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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Windows 10's Newest Update (and General Windows 10 Talk)

The latest version of Windows 10 arrived about a week ago and so far, it has been a very great experience. A lot of my former issues that plagued my brand new laptop that came with Windows 10 have now been fixed.

A few of the errors I encountered (also encountered on other computers) were the Microsoft apps and taskbar seeming to cease operating until a restart and various notification area icons disappearing (volume, battery, network, etc.). All of these and more have now been fixed in the newest update.

With that said, there still needs some work to be done and some things need to be undone.

Windows Update
Still, Windows 10 forces your standard users into Windows Update. The updates can be held off, but they cannot be disabled.

Microsoft deserves praise in the area of Windows Update for a few reasons. One such is if you have ever had to recently do a clean install of Windows 7, you know how long updates can take downloading from the internet and installing to your machine.

A personal anecdote, I was setting up a computer for someone and installing a clean copy of Windows 7 on the machine on a Friday. I left the computer on and allowed it to download and install updates over the weekend. Monday morning and I come into the office and it is still downloading and installing updates. Unbelievable.

The updates are sometimes necessary to ensure that you are receiving the right amount of protection for your machine. Microsoft patches vulnerabilities and/or creates ways that make it more difficult to be exploited. Without updates, you leave your machine exposed to the world and vulnerable to anyone on the net who wants your information and has a little know-how in hacking. Windows 10 offered a new way to download and install updates by allowing PC's to "talk" to one another over the network. If my PC is fully up to date and you are installing a brand new copy of Windows 10 that has been sitting for over a year, your PC would normally take a very long time to finish the update process. However, thanks to the new feature in Windows 10, your PC will talk to mine and mine will allow yours to borrow updates to decrease the amount of time and energy your PC puts into getting it all from the net. Wise also in case Microsoft servers ever are to go down yet you still need a critical update.

In the very early days of Windows 10 (more like early months), my PC, at the time, was continually trying to download a driver update for my touch screen laptop. The driver temporarily broke the touch screen, in that it wouldn't work until I removed the driver update and rebooted the computer. Only issue then was that Windows tried to download the update again to the PC. I repeated this process a few times before finally just disconnecting myself from the net.

I asked for help on Microsoft's official forum but received advice from professional Microsoft employees along the lines of "remove the update and reboot", which obviously was not correcting the problem. No further help was given at the time. In the next few days, I simply decided to go without a touch screen and just let it update the wrong driver. To my surprise, it didn't install the wrong update again. That issue never happened again on any Windows 10 PC I have used either.

There is a reason why the updates are now forced. Microsoft wants uniformity between users to make support easier for themselves and those who work in IT. It is difficult to walk into a building and have to use 3-4 different techniques because not everyone is on the same page, rather, same operating system or update.

An additional problem was that most users were not doing updates as they should have been which caused a lot of issues. Issues that average users faced meant that Microsoft was going to take the fall as these people would just assume that Microsoft was not doing their job to protect their computers, which is not true at all. You simply need to manually run or allow your computer to automatically download and install the latest updates to make sure everything is running fine.

To remedy these issues, Microsoft simply forced everyone (except if running Professional, etc.) to automatically install and download updates.

An issue that Microsoft still needs to look into is when to update. Microsoft was smart enough to think ahead and allow the computer to intelligently determine when you would not be using your PC and use that time to download and install updates. Sounds great on the surface but in this internet day and age, many of us use our computers on an hourly basis for various things. Some of us even use into make a living for us and never have free time away from the PC. So when does it install an update? Likely at an inconvenient time for us. You can check YouTube right now and see people being interrupted while playing a game, writing a spreadsheet, etc. by a Windows Update rebooting their computer in the midst of the work/game they are already engaged in.

Microsoft has been trying to play catch up with Apple and Google who each have been implementing and improving their voice assistants in their various OSes and hardware with Cortana.

Apple's Siri was revolutionary when it first came on the scene a few years ago. Ever since then, she's gotten a few more features to help users use her for better things. A short while later, Google stepped on the scene with Google Now.

Google Now took a different approach than Siri, in that Siri was designed to be your assistant in many ways in a personal way. Google Now focused on productivity and accomplishing a goal and less on being your personal assistant to make you feel good. Each have their strong suits and pros and cons to one another.

Fast forward a few years later to when Microsoft announces their chosen champion, Cortana. They boasted many features for Cortana that would seem to infuse Siri and Google Now, while implementing other features. One thing Cortana also had going for it was the use of an already popular brand name now being used in the real world.

Today, Cortana has moved from mobile phones to our desks on our PCs and then finally to our living rooms via our Xbox One.

Focusing just a moment on the desktop Windows 10 Cortana, people expected a lot and didn't get what they fully wanted upon first release.

Cortana came with a lot of expectations such as being able to listen for "Hey Cortana" and respond accordingly to your request. PCs that upgraded from Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 had difficulty getting their microphones to be compatible with Cortana. Weird enough, my newest laptop came with Windows 10 pre-installed and it too had issues using my microphone.

This all changed when the newest Windows 10 update came along. Not sure about 8.1, 8, and 7 machines, but my PC is now able to use Cortana almost flawlessly. Cortana responds immediately any time I say "Hey Cortana". Cortana actually gets results now, whereas before there was always a server issue.

However...Cortana still has issues that need to be worked out.

For me, I am curious why Cortana requires my location to be on all the time in order to use her. If you disable location services completely or disallow Cortana from using them, Cortana ceases to work and you are forced to use Windows' default search without a voice assistant.

I already use Siri for Weather information or simply check online in Bing or the Weather Channel. I rarely ever use Cortana for things like this that use location so it puzzles me why Cortana absolutely, 100%, positively needs my location to work.

With growing cries for privacy among people, I would think that Microsoft would also take these into consideration as well. People are aware that the NSA and other government bodies, not even just the U.S., but all over the world are listening in on us and watching our moves. Some of us do not want to have location services on, especially on our PCs that contain lots of vital and sensitive information.

Microsoft needs to rethink aspects like this, not only of Cortana, but in all of its products, especially in Windows 10. I hope that future updates address these issues.

Overall, I am very pleased with the progress made to Cortana in the latest Windows 10 update.

The Start Menu
We are all thankful to have the Start Menu back. Even better is that Microsoft incorporated both the Start Menu and Windows 8 and 8.1's Start Screen so that people who liked either could have a choice While I think many of us would agree that we would have liked the Start Menu to remained the same as it has since, well, the beginning of the Start Menu (with menus, subcategories, and the like), I think we can all say that the return of the Start Menu is still good, especially for those lacking or not enjoying using touch screen devices.

However, Microsoft's newest update brought a fairly big change to it by simplifying the menu. This can be seen as good or bad, depending on how you liked the initial Start Menu brought back in the earlier Windows 10 release.

One positive thing is that it eliminate the need for an additional click to get to your installed programs.

It made the Power, Settings, File Explorer, and profile picture smaller and without text, by default, which I can see as being confusing for some of the users I support.

There should be an easy way for people to log off and there should be more clear signs about how to shut down.

The icons used are fairly universal nowadays, but they still can be confusing to users who are not very computer illiterate. That said, it would be wise if Microsoft could revert to using icons and names together.

Microsoft still has issues in this area and has since Day 1 of Windows 10.

Ever since the early days of Windows, the OS has categorized all of its various OS settings in one nice little place called Control Panel. Many of us are familiar with it and it's very useful for customizing your computer to your needs.

Windows 10 flipped this by introducing Settings, a new app that handles more settings for the OS. Only problem is that some of the stuff that is missing from Control Panel has been moved, without notice, to Settings. Other settings are shared between Settings and Control Panel and some settings will take you to Control Panel from Settings and vice versa which can become very confusing after some time, even for users, like myself, who are fairly familiar with the OS.

It seems that Microsoft prefers using these app tiles more than having desktop app icons like they have in the past. Understandable that a company wants to move their product into a new era, but there needs to be some help and guidance along the way. A forceful change makes it difficult for us to learn the new ways they want to introduce us to.

What I believe should happen is that Control Panel and Settings share the same settings in a duplicate manner and Microsoft provide non-intrusive ways to guide users away from Control Panel to Settings, as it seems they want to begin moving everything there, eventually.

I put emphasis on the word "non-intrusive" because Microsoft, as well as many other companies, have a nasty habit of annoying users when they are trying to be helpful. Putting up annoying notifications to remind users about Settings every time they open Control Panel would be counter productive. Whereas, maybe a one time message upon opening Control Panel (with the option to have it open again on next open or never appear again) to inform users of Settings would be a better, non-intrusive way to guide users into Settings and gradually move them away from Control Panel.

The latest update has yet to bring about a change to Settings or Control Panel, as far as I can see except a few minor bug fixes for specific hardware.

All in all, Windows 10 is getting better than the nightmare it once was. Microsoft continues to learn their lesson and hopefully will make fewer mistakes in the future. I look forward to future releases and more features that the company has in store for its OS and the users who use it. It will certainly be an interesting journey for Microsoft's last PC OS as we continue on.

If I were to guess, I would say that we will begin seeing major updates during the summer time for Windows 10 throughout the coming years. I believe next year we will see the official name "Windows 10.1" with a major user interface overhaul compared to what we received this year. Perhaps a new look to the Start Menu? Or, hopefully, some changes that won't upset users too much and will genuinely take their opinions into consideration.

What do you guys think of Windows 10, so far?

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