Why I'm holding off on Windows 10

Last-minute shopping? While Windows 10 crushes Windows 8/8.1, Windows 7 users should think twice before jumping on the 10 train just yet

Why I'm holding off on Windows 10
Credit: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

More than a million people have read Woody Leonhard’s “10 reasons you shouldn't upgrade to Windows 10” since we posted it on Aug. 20, 2015. Its companion piece, “10 reasons you should upgrade to Windows 10,” has been read by fewer than 70,000 people.

That tells you something about the way people make decisions: Always look for the showstopper first. But it’s also symbolic of Windows 10’s ongoing drawbacks, despite the fact that many millions of people have already downloaded and installed the free Windows 10 upgrade or have bought a new Windows 10 system.

Woody’s advice, which you can read for yourself in his review of the latest Windows 10 build, is clear: If you run Windows 7, don’t bother upgrading to Windows 10. The UI will annoy you (unless you have a touchscreen), advertisements will invade your Start menu, several key features remain half-baked, and upgrade glitches may get you (see “12 Windows 10 install issues -- and what to do about them”).

Plus, you may not like Windows 10’s habit of collecting data about what you do on your PC, although you can opt out of that. And those highly touted universal Windows apps, which run on Windows phones, tablets, and PCs? Not quite there yet -- and their future is hazy.

But hey, it’s last-minute holiday shopping time! If you want a new Windows machine, Woody advises that you buy a Windows 10 model rather than attempting an elaborate downgrade to Windows 7.

I’m not entirely sure about that.

InfoWorld’s Jon Udell traveled that new Windows 10 hardware route recently, specifically because he wanted a convertible laptop/tablet. Last I heard, he was happy -- after he returned one defective Lenovo Yoga 3 1 unit and two HP Spectre x360s to Best Buy -- and scoured help forums to discover how to fix a major sound problem in both models (a Realtek Program named FMAPP.exe was the culprit in both cases).

Oh, Windows.

Microsoft is doing so well in so many areas -- Office 365, the Azure cloud, Windows Server -- but it’s still having a hard time getting Windows 10 right. Woody has faith that, eventually, Microsoft will iron out the kinks and improve the apps. If you buy Windows 10 hardware, you’re buying into that assurance, and because Windows 10 will continue to evolve through incremental automatic updates, Woody has to be right in the long run. (I mean, he has to be...right?)

But there are compelling reasons to hold off buying a Windows 10 computer at this particular point in time. One of them is a feature called Continuum, which Woody described in his review:

While the term has taken on many different meanings -- from the ability to detach a machine’s keyboard without all hell breaking loose, to the ability to use your phone as the center of a desktop system -- much of the promise of Continuum will have to wait until the hardware is ready. That isn’t going to happen until next year or later.

In other words, if what you really want is some fancy convertible action, why not wait for the next wave of hardware, when Continuum is in full swing? Another reason: According to Woody, the Hello face recognition feature doesn’t really work yet. More generally, the longer you wait, the more stable things will be.

What do you buy in the meantime? Well, you could opt for a Mac like I did a few years ago. The MacBook Air I use for work today is exactly what I need -- but it’s awfully pricey for a home machine (which is why I use a Windows 7 desktop at home). Of course, you might choose a tablet as a laptop replacement, but c’mon, few people do, and instead add an iPad as a third device after their laptop and smartphone.

You could also go the other way and buy a cheap Chromebook for a couple hundred bucks. They’re perfectly serviceable Web appliances.

Or if you look hard, you can still buy a Windows 7 machine! After all, Microsoft will provide extended support for Windows 7 computers until January 2020. Ed Bott at ZDNet has an excellent, recently updated post on this topic. Unfortunately, some of the outlets he pointed to in November are already sold out. I managed to find some refurbished Windows 7 laptops and desktops on the Staples site, however, some at supercheap prices.

Dell and HP sell Windows 7 machines, too, but they aren’t particularly inexpensive, which kind of defeats the purpose.

What purpose is that? Well, if Windows 10 needs some time to mature, and a Mac is too expensive (or too much of an adventure) for you, buying a cheap stopgap system for you or your kid makes a certain amount of sense. That could be a Chromebook -- or you could be retrograde like me and find (or build) a cheap Windows 7 computer. Gotta love that old OS.

We’re going through a weird time when much of the excitement over smartphones and tablets has faded -- and the laptop and desktop world has become downright sleepy, with the possible exception of Windows 10 convertibles, which promise to get a lot more interesting (and less glitchy) a year from now.

In other words, when it come to clients, we're in the doldrums. Unless you have particular needs (Windows 10 offers great gaming performance, I hear) I’d go the stopgap route.

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