured promises being addressed but it is also important to base ones review not on future promises but what has actually been delivered today. I installed Windows 10 using the bootcamp creating tool which included the latest drivers for the iMac directly from Apple and did a clean install straight from the memory stick. In this review I’ll start right from the boot screen through to the the general use – nothing will be left unexamined and that includes the installer as well.

The installation routine unfortunately is the same Windows Vista era look and feel with a splattering of Windows 7 splattering for good measure which starts off the whole exercise on rather a bad note because it notes a complete lack of attention to detail – a modern consistent installer may sound trivial but it sets the tone for the rest of the experience: first impressions last. The installation routine hasn’t changed much since Windows Vista but the feel of it remains dated which is disappointing because this is the opportunity for Microsoft to show that things have changed and that attention to detail is the new mantra.

Once fully installed you’re rebooted into the OOBE (Out Of Box Experience) where the configuration process takes place you go through the process of setting up the account and they make it rather more difficult that it needs to be if you want to setup a local account but you can set up a local account but they don’t make it easy. I can understand them wanting to make idea of a Microsoft account desirable but making it difficult to set up a local account unless you really go out of your way to find the setting during the set up process. I chose the express settings though when it came to the configuration primarily because I just don’t care for the conspiracy theories that Microsoft is harvesting my personal data and the fact that telemetry data is important for Microsoft when it comes to prioritising what is actually fixed in Windows vs. what is put on the back burner until a later release.

On reboot it goes through the usual processes and loads into the login screen where I log myself in and find that I go through the process of installing the bootcamp drivers provided by Apple for the touchpad and other devices which requires a few minutes (loading it off the memory stick) then followed through another reboot. As a side note I also tried it out on my Retina MacBook Pro to see whether things have improved on the HI-DPI front given much promises from Microsoft that things have improved with the move from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 (with refinements in in the autumn update).

When it comes to the look and feel of the operating system it is still very much a mess of consistencies; file copy dialogue box from Windows Vista, the Explorer is very much a mixture of Win32 look and feel with an attempt to bring some elements of the UWP look and feel but unfortunately the result is a rather inconsistent mess. I was expecting that with Windows 10 that there would be at least a move towards consistency or at least some sort of public roadmap as a reassurance to early adopters that, “yes, we are working towards replacing the Win32 components with modern UWP replacements but we cannot give a definitive time line” but alas in absence of evidence one can assume that the status quo is remanning indefinitely.

This is the thing that keeps undermining Microsoft at every stage – their lack of openness and transparency not to mention a time table where third party developers can plan based on features coming to the UWP platform that they rely on to move their application forward. This is the same sort of problem that Microsoft has always faced along with the tendency to suffer from almost an ADD like affliction where they’re unable to actually concentrate on one thing at a time and actually follow it through it its inevitable conclusion. The best example of that is the ‘Media Foundation’ which services as a replacement for a number of legacy frameworks and bring various technologies under the umbrella but here we are 8 years after it was first introduced in Windows Vista and it is still lacking to the point that people still rely on other frameworks to get what they want done.

There also never seems to be an overarching framework design for their operating system where as Apple will have key terminology; that a AV Foundation will be the low level framework you then have the AV Kit which provides high level functionality which requires less code to be written – for example, if you want a basic movie player in your application you could manually write the code or you just pull in a ready made solution provided as part of AV Kit to do so.  There is a sense where with Apple they take a ‘big picture’ approach to design and ask “how does everything fit in together” where as with Microsoft you can’t help but get the feeling that you’ve got disparate groups all off doing their own thing with little consideration as to how their ‘contribution’ to the system is going to fit in with everything else – almost like the Linux world where seperate groups projects are all bought together in a distribution and given a label. The net result is that not only do the underpinnings look like an uncoordinated mishmash of different ideas, there is also a lack of consistency when it comes to UI look and feel – each team has its own way of doing something with no over arching policy to bring everything together as a coherent product.

When it comes to the bundled applications they’re still very much lacking even 3 months after the release. The mail application has templates for Google, iCloud and Outlook but the problem is that if you want to add a service that is outside of it then you’re going to have to settle for basic IMAP or POP functionality given that there is no way to manually add CalDAV and CarDAV functionality meaning that for someone like my mum who keeps her contacts on the server (the ISP she is with uses Yahoo for the hosting) there is no way to manually sync which necessitates me to create a outlook.com account to host her contacts on and keep the system up to date which is less than ideal. When it comes to the mail application itself, it is lacking support for IMAP directories where as with Outlook 2016 it had no problems configuring and showing the IMAP folders.

Another let down is Groove and the lack of MTP sync integration – I understand the ‘next big thing’ but if the attempt is to encourage people to move away from legacy software like ‘Windows Media Player’ in favour of Groove and other modern replacements then they should at the very least have as close to feature parity as possible which includes MTP sync support. I am also unsure whether gapless playback has been added to Windows 10 on the desktop as the only indication so far of such a feature relates to an update for Groove running on Windows 10 Mobile.

Edge browser in the 1511 update added sync capabilities but unfortunately I simply don’t see Microsoft providing the Edge browser for an Android or iOS phones so either you deal with the lack of cross platform sync support or you give up using Edge in favour of something like Firefox or Chrome but these browsers bring their own issues relating to Windows 10 compatibility. Something that I think Microsoft needs to accept is the fact that unless they really do something to sort out the lack of applications on Windows 10 Mobile then they need to address the lack of integration between Android/iOS devices and the software that comes with Windows 10. There is also the lack of extension support which is pretty critical when it comes to surfing these days because it enable ad blockers to avoid the obnoxious browser hijacking crap that so many websites force down the throats of end users not savvy enough not to have an adblocker installed.

The Settings application has so much potential but it is half finished in nature and rather than replacing parts of the control panel they seem to be hell bent on keeping the damn thing alive by linking to the control panel for a particular item rather than any sort of long term to replace it with the control panel being empty except for legacy third party software that hasn’t been updated for the new model of configuring the system. There is also loads of configuration tools such as the Computer Management that still very much relies on a set of powerful tools yet the UI of these tools do not scale well for high-dpi screens and given how prevalent these days that high dpi screens are I’m not hopeful of seeing Microsoft speed up the development of a replacement. In an ideal world the computer management would be ripped out and replaced with PowerShell based tools with those tools being exposed via a nice UWP interface. Same can be also said for Explorer which looks woefully out of place when compared to the UWP applications that come part of Windows but I’m hopeful that things will change as the Lumia 950 with the much promoted Continuum will require a file manager that can step up to replace explorer but can scale back down to a full screen application when the phone isn’t hooked up to a big screen.

As for what this experiment has taught me is that the grass always appears to be greener on the other side until you actually get to that other side then you realise all the faults and flaws that are easily hidden when the marketing material only focuses on the ascetically pleasing screenshots rather than the warts that still remain within Windows 10. Although much fanfare has been made about Windows 10 when compared to the mess that occurred with Windows 8.1 the problem is that the operating system is very much ‘work in progress’. As much as I’d like to be optimistic about the future direction of Microsoft I also have to be realistic given that for 20+ years Microsoft complete lack of attention to detail is almost an assurance that these imperfections that I have noted will most likely never get fixed because there just isn’t that focus within Microsoft on polish and attention to detail: “well, it compiles so fuck it, lets ship it!” seems to be the motto where as at least in the world of OS X the transition from pinstripe to the now more flat grey almost executive look took several releases but eventually got there.

Going forward into the future I’m optimistic that hopefully with redstone things will change but I don’t think things will change sufficiently enough that it’ll compel me to change platforms any time soon. I have a lot already invested in the Mac ecosystem ranging from the numerous applications in and outside of the AppStore not to mention the iMac and the Apple TV as well. Although the temptation is definitely there when it comes to the PC ecosystem the problem is although I’d save a few bucks I’m almost certain to start pulling my hair out the moment I’m having to deal with such a system on a regular basis.

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