A Reluctant Return to Windows

I have lived a Windows-free life for a good long while now, using the OS only at work and leaving my home setup free of Microsoft’s influence. However, with the upcoming shift to Windows 10 in my place of work (which I will be helping to develop) and my need to study PowerShell and Hyper-V for my 70-410 exam, I decided to bite the bullet and once again load Windows 10 Professional on to my machine. This is nothing more than a brain dump of my experience on returning. Let it be known that I do not hate Windows as many Linux enthusiasts do; indeed, I’ve been very impressed with many of the advances that Microsoft has been making across their product lines. However, my experiences with it have been patchy at best.

The Updates, the Updates

Since I initially bought my Windows 10 license back in 2017, my download was stuck on version 1703, which is a good long way behind where we are now. So, of course, after the long process of installing the OS from USB, I had to let the machine sit for a few hours while it installed updates. I will say, to Microsoft’s credit, this process is far cleaner and less frustrating than before. Not once did I see that accursed percentage wheel which seems to take many moons to budge. Instead, the machine booted and informed me that a big update was needed and that it would perform this in the background using the Windows Update Assistant. This was a much more streamlined and pleasant way to experience the update process, and really highlights how hard Microsoft has worked on it.

With that being said, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. For example, I began to set up the rest of the computer while the update was happening: installing my favourite apps, restoring data from backups, etc. etc. I certainly didn’t expect to be kicked off with no warning. Granted, the machine gave me a notification saying that it would reboot, but there was no option for me to postpone this while I finished installing Office. Instead, the machine unceremoniously booted me off for the next hour while it finished installing 1803. Hum.

Windows Update is much less clunky now than ever before. Yesterday, I moved both my main machine and my partner’s machine back over to Windows 10 with much less fuss than I’ve ever encountered. However, it still baffles me that Microsoft can’t seem to take a leaf out of the Linux book on updates. Many distros have really mastered the art of the smooth update, giving users the option of using a graphical interface with easy-to-dismiss prompts or having complete control in the terminal. I understand that Microsoft is trying to push users into accepting the importance of security updates, but there is something that remains quite frustrating about the whole process. I’m sure it’s going to get better with time, as it is already miles ahead of where it used to be, but I can’t help but miss my apt, dnf, yum etc.

A Slap in the Face

Anybody who knows me will know that I utterly despise advertising. I reject wholeheartedly the use of adverts on the web to make money, and certainly cannot abide the idea of paid-for service advertising to me atop the money already given. The idea is just anathema to my ideals. For example: if Netflix showed adverts in addition to its monthly bill, I would have to cancel the service. After all, what’s the point of me paying when I’m still going to be subjected to this money-grubbing behaviour? Unfortunately, Windows 10 represents the worst of this behaviour.

Just to give you and idea of why this upsets me so much, I mentioned before that I don’t usually use Windows. I nearly always load Linux on to any machine I buy out of preference, but it is only since I started getting my machines custom-made that I’ve been able to avoid paying for a Windows license. I should dearly love to see the £90-odd per machine I’ve paid back from Microsoft, but it is a loss I have to accept. What I cannot accept, however, is when a product for which I have paid so many times then has the audacity to advertise to me.

The advertising can be pretty subtle, and the majority of it can be turned off by following any of the myriad blog posts on the subject. The issue here is more a moral one, though. I paid for my Windows license. Microsoft has my money. Sure, Windows 10 is a rolling release, but people will still be buying new computers – and thus new licenses – so the whole argument of supplementing income falls on its face at that point. The use of adverts on my computer is indefensible.

I feel much the same about this as I did about the inclusion of Amazon in Canonical’s Ubuntu, although it was arguably worse in that case as Ubuntu is supposed to be a free OS while Windows very forthcoming about its cost and the fact that the OS ultimately belongs to Microsoft, not you. But worse than the advertising on the home screen and the little surreptitious messages throughout the desktop experiences are the bloody apps I never asked for. Never in my life would I play Candy Crush, much less download it every time I get an update. From my understanding, this “feature” can be disabled through group policy on the Enterprise and Education versions of the OS, but not Professional or any other. Luckily, when there’s a will there’s a registry hack. Some quick Googling led me to the following fix: locate (or create) the following key HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\CloudContent and make a new DWORD called “DisableWindowsConsumerFeatures” with a value of 1. This disables the PC’s ability to download new apps that Microsoft thinks you want. But really, this is just utter bum gravy.

The Rest

There’s not much for me to say apart from that, as most people have been using Windows 10 for a while now. It’s certainly better than it was during my time on the Insider’s Preview. It’s stable, it’s polished, and it is much better tuned for my PC’s hardware than most any distro I’ve come across. I have my grievances and my times when I just wish it would work like Linux, but I suppose for that I always have my virtual machines and WSL.

Some specific areas of note: Edge is now miles ahead of where I thought it would be. It’s now actually usable as a daily driver (though I still use Firefox for most things), and has some really nifty features including a Pocket-like tab saving feature. The Windows Dark Theme really helps a great deal with my eyes, and the night light is really easy-to-use and customisable. It seems like a lot of time and thought has gone in to making the OS more accessible for people with vision trouble, such as myself. This is greatly appreciated.

Windows Apps from the store seem to be a great deal more usable, too. In particular, Slack has an excellent offering as they’ve managed to simply bring their win32 app to the store as an appx (which is really the only way this store is going to work until more work goes in to the appx format). There is a much greater feeling of consistency throughout the entire desktop experience than ever before. In particular, though, I’ve been impressed with Windows Defender. What was once a complete joke of an AV solution has been able to pick up on issues and provide fixes for problems I didn’t even know my computer had (such as outdated TPM firmware and BIOS upgrades). The interface is clean and easy to use, and it has nowhere near the footprint of solutions such as Avira and Sophos in my experience.

I may post more on this subject as I continue to use Windows. Most likely, I’m going to be using my experiences to find all the things we need to turn off in our gold image for rolling out later this year. Gulp.