Revisiting Windows 10

My first two encounters with Windows 10 were a complete disaster.

Ages ago, this American student at our school used to yell “P*ss! F*ck! Sh*t!” whenever he got overly agitated and when I was confronted with Windows 10, at the time it was unleashed on an unsuspecting and mostly unwilling populace in 2015, I often had to think of his reactions to even the most mundane problems he encountered. To be quite honest, I modified his legendary outbursts to “P*SS, F*CK, AND SH*T!” – with a more aggressive enunciation – when trying to beat Windows 10 into submission, but usually I gave up before I could fine-tune my very own spasmodic fits.

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The first time I gave Windows 10 a try was after the compatibility test that Microsoft offered way back when had told me that everything was A.OK. It definitely (“P*SS, F*CK, AND SH*T!”) wasn’t. Even the disconnecting of various innards of my PC couldn’t save the installation routine from going absolutely bonkers. When done, I had to reassemble a disassembled PC and reinstall my old and trusted Windows 7 system because really everything was completely screwed up.

The second time I gave it a run for its money, in a dual-boot setup, Windows 10 didn’t fare much better. It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I wanted to run it properly, I would have to do tons of research to get a grip on its automated processes that were serving both me and my comparatively decent hardware one damn curve ball after another. When on a pretty sub-par Internet connection, as I am at times, it did the Irish jig every two minutes, downloading this, transmitting that, popping up useless crap right into my face and generally being as obnoxious as possible. I still have old network logs that show terabytes worth of stuff being downloaded, for no apparent reason other than adding a comma here or a pop-up there. Yes, Windows 10 had improved, but it was still mightily pi**ing me off.

It was the time when I thought I had simply had it with Windows, after a more or less uninterrupted run of two decades. Hell, I have tweaked every single version of Windows into submission ever since the earliest version, but the engineers, programmers and designers had made sure that with Windows 10, every relevant setting was hidden well enough to send even the most dedicated Windows apologist into screaming fits of anger.

To make a (very) long story short, when I seriously considered abandoning Windows and switching to Linux, which I had checked out several times these past 15 years, often in various dual-boot setups, my accustomed work flow and the absence of certain software solutions and drivers made me abandon the idea time and again. I’m not kidding you when I say that 90% of the little spare time I had these past six months was spent trying out various Linux distributions, as well as available program and driver solutions. The problem was and is that if you happen to be a Windows fan boy like me, it is really difficult to switch because I have locked myself into a soft- and hardware environment that is almost impossible to escape from. I’d like to, but no matter what people tell me, a switch to Linux isn’t just getting used to a different system, it throws a bag of nasty sand into my work flow that effectively kills it.

To give you an example: I use the (former) Audiofly / (now) Syncronice streaming system to beam my music (CD quality, zilch delay, no HiRes) from my main PC to five sets of luscious speakers around the house. To get that to work – and the system wasn’t exactly cheap – was a nightmare on Linux. In the end, I gave up.

Another example would be my streamlined work flow that basically encompasses the (latest, before the switch to a subscription model) Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a small number of tacked-on software solutions that make the whole package feel like an integrated whole. Whereas my passion, music ripping, reproduction, streaming and organization proved to be even more resource-efficient and quite nifty on Linux (besides the aforementioned driver setup), everything related to my work just didn’t jell. There is some great Linux software out there, and it is improving constantly, but it never seems to be able to attain the same level of integration that the core of my Windows software solutions offered and that I am simply accustomed to. Possible on Linux, yes, but with that extra amount of clicking, switching, tweaking and fiddling. In the end, I decided to abandon my umpteenth attempt at getting rid of Windows one final time. I just don’t have the time to endlessly tweak a Linux system to do what I need it to do. Ages ago, I would have thrown myself at it 24/7 to tweak it into submission, today, at 55 years of age, there are tons of other things I’d rather do. Pity, because there are some fantastic Linux distributions out there that do a ton of stuff better than Windows ever will.

I guess I’m just too old and my software-tweaking days are gone (and were invested into Windows).
I’ll be damned if I start all over again.
Thanks, but no thanks.

[snip]

Once I was forced forced to upgrade, Windows 10 turned out to be quite nifty. Actually, it is damn good. I won’t hang my head in shame in regard to my past complaints, but once you surmount the deficiencies, Windows 10 runs smoothly, without a fault … almost.

I spewed all over the screen these past many years about forced (and botched) upgrades, the “‘ET’-attitude” of the new system that insisted on “phoning home” every few seconds, the “bling-bling” interface geared towards a mobile generation, and the seemingly erratic road that Microsoft engineers and bigwigs were taking with the new Windows system. Still today, I often get the feeling that decisions are made at the spur of the moment, that this is delayed and postponed and that is integrated without much thought. The whole thing often feels like an experimental playground for developers who’d rather be doing something else.

So, when a new PC became a must, I opted for Windows 10 Pro to push the biggest nuisance down the timeline, automatic updates.

And then I went to town.

[snip]

The Good

In the past, because I’m the visual and aesthetic type, I usually had to install this and that to tweak the appearance of Windows to my liking. Besides installing Rainmeter and Netspeed Monitor, first installs on any new PC I own, I really didn’t need to do anything else. What a huge surprise. Within two hours, I had the system the way I wanted it to look and function, optically. The start menu, especially, works the way I expect it to … out of the box, and there are many nifty ways to tweak it to one’s liking. A couple of settings here, an added wallpaper there. Done.

Then I implemented and tweaked the “Shut the f*ck up!” settings I had researched previously. No “phoning home“, no annoying ads in the start menu (WTF?) and elsewhere, no tips, no tricks, no totally useless notifications to update this and buy that, no updates restarting the PC in the middle of 6000 pages of unsaved text, no rearranging of my settings every second day. Nope.

I had subscribed to Microsoft’s Office 365 already on my last PC, but on the new one with a lightening-fast Samsung 500GB SSD, it started to shine. Once you get used to the (crappy) ribbon design (which quickly turns into a back-and-forth clicking extravaganza and was apparently supported by user research that was conducted in some moldy gamer-basement … not in a work environment), a design that we users won’t be able to ignore any longer, the suite integrates really well with everything else residing on my PC.

To cut a long story short, I was able to recreate my work flow, with added benefits.

Still, …

The Bad

The most confusing thing about Windows 10 is the program/app obfuscation. Once I had installed Office 365, I noticed that I was calling on other (smaller and faster) Office apps much more often, apps that were a separate entity altogether … but tied into everything more than nicely. I even made the mistake of paying for the Enpass password app, … although I really needed the desktop app to get the full benefits. Instead of asking for my money back, I kept it and, as is customary in Windows 10, each variety of a program (app or desktop version) has its distinct benefits. Surprisingly enough, Microsoft’s Outlook, Contacts and Calendar apps are more easily integrated than the Office Suite itself. Often, I find myself using the apps a lot more (see below for the Microsoft calendar app clusterf*ck) than the desktop suite that trumps the apps in sheer size, ten-fold … and more.

The Ugly

Fundamental changes: Just imagine you take your car to the service station and what is returned to you has a different motor, a different color and, worst of all, requires you to study another 1098 pages of the manual to get a grip on whatever was returned to you (unexpectedly). Windows 10 is much like that. The underlying model is to supply you with advanced, changed and up-to-date functionality, which is a good idea, but when, like on Android smartphones (“P*SS, F*CK, AND SH*T!”), changes are implemented that remix, twirl and fundamentally re-bake the basic functionality of huge parts of the software and interface (“What was once there isn’t there anymore, so f*ck you! And it won’t look like before, either! Go huntin’, buddy!“), you get the feeling that script-kiddies, programmers and designers are at work, people whose work ethics are akin to getting totally wasted every few hours. Whereas I know some designers and programmers who carefully reconsider their initial layout and functionality to add a small tweak here and there, Windows engineers use a sledgehammer to beat your face to a pulp, time and again.

The App Store Wasteland: Windows 10, together with everything else that is remotely connected to Windows, has an app store to help you get new apps to serve your needs or passions. The problem is that the Windows app store is so bad that the garbage collectors around here wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. It’s a “Mad Max” wasteland that even Mad Max wouldn’t be able to navigate safely. There are apps in there that haven’t been updated for ages, 5- and 4-star reviews are, if you aren’t careful, a millennium old, apps sold there aren’t the latest versions (new ones have been published under a completely different moniker and don’t even appear on the “related” strip below), and searches won’t turn up sh*t if they aren’t worded perfectly. A true cluster-f*ck of epic proportions. Useless.

(Some) Standard apps suck: Before I installed the latest Windows 10 Pro, I had huge hopes for some of the default apps having made it to market maturity, but, alas, many of them (still) suck. Let’s take the photo app, for example. Besides trying to mirror Google (photos) once again, what was delivered leaves a lot to be desired. Search? Nope. Using it to delve into any folder via the explorer to check all images held within, you quickly discover that it won’t display a sequential run of images but only one … if you fail to mark all images to be viewed before you hit the shortcut. What the hell is up with that and who came up with it? Someone who favors single porn images around his/her hard drive? The mind boggles when you think who signed that one off. It must have been someone who simply doesn’t use his PC for work (aside from writing code in a notepad app). In the end, after I tried every available photo management app and program on the market (most of which were total overkill), and all of which have a user interface akin to sh*t on a stick, I actually re-installed an age-old version of Google’s Picasa (yep, really), just to have sequential folder view (sorted by date instead of file name, which is something they never fixed before Google, like a thousand times in the past, killed the software and went with a totally inferior product geared towards the fidgety app crowd instead).

Account confusion: Right from the start, with all the “phone home” bullstuff turned off, I connected my main work PC to a Microsoft account, simply because I knew that integration of the whole package was going to be a breeze … which it was. This app, that app and the other app synchronize well, play nice and altogether streamline the experience. Nevertheless, although my PayPal account has been registered with Microsoft for ages, none of my purchases on Windows’ app store via PayPal showed up in my Microsoft account. It took a seriously cynical complaint via the Microsoft feedback hub to actually, after 6 weeks (!) of use, make my purchases show up. Someone must have dived into may account to make that happen (something that surprised me as Microsoft support is notoriously ignorant … in this case, it certainly wasn’t, and it was speedy as well).

Don’t default me: I have no idea what the problem is, and I do suspect Microsoft’s constantly wasted engineers having had a hand in that, but whenever I decide to use a program to open certain file types by default, for quite a while Windows would invariably insist on asking if I really want to open said file type with a program that has absolutely nothing to do with Microsoft. I started to hate that pop-up and if I had had a 45 magnum around, my Samsung monitor would have been toast. Bossing unsuspecting customers around as much as possible seems to have been the operating system’s main and initial goal.

The Microsoft Calender App: To really show what is still seriously wrong with a lot of Microsoft’s efforts in regard to getting a top-notch product out there, one only needs to have a closer look at their calendar app (from hell). I don’t know about you, but for me – as a teacher – a calendar app that does what it is supposed to do is about as important as having food in the house. Nevertheless, Microsoft managed to f*ck this app up so royally that one simply cannot fathom what went through their minds when they yelled “Yes! Let’s push it live on the app store!” Actually, one can understand what went wrong, and it’s the fundamental flaw Windows 10 will probably be carrying around for its entire life span. No matter how hard they try, phone apps and PC desktop apps simply aren’t the same. In case of the calendar app, because they wanted phone users to save on fees, they limited the app to only allow users to view 3 months in advance (or 3 months into the past). If you pick a date beyond that limit, you’ll get a notification that basically tells you to go online to see the rest. As a teacher, I have a whole school year to consider, and whenever (about 10 times a day) I check appointments, class tests and more that are supposed to happen three months from now, in January, the Windows calendar app shows … nothing. Again, if you are constantly in a drug haze like most Microsoft engineers and designers usually are, you couldn’t care less what happens next Friday, but for 90% of the working population, actually being able to check dates 6 months in the future is about as important as getting … to the food you may have in the house. Microsoft only allows you to put a moldy sandwich into your fridge, which died … yesterday. When I went online to check, the complaints about this problem are endless (and have been around since 2015), but not a single drug-infested mind at Microsoft will move a single cheek to do anything about it. Funnily enough, half of their “happiness engineers” don’t even know about this problem (after almost 3 years) and will tell people who complain to de- and reinstall, check their settings, reformat their PCs, leave the house and travel elsewhere for a year, buy a new PC, etc. They actually have no idea about their own products. Just google the problem and you’ll see.

There’s more, but the rest is only a minor nuisance.

Must have Software:

The aforementioned Netspeed Monitor and Rainmeter packages are always the first programs I install after my Glasswire (additional) firewall has been set up. All three programs monitor (or can be set up to monitor) stuff Windows is trying to hide from me. When a sudden burst of download activity starts ruining my Windows experience, I can easily trace or terminate it. If programs aren’t supposed to log on and “phone home“, I can kill ’em with a quick draw. If Windows decides to start processes that clutter up my memory (less so with 16GB of it), I can identify them and give them the programmatic finger. If my processor starts heating up, I can fan it for a while. Stuff like that.

To listen to music, Foobar2000 is program numero four-o that always gets set up, EAC (Exact Audio Copy) and Accuraterip help me get the music onto my drives and are configured to work with whichever new drive happens to be installed on my PC, VLC video player takes command of every single video, a WinRar instance (bought!) takes over everything that is packed into submission, Free Commander replaces Windows Explorer for anything that needs to be done manually, Windows’ totally asinine and completely inadequate (for ages) and mind-numbingly irritating copy mechanism is quickly replaced by Teracopy (default), and a bunch of benchmarking and analysis programs follow to make sure my CPU doesn’t melt while I’m away.

And, as stated above, until someone publishes a superior program (or the program dies), Google’s age-old Picasa is installed to get a lightening-quick overview of 25TB of photos via its image viewer app.

To keep track of all my files on my PCs and external drives, I use WinCatalog, to keep everything in sync, I use the fabulous FreeFileSync, CueTools comes in handy to manage and split (music) files, Calibre (64bit) takes good care of my epub collection, every single available browser is installed (I currently favor Opera) to both test my own website in different engines and circumnavigate problems I might encounter in completely locked-down browsers of a different provenance, and although my PC is not a gaming one, age-old versions of Call of Duty (especially Modern Warfare 2 … 2009!) with its quick-shot single player maps to keep me busy for anywhere between 1 and 2 1/2 minutes, as well as some of the old Windows 7 games (yes, it is possible) are re-installed for short-lived past time activities.

Must-Haves Apps:

I’m new to the Windows 10 store, but some apps found their way onto my hard drive within a few minutes.

Passwords: The first one is “Enpass“, a password safe that works beautifully and is, for the time being, free.

Writing: The second one is an app I actively searched for, a text app that helps me pre-write posts for my website and keep various notes. “Appy Text” became my choice … and it has proven itself these past weeks in which I took it through its paces.. Distraction-free canvas, auto-save, tabs and a good implementation of Markdown. Works perfectly … and killed past software I used and also paid for.

Renaming videos: FileBot, albeit somewhat (= too) expensive, is an app I have always used to rename film and video files in the past, so I opted in (= paid) this time around. It just works and is as easy as pie. I don’t feel like spending more than a few seconds on renaming files to adhere to established standards and FileBot does the job in a few seconds.

Feed Reader: Newsflow is the last Windows app to have entered my system. It’s a feed reader that does what it is supposed to do and although it has still got some quirks here and there, it helps me to quickly scan the many websites I keep track of on a daily or weekly basis (lots of them).

The last items I usually throw at my various new PCs are my cloud accounts, OneDrive, etc. I have so many of them (about 10 different ones) that I could probably backup the entire Internet, twice.

Configuration

Account syncing: One of the most important aspects of any operating system is to get the various accounts one has amassed over time to sync up with everything else. About two years ago, I drew myself a convoluted diagram to show the seemingly 6000 accounts (=many) I have and the many cloud drive accounts I lord it over. Once I decided to sync mail, contacts, bookmarks, purchases, license data, and just about everything else via one single account, which is a catch-all account for the mass of various other accounts I have accumulated these past decades, syncing and integration have become embarrassingly simple. The one single account I use to sync everything is rock solid. It syncs everything, everywhere, all the time. And it is backed up across the entire Internet.

Moving default directories: Secondly, before anything hits my drives in terms of software, all the Windows default folders (music, photos, documents, …) are moved from their original system partition (usually drive C:) to a separate one (in my case, usually drive D:). People always warn me about that, but in the many years I have done that, no major problems have raised their ugly heads. The reason for doing this are simple: I don’t care if the system flounders and needs to be reinstalled, which does happen, but I don’t want any of my files and most of the program settings to get lost. So, everything is on a different drive/partition which is then synced to external drives (plural) at least once a week. I don’t know how many hundreds of hours this has saved me in the past, but also setting up a new PC is usually a breeze … install the system, move the default directories and synch a backup drive to the new documents etc. partition. Done.

In terms of security, this way of doing things isn’t the most brilliant as I don’t keep off-site safety copies, but if my house burned down, Windows system files are probably the last thing I’d worry about. The most important school files, all of which are the result of more than two decades of work, are securely mirrored to 2 separate cloud accounts.

Summary

At the end, I’m actually a pretty happy camper at the moment, something I never thought possible. Presently, only small bits of my hardware p*ss me off. I have a processor fan that sounds like a hairdryer, and sensible and effective cooling of my PC’s (new) case isn’t really there yet. Within the next few weeks, I intend to throw the old fan out and install one that keeps things at a quiet breeze. But that’s really an afterthought. More reading to be done, across help files and a bunch of forums, but the whole machine should be purring like a satisfied kitten relatively soon.

It won’t stop me from complaining though. The totally asinine way the Windows calendar app was programmed will regularly throw me into fits of anger, and it will continue to do so until Microsoft outlaws drug use in its office(s).

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P.S.: This entry was written to some wonderful music that hardly anyone knows: Flavio Guimaraes’ and Netto Rockfeller’s somewhat quirky 2017 blues album entitled “Sound Tracks” (enjoyable), the Tingvall trio’s 2017 release “Cirklar” (on ECM, no less), and the Johan Clement Trio’s wonderfully smooth and swinging take on Oscar Peterson, “On Request” (2006). All three are recommended by yours truly.

Posted by Volkher Hofmann

Volkher Hofmann (deus62) has been blogging on and off since the 1990s and deus62.com is all that is left. He loves music, literature, drumming and, most of all, real life. He thinks the open web is much more important than social networks, closed-in ecosystems and other severely commercialized online endeavors.

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