Windows 10 and why I downgraded: a brief review

Those of you who know me probably know that I’m geeky.  I am also a Windows person.  Unlike the majority of the people out there, I actually *REALLY LIKE* Windows 8.  I know, I know–but all my computers have touch screens and I adapted very easily.  I even have a Windows phone (seriously–actually, two).  That said, I was counting the days and the minutes until July 29 and the official release of Windows 10.  Yes, I’m a Windows Insider (and I have the tech preview of 10 on a phone).

The Upgrade Process

I did not get Windows 10 on the 29th.  I actually got Windows 10 on July 31 for only one of my devices: my Surface Pro 3.  I hadn’t planned on putting on that device first, but it’s the only one I’ve gotten the upgrade on so far, and I reasoned that since the Surface Pro 3 is a Microsoft device, it should have the best outcome.

The download process completed in the background.  I had one gripe during this: the onscreen prompts told me that it was downloading, but the page that was supposed to show my progress never did.  Eventually, the download finished. I immediately ran the installer.

Installation was a breeze.  I chose the advanced setup options but ended up not changing any of the defaults.  It took approximately 40 minutes to complete setup on my system.  That will vary depending on system performance.

Logging in was painless and almost everything I expected was actually there!  An almost seamless transition!  I did have to resubmit passwords for my work email, but my personal email account transitioned over quite well.

Over the next 3-4 hours, I played with Windows 10 settings and software.

The Good

  1. Installation was really painless.
  2. Return of the Start menu: most users really, really wanted this back.  Initially, I was among those who thought it was important, but I never got around to putting a Start button replacement in Windows 8.1.  I just pinned my most-used applications to the taskbar anyway.
  3. Cortana.  I can’t say enough about Cortana.  I have her on my phone and have been eagerly awaiting desktop integration.  For those who don’t have Cortana, she’s a digital assistant with a sense of humor.  I had to do minor training but had few issues with voice commands.  She gets better with usage, too.  She is the one thing that I truly miss.
  4. Good detection of tablet mode: when my keyboard was attached, Windows 10 switched to a desktop-mode interface.  It can ask you for confirmation or do this automatically.  When I removed the keyboard, it switched to a more touch-friendly interface similar to the Windows 8 Start screen.
  5. The notification area: Windows 10 has clearly paid attention to mobile computing and device needs here.  The notification area has several icons for turning on airplane mode, switching to/from tablet mode, WiFi, etc.  These are configurable.  It will also display app updates from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. (configurable).

The Bad

  1. OneDrive.  (prepare for rant) In Windows 8, OneDrive used “Smart Files” or “Placeholders.”  If you had data stored in the Microsoft cloud (OneDrive), these files and the directory showed up on your system as though they were local files.  As long as you had a reasonable internet connection, they acted like local files (a temp copy would download to your local machine on demand).  Under Windows 10, this functionality was removed ON PURPOSE.  Microsoft says that they need to fix the hodgepodge of code that was running that system for stability and clean it up.  From a programming perspective, I understand that.  However, what this means for end users is that Microsoft now expects you to synchronize entire folders to your local computer: you will download that data, and any changes will be updated between your computer and the server.  In short, it works just like Dropbox, or Google Drive, or any other cloud storage solution.  Here is where the problem comes in.  I cannot synchronize the contents of my entire OneDrive folder: I’d have -60 GB of data left on my hard drive.  Microsoft offers TWO “solutions” to this issue: 1-synchronize fewer folders, and 2-you can still access any files through the web browser.  That is NOT a workable solution for me.  The folder I access most often for work is over 10 GB in size and I randomly need files from this folder.  I do not have space on all my devices to download this much data.  I do not WANT  to download all that data–it defeats the purpose of having cloud storage!  Why on earth would I want to go back to wondering which computer had which files?  Microsoft did return a much-demanded feature: the ability to retrieve files from another computer that is remote.  However, this only works if the other computer is online–so assuming you’re not traveling hundreds or thousands of miles and your home system isn’t knocked offline because of a storm (or bad driver taking out a pole, or a squirrel, or your network stack doesn’t harf/crash, or…) so again, NO, Microsoft.  Most companies, including Microsoft, are pushing small, portable devices with limited hard drive space to save money and power consumption.  This change to OneDrive functionality severely limits those devices. My applications (such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel) were not able to read/see/access files in OneDrive.  Ric also discovered that you cannot easily change your default OneDrive directory on your local computer and it will NOT allow you to put it on a removable disk (or SD card, for those using them as expansion drives).  (end rant) BUT there IS a workaround (see below)!
  2. Settings and Control Panel: they’re not the same thing.  You have a lot of settings and a global settings menu item, but this is not the same as Control Panel, which is harder to access (and I honestly never did).  Just be aware.
  3. The mail/calendar client.  These are sort of integrated, but not wholly.  It’s not like Outlook, so it’s not that intimidating.  However, some of my favorite features from the Windows 8 Mail app are gone: Sweep (which removes all but the most recent email from a sender), and automagic filtering of some emails (such as the Newsletters grouping, which caught a lot of my unimportant subscription emails that weren’t junk).  Boo, hiss.
  4. Tablet/desktop mode on desktops: this one was found by Ric, since his desktop got Windows 10.  Despite the fact that he has a touchscreen monitor, Windows 10 will not let him opt in and enable tablet mode.  Why can’t we choose this?

The Bottom Line

I didn’t make it 36 hours with Windows 10.  I do realize that this is an unfair amount of time to judge an OS, but ultimately, without the functionality of OneDrive, I couldn’t justify keeping it on my Surface Pro 3.  I therefore chose to revert my system to Windows 8.1.  I have heard that downgrading is buggy (some applications will need reinstallation and some won’t work right) so I opted to do a full system restore to factory defaults; thus, I can’t tell you from personal experience about the option to revert.  I can tell you this: you have 30 days from installing Windows 10 to decide whether to keep it.  You have one year (until July 29, 2016) to take advantage of the free upgrade.  Honestly, I’ll be installing it on my non-critical system(s) as soon as it pushes through, but I won’t do so on my desktop or Surface Pro 3 yet.

I would therefore give you the following advice: make sure you have or create system restore media before upgrading.  If you use the cloud heavily or have a small hard drive, WAIT.  Microsoft says they’re working on this issue and hope to have an update by the end of the year.

The Workaround

Ric and I fought the OneDrive change tooth and nail.  We did find a workaround that may or may not be adequate for your needs.  Briefly, it involves mapping a network drive to your OneDrive folder.  To do this, you will need to find your OneDrive CID (go to any file in your OneDrive account through a browser, right-click and choose embed.  Copy and paste the embed code to a Word or text file and look for the cid= string).  Map the network drive to and login to your Microsoft account when/if prompted.  For more complete directions, check out this very helpful step-by-step guide:


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