Windows 10: Does It Deliver to PC Enthusiasts?



It’s been a little more than a week since Microsoft launched Windows 10 as an upgrade to existing Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 7 users. Windows 10 hits nearly every end customer segment and sub-segment out there, but I want to focus first on enthusiasts, the sub-segment who typically uses desktops and skew to buying more expensive and beefy hardware. For enthusiasts, those that are most likely to upgrade right away, Windows 10 has been full of ups and downs in such a short period of time. Nobody expects a new operating system to be perfect at launch and Microsoft had millions of people, including me, participating in their insider program which was planned to help Microsoft iron out a lot of the bugs in their operating system before it reached what used to be called RTM (Release To Manufacturing). But ultimately the question comes down to “should enthusiasts upgrade” and if you do, “should you upgrade your hardware as well”? And do IntelNvidia and AMD have compelling hardware that would encourage an upgrade?

Righting Wrongs

Microsoft Windows 8 was arguably one of the worst received operating systems in the company’s recent history for enthusiast desktop users. I wrote intensely about Windows 8 years back, and unfortunately I was correct on nearly every account, including Windows 8 on ARM, importance on the number and quality of apps at launch, ramifications of deprioritizing the desktop, and post-launch requirements. As a tablet and touch notebook OS it was quite good with the exception of limited apps in the beginning, and the target of hitting 2-in-1s and tablets meant that Microsoft wouldn’t be in that market at all if it weren’t for a good OS. This, understandably, alienated a lot of Windows 7 desktop users as many of Windows 8’s controls incorporated touch and would otherwise require a certain key stroke or precise mouse movement.

The interface for Windows 8 was not mouse and keyboard friendly and that included the start menu, which did away with the start button and instead defaulted to a bunch of Microsoft’s live tiles. Considering that Microsoft had gotten PC users, both desktop and not, comfortable with the Window start up, the sudden demise of the startup bar caused a lot of backlash and as a result very few people upgraded to Windows 8/8.1. Many PC and enthusiast builders simply offered Windows 7 as a build even considering its relative age compared to Windows 8/8.1.

Windows 10 presents itself as major upgrade and improvement, a compromise between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 while also bringing new features and performance in things like DirectX 12 and an entirely new browser. The reality is that when you use Windows 10, it feels like Windows 7 with an 8.1 them on top of it, or next to it with a very improved notification system. The experience is more similar to Windows 7, but it still maintains all of the improvements in 8.1 and if you like the touch start menu you can still get it with a few settings changes. Microsoft is also making Windows 10 more secure than previous operating systems by forcing updates and improving their propagation through secure P2P sharing of updates between computers. But even a week later, Windows 10 is not without its flaws, as users have already reported blue screens and driver issues. This is to be expected when your upgrade target is nearly a billion PCs.

Growing Pains

As many enthusiasts upgraded their systems a little over a week ago, some of them encountered issues with their graphics cards. Namely, NVIDIA users were having issues with their graphics drivers. This issue was caused by Microsoft’s own forced update system, which includes drivers. It installed an older, less compatible driver on some users’ machines causing them to lose certain functionality. NVIDIA and Microsoft eventually alleviated this issue, but it did leave a bitter taste in some users’ mouths when it came to their first experiences with Windows 10. And it should never have happened in the first place.

Additionally, Microsoft ticked off a lot of people, including Mozilla, by making their new Edge browser the default browser even if another browser was the default prior to the upgrade. While Edge itself appears to be quite the upgrade from Internet Explorer and Microsoft wants to showcase the new browser’s capabilities in 10, they may have lost some of the enthusiast crowd that don’t like to be forced into anything.

While I think unfair, this created an echo-chamber environment of privacy concerns regarding many of Microsoft’s new features and capabilities with Windows 10. Never before has a Microsoft OS had so many privacy settings that users had to change in order to opt-out of sharing their data. By default, features like Wi-Fi Sense are enabled and created questions around  privacy and security risks to users if exploited by those that know how. Microsoft has been open about exactly what information they are gathering, especially when it comes to features like Cortana, which admittedly needs a lot of information to operate correctly. I commend Microsoft for this straight-forwardness. Microsoft is admittedly being held to a pretty high standard here, but that’s in part to how much the company singled out Google with the Scroogled ad campaign.

Hardware Upgrades

Windows 10 is a fast and efficient operating system that was designed to allow users with PCs that are more than 2 or 3 years old to upgrade to it for free. So, naturally it is going to be a leaner operating system and fundamentally not stress a user’s system as much. However, with Windows 10 does come DirectX 12, which does bring improved gaming performance and doesn’t require an upgrade, but I believe many will still upgrade anyways. Graphics card sales will likely see the biggest bump for Windows 10 once we start seeing DirectX 12 titles, which are slated to release this holiday season.

When it comes to CPU and RAM, there’s little need to upgrade immediately as Windows 10 actually doesn’t put more of a load on the existing hardware. It also doesn’t help that there haven’t really been any new enthusiast product launches that were synced up exactly with Windows 10’s launch, even though we are seeing that Intel just launched their new 6th Generation Core processor line. The Skylake quantities appear limited and no new end products are being associated with this launch…. yet. We will likely see new systems with Windows 10 and Intel’s new Skylake processors later in the year, which makes Windows 10 appear all the less attractive right now for a full system upgrade. AMD also has new hardware with their 6th generation processors for notebooks, code-named Carrizo, which launched at earlier this June at Computex, but it isn’t really targeted at desktop enthusiasts. It remains to be seen how many notebooks will end up using this processor, but it seems almost purpose built for Windows 10 with support for some of its best features like Xbox One game streaming. AMD’s new Fiji graphics line is being directly targeted at Direct X 12 gamers and looks very, very promising.

Ironically, there are more reasons for more mainstream consumers and businesses to upgrade their hardware and I will touch on that in other columns. “Hello Windows”, as an example, is a high value feature that works very well with Intel’s RealSense camera technology. Hardware biometrics are providing breakthrough security advances and Cortana works a lot better with array and tuned microphones. These aren’t necessarily resonating yet with enthusisats.

Wrapping up…

Microsoft Windows 10 is a very new operating system and Microsoft has a few kinks to work out. The great thing is that it it was tested by millions of Windows Insiders like me, so for enthusiasts, I don’t see any fatal omissions. Microsoft released their first major update on the 6th of August and that will be the first major test of the operating system’s updates. As it stands right now, Windows 10’s reputation has not been set in stone quite yet, but most reviews and user experiences seem fairly positive. There are a lot of new features in Windows 10 that enthusiasts might find attractive, but some that also might concern those that take their privacy very seriously. We likely won’t know the initial degree of Windows 10 success for until the holiday shopping season has come and gone and Microsoft’s biggest update, slated for October, rolls out completely.

If a Windows user really considers themselves an enthusiast, they are explorers who want to try new things and get under the hood as much as they can. That is, unless, they are a “want to be” enthusiast. (yes, that is a real market sub-segment). As a PC enthusiast myself, I can wholeheartedly recommend Windows 10. The allure for enthusiasts is that it is new and there are new things to explore, so I think enthusiasts will upgrade and in Q4 I believe Windows 10 will drive an enthusiast hardware upgrade cycle. Over the next few weeks, I will be weighing in on different markets and Windows 10, including enterprises, small businesses, mainstream consumers, educators, and different form factors.