Thursday, 31 March 2016

And lo, I have Windows 10

I’ve been meaning to upgrade my gaming PC to Windows 10 for some time but it didn’t manage to be the most important thing on my todo list at any point. Partly this was fear of the unknown - I knew Win10 was going to be a shift in UX and also thought it likely to break at least one peripheral. My attitude to an operating system is that it should do its job quietly and not get in the way and, frankly, I didn’t feel inclined to invest time in adoption pains. That’s time I can spend more profitably sleeping or looking out of the window.
Microsoft, it seems, had other ideas. They pushed the Win10 upgrade through their patch management system and I fell victim to the auto-upgrade problem. It’s a dark, stormy night. The wind is shaking the windows, drowning out the drumming of the rain. I’m sitting in a partly lit room, curled up comfortably and reading something on my tablet. In the corner, my computer is on, untouched for the past hour. I glance up and a chill runs through me. On my monitor is the ominous message “75% upgraded”.
I could write extensively about the aggressive way Microsoft have pushed Win10. I could complain at length about it arriving on my computer unwanted and the abuse of trust around using a security patch mechanism to automatically install a complete operating system without my input. I could compare the techniques used in release of this system to the way malware is spread. But others have done all that. Instead, I’ll focus on my experiences now it has arrived.
It’s fine.
Sorry, that was really dull but honestly it sums it up. The installation process was really simple. I had to track down and turn off the P2P patch sharing stuff (uncharitable, but I wasn’t in the best mood at this point) and some of the information sharing stuff (Win10 is horribly intrusive) but otherwise it just loaded up as New Windows with no real fuss.
The next evening I sat down to see what had really happened behind the scenes. First step was going through the security and privacy options. The defaults here were horrible (everything seems to have access to everything, including cameras and microphones) but the menus themselves were clear and it was easy to turn it all off. I also came across some advertising options - it seems in the brave new world of Windows it’s a good idea to have (targeted) advertising on your lock screen. Fortunately, both the targeting and the advertising can be disabled (separately) and so that went too. The start menu was a mess, but simple enough to remove the new and exciting rubbish and simplify back to the applications I’m actually going to use.
Next up, there is Cortana. I like the idea of Cortana and I quite fancied playing around with her. Unfortunately, in order to be helpful she looks at everything you do and sends it all off to Microsoft HQ so they can tune her electronic brain. So she had to die. Killing her off was actually harder than it needed to be - stopping her talking to Microsoft wasn’t too hard, but that left her zombified husk on my task bar and I had to work out how to purge her from there too.
Having finished with my electronic holy water, I moved on to my own customisations. I found that Steam, Chrome and Office all worked fine which is the majority of my use of that computer immediately. Also, my automatic backups (I use Macrium) continued to work and mapped drives were still mapped.
So far, so painless. I hadn’t needed to reconfigure anything and the new interface hadn’t caused me any real suffering. Time to check the two things I feared would break - the main reasons for putting off the upgrade in the first place. My joystick and my game recording setup.
First off, the joystick. My basic fear was that the (already shoddy) performance of the drivers would be even worse under a more modern operating system. My fears were confirmed when it failed to load properly. To Google! Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person looking for help (this thread was very useful) and - much to my surprise - Mad Catz had released some beta drivers for Windows 10. The Win7 drivers were released in 2011, whereas the Win10 drivers came from August 2015. And they worked. Probably better than the older drivers (I didn’t, for example, suffer any blue screens while installing them). I’d lost some of my settings, but that was easy to replicate and it was fine.
I did notice a problem on boot. Win10 boots faster than the USB devices which caused problems with my stick. This was easily fixed by disabling Fast Boot. It didn’t seem like the best solution, but it worked.
Next up, game recording. Astonishingly, this also Just Worked. Mostly. I had to re-enable some of the output devices in the sound menus, but I got everything going just by double-checking the everything in my original post.
Windows 10 is fast, stable, not overly ugly, and very easy to install. It’s a change to the user interface, but not one that particularly gets in the way of just using the computer. It’s a pig for privacy, but you can turn all that nonsense off. So, overall a surprisingly good experience. 9/10. Would have my computer hijacked and a new OS forcibly installed again.