From Windows 8 to 10 – The excitements and the disappointments.

tl;dr

I have been a Linux user for the past few years, but I grew up using Windows, and I have always been closely interested in it’s progress and moves.

When Windows 8 came out, I was like the only person I knew who didn’t hate the Metro. All my friends thought it was ridiculous, and truth be told, it was. It seemed as if they had forgotten that people neither have a bunch of huge touchscreens lying around in their place nor do they love the desktop experience in full touch, and Windows 8 was a weird cross between an OS optimized for touchscreen, and an OS that didn’t look like it would ever work well with touchscreens.

Accessing the desktop by clicking on a tile at the bottom left corner of the screen was oddly disturbing.. it felt like the desktop had lost it’s old integrity.. Like it was only a tile among many, like it was just another app like the ones accessed by clicking the other tiles. Furthermore, at times, it was hard to decide which world to live in: the metro, that had a really long way to go, and was far from mature, or the desktop that we’d both loved and hated for ages. For Developers, it both sucked and was an opportunity at the same time. They had a new platform to master; some would go on to proudly declare themselves to be of the first 100 developers for Windows apps. Some developers saw it as mere clutter. Another language and platform to come across and not-read articles of.

The question was: “Why?”

The answer is simple. Unification. Imagine having the same operating system on all your devices. The same UI, with slight differences based on screen-size, rather like a responsive website. The applications you use on your desktop, running on a 5″ device in the palm of your hand. Together with the progress of progressive web apps, there would be no need for “apps” as we know it. A developer would need to code once and only once, and the same code would run on all devices. Microsoft was wise in the sense that it saw what could be the future of computing before everyone else, furthermore, they started working towards it before everyone else too, and that was wiser, but their moves weren’t. The users weren’t ready for such huge changes that were fairly unexplained to the general consumer.

Then came out Windows 8.1, which could hardly be called an improvement. They added a Windows icon to the taskbar, in order to make up for the much criticized missing start-menu, but that was about the only thing I liked about it, simply because the taskbar didn’t look quite as bare anymore. Also, it was the most useless addition too. Other than that, there were slight changes to the Metro UI, that I couldn’t have cared less for. Oh and I almost forgot.. the added lag. Yes, I mean it. For some reason, it lagged like hell. Basic stuff that was super-snappy in 8, like doing a search from the start menu, was accompanied, at times even for a whole second, by lag.

It was clear that the next version of Windows would have to fix all that stuff. Microsoft thought the same too. They made a hard choice by deciding to go for what users want, at the cost of what they saw as revolutionary changes that the users merely had to adapt to. But they weren’t giving up that easily, and so they decided (or so it seems,) that the next version of Windows should offer the best of both worlds. The users would get back their start-menu, and they’d still continue with their moves towards achieving the unification they want to be first to introduce to the world.

Over time, we read articles about how the next version of Windows would be a “10” and that there’d be no “9.” It was, and it was interpreted as a good sign. It had a “moving on” thing about it. It suggested that Microsoft was ready to make a few big changes. And soon enough we saw screenshots of previews depicting the best of the new added features.

I was particularly excited about the addition of “Multiple Desktops.” As a Linux user, I often find myself pressing certain key combinations that, on a linux system would allow for management of windows across workspaces or ‘virtual-desktops,’ but on Windows, to my dismay, they usually result in a rotated screen. Having multiple workspaces is what I have always missed most when using Windows ever since I have been using Linux. Knowing that we were gonna get that feature in the next version of Windows was oddly exciting. It was almost as though Windows was learning from the desktop environments for Linux, as they had also introduced a “Task View” that shows a summary of all open windows on a particular desktop.
Another exciting thing was the integration of Cortana into the global search feature accessible directly from the taskbar. Siri has kind of been a fairly dominant player in the market for virtual-assistants, and although there are those who prefer Cortana over Siri and believe the former to be better, Cortana does still have a small fan-base, because Windows Phone has never had much of one. However, Cortana became the first virtual-assistant to be fully integrated into a desktop, and the previews showed clearly that it worked well. I’m not the biggest fan of voice commands, and most certainly not much of a user, (I do use “Google Now” to set alarms, but that’s just about it.) but it was pretty clear that it was working great. Oh and the “Tablet Mode” suggested that we are getting closer to unification.

Long story short, Windows 10 came out, and a lot of users delightedly upgraded for free. Despite how badly I wanted to use it, I actually waited until like a couple of days back to finally try try it. Throughout the installation process I noticed how it was almost identical to that of it’s direct predecessors. The “We are setting things up for you,”  screen was just as annoying as before, and it lingered for just as long as it did before. After it disappeared and I was finally able to log in, I was like “What the hell?” Not that the previews hadn’t warned me, but I wasn’t quite expecting the new UI to have such an unfinished and ugly look about it in the actual release. I understood their motive to make the UI even flatter than what we had before, but flat themes can be pretty lovable too. I fired up the explorer and nothing happened. Then after 2-3 seconds, it popped up. I wasn’t using a supercomputer, but it was a 3rd Gen i5, that worked fine with Windows 8. Why the increased lag? After all, even the icons are simpler. First thought? Could be better optimised. It sucked how 8.1 lagged for no reason, and it sucks worse that 10 does the same. I pressed the start button a number of times to check the response and opened and closed a few applications to judge the lag, and it was about as welcoming as the Windows Explorer. I accidentally locked it, and the screen went black, and stayed that way for a good fraction of a minute while I continuously pressed space-bar hoping for it to light-up. It did in a while, and I was greeted by the lockscreen, followed by the login screen, which too, for some reason, had this unfinished feel about it.

I checked out the Multiple Desktops, and they worked fine, but I wouldn’t mind shortcuts for moving windows across desktops. Shortcuts allow for the creation and destruction of desktops, and allow you to move through them, but there isn’t one that allows you to move windows across them. Also, the shortcut for closing a desktop is pretty pathetic. Windows Key + Ctrl + F4 ? Like seriously? I understand how it appears to pay homage to the universal and traditional Alt+F4, But there don’t need to be shortcuts for creating and destroying desktops. Like Debian, this could be an automatic thing. You have a window open. You want to move it to a desktop on the right? you press the shortcut for it and it automatically creates a desktop for you, and moves the window there. That’s all it had to be, and as soon as you empty a desktop, it gets destroyed.

Finally, Edge. The new web-browser by Microsoft, and the successor to the infamous Internet Explorer. How did I find Edge? In a word? Awesome. Yes, I mean it. I clicked on the icon and was immediately greeted by a fairly minimalistic window, with a bing search bar in the center, that also works as an address bar. I only used it to download an office suite, but while at it, I explored a few of its features while blindly clicking around. I liked it mostly because of it’s snappiness and minimalism, and a couple of features, but you can read up about the best of it’s features here.

In short, Windows 10 was an improvement, but it’s UI elements were disappointing, and were the reason it didn’t feel quite as magical as I thought it would be. I like Microsoft’s interest in “The Unified OS,” and I believe that it is possible for them to get there before anyone else, but they are going to have to make the right decisions while taking into account their users and their wishes. Microsoft’s strength is in the fact that Windows users don’t usually switch away from it. They hate it, curse it, speak ill of it, but at the end of the day, they use it. This loyalty also shows that they deserve to be heard. (At least the sensible ones.)

 

Anas Ismail Khan

 

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