One of the major technology events of 2015 is undoubtedly going to be the launch of Windows 10. Microsoft have a large chunk of their corporate reputation to make up and a lot of users to regain. At the time of writing there have already been several Technical Preview releases of Windows 10 with much written about it.
And so, before the unveiling of the official Consumer Preview in late January, I thought I’d explain what I’m hoping to see in Windows 10.
Sure, universal apps have been a wonderful feature for those who use both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8, and Continuity is also a huge boon to those with convertible devices.
The Parts I Don't Care About
However, judging by Paul Thurrott’s even-handed reviews for each Technical Preview release, the changes so far have been a bit lacklustre, what one might term window dressing.
Before detailing what I want to see in Windows 10, here’s a short list of things I’m just not interested in:
- A Start menu
- Transition animations when windows maximise, minimise or change screen
And yet thus far, this is what we’ve seen in the Technical Preview releases. Let me just state for the record that I actually like the Start screen introduced in Windows 8; I like the full-screen mix of live tiles and clickable programs. The screenshots of the work-in-progress menu looks quite crude in comparison and I can’t help feeling that Microsoft are bending too far to erase the sins of Sinofsky while they already have a good solution. Perhaps they just didn’t make Windows 8’s changes clear enough to users – a claim which Windows 8.1’s changes support – but there was nothing inherently wrong with Windows 8’s Start screen and I don’t want to see it replaced with a half-measure.
The polarising Windows 8 Start screen polarised users, though I happened to like it. The screenshot above shows what is likely to be its replacement.
Image from ars technica.
One Can Hope
Anyway, having laid out what I’m not interested in, here is what I am very much interested in.
A new file system
We’ve been using NTFS since Windows XP. ReFS was included with Windows Server 2012 and in Windows 8x, though I believe it can only be implemented under specific requirements (on Win8x this ReFS is requried to be on a Mirrored Storage Space).
This might sound like a bit too much to ask for but I’ve taken the title from this ARS Technica article which explains how OSX Mavericks managed to do so well when it comes to running on a battery for twice as long as Windows laptops. As that article explains, there are three developments that Apple added to OSX Mavericks in regard to power-saving:
Timer coalescing was added back Windows 7 (here is a Microsoft white paper explaining how it works).
This, I believe, is something which was added to WinRT but has not yet been implemented in the ‘full’ Windows OS (this relates to the OS ‘throttling’ programs which are not in the foreground and not playing audio – the throttling means that the timers don’t trigger as often, access to hardware such as the hard drive is de-prioritised, etc.).
This is something which I’d very much like to see in Windows 10.
Memory compression is not a new technology, it’s been in much older OSes (it was originally implemented as RAM Doublerby Connectix, a company which built third-party software for Apple computers). However, previous implementations were built to allow the OS to run on smaller amounts of RAM than are common today, and the overhead required to perform the compression often outweighed any performance (power or latency) improvement. Having said that, with multi-core processors this can now be achieved without noticeably impacting the other processes and makes a very real efficiency improvement to OSX (though this Apple document explains that this might occur only for inactive programs).
Linux also has memory compression mechanisms so please let’s see it in Windows.
Correct resolution and scaling on external screens
Whereas the previous two points have been nice-to-haves, this feature is a must-have: while Microsoft claim to have fixed the problem of multi-screen resolution differences early on in Windows 8’s life, they haven’t. I think they put some better detection of screen resolution, but that’s not the crux of the problem. You see, if you have a high-DPI laptop screen, i.e., what is commonly termed a ‘retina’ display, a display resolution which requires scaling to be legible (basically, a resolution greater than full HD) then this display is almost useless on an external monitor… unless you change the scaling and/or resolution. At which point you’ve now made icons and text comically large on your laptop’s display.
So you either have icons and text comically large on your laptop display, or tiny on your external screen. Windows doesn’t allow both.
Microsoft say that they fixed this problem by allowing you to set a different resolution on either display, but this option doesn’t actually appear to do anything whenever I’ve tried it.
Resolution isn’t the problem, it’s the scaling which is the problem. External screens very rarely – if at all – require scaling (there are few 'retina'-capable desktop monitors), so why doesn’t Windows offer the option of turning it on or off per display?
I don’t believe that per-screen scaling would be too taxing on the CPU or GPU. Perhaps this is simply something that Microsoft didn’t consider.
An increasing proportion of business laptops are now being sold with high-DPI displays, as is the Surface Pro 3 which Microsoft want businesses to feel comfortable using instead of shoe-horning the iPad into an environment it was never designed for. Consequently, if Windows 10 is to be seen as God’s gift to enterprise computing then per-screen scaling and resolution must be addressed.
A decent mail program
The Windows Mail app in Windows 8 beggars belief. How come Microsoft can build a website (outlook.com) with better features than the app built into Windows 8? The app was half-baked when it was launched, and the Win8.1 update helped, but only marginally.
The Windows 8 Mail app - possibly the worst aspect of Windows 8?
Image from ars technica.
OneDrive properly baked-in
Thus far, the previews have managed to cause a degree of upset. While OneDrive on Windows 8 uses a shaded or half-greyed-out version of the icon for each file to indicate that the file doesn’t yet exist locally, this has changed in Windows 10. I won’t go into the details, suffice to say that Microsoft have said that they need to make fairly large-scale changes to the core of OneDrive in order to offer and scale the features they want, and that the current state is the best that can be reliably offered.
This isn’t good enough, Microsoft. Please don’t launch the operating system with a version of OneDrive which is less than great, otherwise people will be put off, use third-party services and add to the braying crowd that Microsoft only launch poor imitations of other company’s services.
Apple’s iCloud has had its problems, Google’s drive can’t be integrated into the file system, DropBox can but has also had a few problems (and is expensive compared to OneDrive) so there’s the chance to offer a great service with integration exceeding all others. But if Microsoft put people off at the point of launch then they’ll struggle to get them back later.
So that’s it. 5 points which could easily be overlooked in reviews of the final release and wouldn’t feature prominently when most are weighing-up whether to upgrade, but 5 points which would make Windows 10 a truly up-to-date, modern, progressive, productive operating system.
But I just can't write a post about Windows 10 without saying... that name... I can understand that Microsoft want it to be seen as a new start, a clean slate, a brilliant operating system to iterate into the future. And perhaps it will if it has the above points.
There's a lot of chatter about this perhaps being Microsoft's last full release of an OS, and that from here on there will only be incremental releases. I think this is a great idea - I like the idea of an operating system as a subscription.
So my choice would have been [drum roll] simply... Windows.
While discussing this post earlier today, I came up with a further two points which I had originally planned to include in this post:
A couple of years back there was a forum thread wherein a cross-platform developer, Marc Bevand, pointed out that "I can't even remember the number of times I have written a multiplatform program in C or Java that always runs slower on Windows than on Linux, across dozens of different versions of Windows and Linux".
A response came back from a Microsoft developer with experience of working on the kernel.
This webpage at www.infoworld.com explains the debate, so I'll point readers over there.
As the conclusion of that article says, "[t]he problem is that other alternatives, which do less and do it more efficiently, are rolling over the old guard." So, if Windows 10 is going to be an operating system for the future - indeed, an operating system worth revising the numbering increments over - then what I'd also really like to see is an overhaul of the kernel.
This is something which I feel is almost unprofessional on the part of Microsoft, and does nothing to prevent the perception that Windows requires constant updates: an accumulated download of updates up to that point in time.
This is largely what service packs offer, but service packs are typically only released once every couple of years.
A couple of months back a colleague was preparing a new laptop for another colleague, and it took half a day of downloading updates to the out-of-the-box Windows 8.
This is not something that should be asked of users who've just spent hundreds on a new machine: multiple restarts, inevitable messages of "failed to install update". What a new user should expect is ideally a single update.
What might make this single download easier is something which Apple's OS has offered for a few years now: internet recovery. Upon initially starting up the machine, the user can download the most up-to-date version of the operating system.