Where Windows 10 stands right now

With Windows 10 out and betas careening off the edges, here’s what you can get and what you should expect

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Windows Settings

Microsoft is stuck between several rocks and corresponding hard places. It has to make a Settings app that'll fly on smartphones but also remain adaptable to the copious settings on PCs. There are many settings/features -- Homegroups, for example -- that are both loved and loathed by legions of Windows 7 and 8 customers.

Although many of us prefer to run with local accounts, some of the features in Windows 10 won't work -- indeed, can't work -- without a Microsoft account.

Where Windows Settings stands

The schizophrenic Windows Settings/Control Panel situation hasn’t improved in the latest beta builds, with a few old Control Panel settings still in the Setting app. Right-click on the desktop and choose Display Settings or Personalized, and you end up in the Settings app. That’s an improvement, even if Desktop Themes are still in the old Control Panel.

Homegroups in Windows 10 are buried as deeply as they were in Windows 8, which means they're all but deprecated. I personally like Homegroups, so I find their departure deplorable. But it's easy to find people who vociferously disagree.

Starting with RTM, build 10240, the Settings Update & Security app, under Advanced Options, has a link to sign up for the Insider program, so you can get early versions of Windows updates. There's a new warning for those who join: "If you ever want to stop receiving Insider builds you may need to remove everything from your PC and reinstall Windows." Mark it well. If you want to start running beta versions of Windows 10 -- and have a sacrificial machine handy -- that’s where you start.

In the same location, there's also an option, in the Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise builds, to “Defer Upgrades.” Microsoft describes the option this way: "When you defer upgrades, new Windows features won’t be downloaded or installed for several months. Deferring upgrades doesn’t affect security updates. Note that deferring upgrades will prevent you from getting the latest Windows features as soon as they’re available." Details on this option -- particularly how it interacts with corporate build choices -- aren't yet available.

Windows Spotlight, an advertising feature in earlier builds of Windows 10, is back in build 10547, but we still haven’t seen a re-emergence of the ability for Microsoft to promote an app on the left side of the Start menu. Like the appearance, then disappearance, of ads on the Weather app, you have to wonder if somebody's decided to keep the advertising to a minimum in this round.

What's likely to appear

I don't see any indication that Microsoft will be able to port the zillions of Control Panel settings over to the Windows app side -- and precious little incentive for it to do so. I do, however, expect to see more settings dribble over from Control Panel to Windows Settings, perhaps with greater emphasis on migrating entire categories of settings.

Other Windows apps

The OneDrive Universal app is still missing in action.

Similarly, the old Windows 8 Skype Universal app has been pulled, and we won't get a replacement for it for quite a while. Instead, Microsoft has put several links in strategic places to convince you to download and install the old desktop Skype app. Few think desktop Skype is the equal of, say, Skype for iOS or Android.

Mail and Calendar are slowly improving. The version available in RTM Windows now has the ability to turn off Conversation mode, and it’s much more stable than its predecessor (due in no small part, I’m convinced, to Mary Jo Foley’s highly visible complaints on ZDNet).

People is finally working. It’s a very stunted app, with no features I can see other than storing and regurgitating phone numbers and email addresses.

Groove Music and Movies & TV are working, but they don't do much besides play your music and videos, and steer you to where you can spend money. Playlist support in Groove Music is barely up to Neanderthal standards. Any connection between the TV app and what you would want from a TV app is purely coincidental.

The Photos app finally brings an album view, in some circumstances, if you wait long enough. My post last month explains some of the oddities in this app -- it finds some photos, doesn’t find others, and can take hours to process. New in build 10547 is the ability for Photos to actually show you which photos are in your OneDrive folder and which are on your machine. Gawrsh.

Where Windows apps stand

OneDrive in Windows 10, even when it starts working again, won’t work anything like it did in Windows 8, primarily because Microsoft is doing away with "smart file" behavior -- where thumbnails of files are stored on your machine, pulled down from OneDrive only as needed. I have a much more detailed explanation in my review of build 9879. (Paul Thurrott has a clever, if inefficient, workaround that involves assigned drives.) Expect some sort of update -- or maybe not -- by November.

Mary Branscombe posted a widely acclaimed suggestion that Microsoft at least improve OneDrive a little bit in Windows 10. Microsoft has responded saying, basically, it ain't gonna happen. Even though there are now more prompts for setting up syncing, so not all files get left behind, I expect that the change in OneDrive “smart file” behavior will be the No. 1 hang-up for advanced Windows users considering the move to Windows 10. Or it’ll drive everybody to Dropbox, which may not be such a bad resolution, come to think of it.

The great unknown

Windows 10 is free for “genuine” Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 customers who upgrade before July 29, 2016. In fact, it’s being rammed down their throats with targeted advertising and surreptitiously downloaded 3GB to 6GB installation files. Ed Bott has an official/unofficial review of the new activation rules in his ZDNet article. Short version: If you upgrade in place from Win7 or 8.1 to Windows 10, Microsoft stores your validation key on their servers, and any Windows 10 installs on that particular machine will forever be “genuine” even if you don’t have a key. Windows 10 Home and Pro users who aren’t connected to an update server (such as WSUS), are forced to apply updates when Microsoft says they’re ready. We also know that Windows 10 Pro (and Enterprise) users will be held to a more relaxed pace with Windows Update for Business, but nobody has seen any parts of WUB, and it isn’t expected to be available anytime soon. There’s no interface, and no testing that I’ve seen, that would give us a clue.

Most Windows 10 observers still have three major concerns.

First, there’s no way to hold back a bad patch, although there is a way to remove and block a bad patch once it’s been installed, and in some cases you can hold off on all patches by using a metered connection trick.

Second, Microsoft isn’t telling us anything about the Windows 10 patches. A few of the Cumulative Updates (patches) have had links to Microsoft Security Bulletins, but other than that, there’s exactly nothing coming from Microsoft. It’s an intolerable stance which, I’m convinced, Microsoft will have to change. But how? And when?

Third, there doesn’t appear to be any way to tell Windows 10 that you don’t want to send any information about you to Microsoft’s servers. The spying -- you can call it monitoring -- bothers a lot of experienced Windows users. There are a few good articles on how to disconnect the myriad settings that pump your information to Microsoft (in particular, this one from the How to Geek, and this one from Ars Technica. But I still don’t know of any way to prevent the kind of round-the-corners leak first described by Peter Bright in Ars Technica in August.

Stay tuned. We'll be updating this article as Windows 10 continues to evolve.

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