Back in January I wrote about what I wanted to see in the next version of Microsoft's operating system. Windows 10 was launched at the end of July this year and I held off writing up my thoughts until things had calmed down. It's now been 4 months and the difficult birth still hasn't abated; it's an ongoing process, seemingly mirrored in the confusing corporate decisions taken by the Nadella-era Microsoft.
Nadella's Microsoft: constant
Microsoft has had three CEOs: founder Bill Gates ran the company until 2000, when Steve Ballmer took over. Ballmer's tenure at the helm is now viewed as milking as much money from the likes of Office instead of developing their products and customer relations. Satya Nadella has been the CEO since the start of 2014 and has garnered a lot of enthusiasm and goodwill; people seem to perceive that he's turning things back to the positive for Microsoft.
I'll give you an example. I recently took my MacBook into the Apple Store to fix a problem. When the 'genius' noticed that I ran Windows on it he asked what I thought of Windows 10 because he'd read a lot of great things about the way Microsoft was headed. I offered him a few thoughts, then he added words to the effect "this new Microsoft has certainly changed direction".
Even an Apple-user friend of mine (and I hope he won't mind my using this moment) recently said to me that he thought "this new guy" was doing all the right things with Microsoft.
I find it hard to agree. I think Microsoft is struggling for direction, a corporate chaos which has its reflection in the flakiness of their latest operating system and its scattershot updates.
The state of Windows 10
I'll be blunt about this: I think Windows 10 is sorely lacking in quality. Here follows a list of complaints - this isn't a comprehensive list, it's only those which I've noticed in the past 5 or so days.
Ok, this first point goes back more than 5 days: Why did my work PC not see the update for the first 2 months? In fact it never did 'see' Windows 10 at all, I ended up manually downloading the installer.
And then it wouldn't install, failing repeatedly until I found the setup.exe inside a folder called "ESD".
A couple of days ago when I arrived in the office and sat at my desk, my work PC asked me to sign in with my personal outlook.com address instead of the Office365 account which I had been signed in with. Once signed in I took a look at Settings/Accounts and found that my Office365 account was no longer connected to my work PC, yet the PC had only been sleeping, I hadn't shut it down. I could quickly reconnect this account, but what went wrong?
Why do I need to verify my account so frequently? I think on average I get a message once a week telling me that I need to enter my account details yet again.
"Your email account settings are of date."
Related: OneNote frequently tells me that I need to sign-in again.
Why does OneNote so often ask me to sign in? I've already signed in with my outlook.com account, so why isn't OneNote made aware of this? [Author's own screenshot]
Cortana: Microsoft recently added new functionality for replying to missed calls and sending text messages - something that even the new Messaging app can't yet handle.
Users can even link their Uber account to Cortana.
Instead of adding more features, why don't they make Cortana more widely available? My primary language is English, I live in a well-developed, modern country in the centre of Europe, and yet Cortana isn't available for me. Microsoft have developed Cortana to be heavily dependant upon one's location, which is probably very useful but it means that Microsoft has to build Cortana for a location (at the time of writing Cortana is available in China, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, and United States). Consequently I've neither seen nor heard Cortana outside of online videos.
So it's all the more frustrating that Windows 10 is heavily promoted with Cortana, and a lot of the updates to Windows 10 are Cortana-specific.
Edge: if Windows 10 wasn't quite ready for release, Microsoft's new browser is most definitely not ready for release. It would be kind to say that it's more like a beta release, so much functionality is missing.
I'm writing this after Microsoft released a big update (the 'Novermber Update', aka 'Windows 10 v1511') in which they promised stability updates to Edge. But it's still missing functionality standard in other browsers: we're still unable to change download locations (although a registry hack can achieve this), we can't pin tabs (we're probably lucky that it even has tabs) but worst of all: no plugins.
Firefox has been offering plugins for about a decade, possibly more; legions of users have migrated from Microsoft's old browser, Internet Explorer, towards Firefox and (mostly) Chrome on account of the plethora of plugins available, so why does Microsoft think they can launch a new browser in 2015 without plugins and yet attract new users? In fact, plugin support will not be appearing until 2016 - this is without question a feature which should have launched with the browser.
Microsoft recently touted a new feature to Edge which they thought would get users excited: they added Miracast streaming capability from an Edge tab. How about adding the standard features, Microsoft, instead of those which users aren't exactly crying out for?
In short, Edge is, at best, a beta release.
The aforementioned November update (i.e., Windows 10 v1511) contained the new Messaging app.This offers Skype calling from an app closer to the operating system rather than users having to download the Skype desktop app (because Microsoft pulled the non-desktop Skype app - the 'metro' version, if you will - out of the store some months ago, a decision which means Skype isn't available on tablets unless the user is prepared to switch out of tablet mode).
While it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to roll Skype functionality directly into the OS, where's my list of Skype contacts? The OS knows who I am so why do I have to search all over again to add contacts? Strangely, it did search my list of Outlook.com contacts and suggested some people - among them some people with whom I haven't had any communication with in years. Why does it go to this length instead of just providing me with the contacts I've already connected with in Skype? This oversight beggars belief.
I configured Thunderbird as my default mail client but when I click on an email in the Action Centre it opens in the Windows Mail app.
Thunderbird set as the default mail client in Windows 10 - not that Windows 10 cares what I've set. [Author's own screenshot]
Windows Store: search for an app, click on a search result, then how do you return to the list of search results? This seems such a simple thing to do which makes me feel a bit silly for not having found the real way to do it, but the only way that I can find to return to the search results is to hit <Backspace>.
I was recently looking to stitch some photographs together to create a panorama image. Seems like a fairly common thing to do with photographs but this isn't something which the default, built-in Photo Gallery offers. So I searched the web and found this:
This webpage looks like the offered software is built for Windows 10. [Link]
So here's a Microsoft-built program which can create panorama images from my photographs, right? And the top of the webpage certainly makes it look like it fits with Windows 10, right?
So no-one tested Microsoft's Photo Gallery on Windows 10. [Author's own screenshot]
I thought perhaps it hadn't installed correctly, so I uninstalled, restarted, reinstalled… same thing.
[Incidentally, if anyone is looking for a good program for stitching together panorama images, Microsoft do offer a program with the snappy name Image Composite Editor through Microsoft Research.]
Default, built-in apps:
There are several of these I just don't want, but whose idea was it to include 3D Builder with every installation of Windows 10? This is an app for designing and producing items using a 3D printer. Hands up anyone who has a 3D printer? Did this really need to take up space on every single Windows 10 installation?
Just after upgrading to Windows 10 I uninstalled maybe 6 or 8 of the built-in apps. Twice since then I've run an update and frustratingly found that Windows has seen fit to reinstall these unwanted apps.
If I've deliberately uninstalled them, Microsoft, please don't reinstall them without giving me a choice.
This one doesn't happen often, but several times I've opened my laptop (from sleep) to find that it's forgotten my wi-fi network and then, upon re-selecting it, I have to re-enter the password.
Why is it that when I removed "English (United States)" from the list of languages (preferring "English (United Kingdom)") it then immediately started downloading three "English (United States)" components? ("English (United States) typing", "English (United States) handwriting", and "English (United States) optical character recognition".) In fact, it doesn't appear possible to remove "English (United States)" from the list of languages; remove, go back and you'll see that it's still there. This annoys me because despite having "English (United Kingdom)" allegedly set as the default, Windows 10 still auto-corrects words like 'recognise' to 'recognize'. [Drafting this blog post in OneNote, I actually had to paste the word 'recognise' in order to have it not auto-correct.]
I've set English (United Kingdom) as my default language. So why does it autocorrect and spellcheck using English (United States)? [Author's own screenshot]
Having added "German (Switzerland)" as an optional language on my Surface 3 (more Surface-related problems to follow), this became the only keyboard language option after the next restart. [Having tried to capture a shot of this 'phenomenon' for this blog post, I found that several restarts later, "English (United States)" was finally being offered on my Surface. The next morning "English (United Kingdom)" was also returned.]
Furthermore, this action on my Surface 3 caused "German (Switzerland)" to be automatically downloaded on my laptop whereon it automatically became the default language after the next restart.
In OneNote 2016 (the Office 2016 product, not the built-in, uninstallable app version) here are my language options:
My confusing language options in OneNote 2016. [Author's own screenshot]
So neither are enabled. Also, apparently no language is set at all. Then why does it underline my British English text and want to automatically convert it to US English, which doesn't appear in that list? And why can't I enable "English (United Kingdom)"? When I click on “Not enabled” it shows me this:
The next step in the language selection process doesn't help. [Author's own screenshot]
And what does it say next to "English (United Kingdom)"? It says "Enabled". So why does clicking on this option in OneNote repeatedly take me to another location which tells me there are no further steps to take? And even though there's no mention of "English (United States)" in my OneNote language selections, that's what it's using.
And no matter how many times I click on "German (Switzerland)" and choose Remove (and then restart OneNote) it's still there. Every time. Why?
It seems fair to say that the user has little control over the system languages in Windows 10.
Can't Microsoft see how infuriating this is? They provide options that both send users round in circles, then do nothing with their selections or de-selections. It doesn't matter which language you select as the default, Windows 10 will make its own choice.
Take a look at this screenshot of the Action Centre:
So Windows 10's Action Centre expects times in only the 24-hour clock? [Author's own screenshot]
"11:58a"? It's presumably supposed to read "11:58am" (even though the time shows as "11:58 AM" on the taskbar) but whoever built the Action Centre clearly didn't test as thoroughly as the world's most used operating system should demand.
When I saw this I was also a little confused as to why the Action Centre and the taskbar clock were using a 12-hour clock - as far as I could remember, that wasn't my preference. Well wouldn't you believe it, after the next restart it reverted to my preferred 24-hour clock.
So we can add the clock display to the list of things which Windows 10 changes by itself from time to time.
I also have a Surface 3, and here's a short list of its problems I've noticed recently:
I decided to do a clean upgrade to Windows 10 on my Surface 3. During the installation process it asks for a Microsoft account (i.e., outlook.com or Office365). I entered my outlook.com / Hotmail address - this allows Windows to synchronise previously-purchased apps, get an account picture, and to setup OneDrive. So if Windows 10 has access to this account, why did it create the local account using the name "andre" instead of "andrew"?
Prior to the November update (v1511) I decided to put the Surface onto the slow ring for OS updates. I did this ostensibly to get a better version of the Mail app.
However, having opted in, things were too unstable or annoying (for example, the updated Mail app wouldn't allow the user to turn off the displaying of emails as conversations) and I decided that I'd rather opt out.
Tapping on the option to stop receiving these slow ring updates produces a message that there are a few more things I have to do first, and a link to follow; following this link, I'm taken to a webpage informing me that to come off the slow ring for OS updates I just need to follow some steps… the same steps I've already taken.
So having opted in, I'm now unable to opt out.
OneDrive has well-documented issues in Windows 10. Maybe calling them issues is a bit unfair; Microsoft deliberately broke it, telling us that at some point in the future it will become… as useful as it was before they broke it.
But deliberate issues aside, why does OneDrive on my Surface not sync at all?
Above is a screenshot of my OneDrive folder on my laptop. All seems normal. [Author's own screenshot]
So why doesn't the OneDrive folder on my Surface 3 sync the same folders? I haven't changed any OneDrive settings. [Author's own screenshot]
This one probably isn't Windows 10-specific but tap recognition on the Surface 3 is terrible - I end up tapping on a word, above a word, below a word and both sides before either it recognises my intention or I give up and use a combination of arrow and delete keys.
Keyboard problems: When using the on-screen keyboard on my Surface 3, the 'th' key combination almost always gets automatically changed to 'þ' which I believe last appeared in the English language in the middle ages. (It's nowadays an Icelandic character.) The keyboard also frequently gets minimised to the bottom of screen while I'm typing.
Tablet mode: Why does my Surface 3 always boot into an empty desktop, even though it's set to tablet mode?
And when I hit the search icon, why does the keyboard not automatically appear? How else am I expected to enter a search term in tablet mode?
Why do I frequently see this alert from a device whose hardware and software were both built by Microsoft?
This alert is rather disturbing - if Microsoft can't build stable drivers for their own hardware, who can? [Author's own screenshot]
Things'll be better in November
Prior to the unveiling of the name Windows 10 there was some speculation that this next version of Microsoft's OS would be simply Windows. The rationale was that this next version was going to be the last version and that from now on Windows would be iterated more frequently with feature updates.
The first of these came in November (the aforementioned v1511 update).
However, just as with the main release of the OS at the end of July 2015, the 1511 update clearly hadn't been as exhaustively tested as it should have been. Rather than list problems here I can simply point towards a comprehensive list on Windows Central.
I'm bracing myself for the next major update.
And I'm very glad I didn't buy a Surface Pro 4 or Microsoft's "ultimate laptop", the high-priced Surface Book - they've had one problem after another, and fixes aren't coming anytime soon.
A rudderless giant
The Nadella-era Microsoft has undergone a shift from being a software provider - and namely the Windows OS and the Office productivity suite - to a so-called 'devices and service' provider: as well as their traditional software cash cows, and as well as having bought Nokia's handset division, they're now producing tablets and a laptop: they're well and truly a hardware manufacturer.
So you'd think that they'd be doing all they can to push their own devices - especially as their mobile OS has become an also ran.
But instead, Microsoft have not only been pushing their services on competing platforms, the galling part for those of us on Microsoft's mobile platform - who've spent money on Microsoft's mobile platform - is that these competing platforms frequently get earlier or better access to Microsoft's services. For example, the Outlook app on iOS and Android offers more than does the Windows Phone version. I wrote earlier that Cortana isn't available in my locale; instead of bringing Cortana to market here Microsoft has put its effort into providing Cortana access for iOS users.
So what is Microsoft's strategy, let alone its mobile strategy? To compete but to give the competition an advantage?
And where is Windows Mobile 10? Ok, it's available on Microsoft's new faux-flagship, the Lumia 950 / 950 XL, but there's nothing about that phone which would make me want to spend flagship money on it. And I'm glad I didn't as according to the well-informed Microsoft insider, Paul Thurrott
I’ve been told by multiple sources that the phone builds, in particular, including those that went out the door with the 950 and 950 XL, are of particularly poor quality and are essentially incomplete.
I can't say that I've tried out their new phone but the Verge's Dan Seifert's review of the handset and Windows Mobile 10 says a lot about Microsoft's efforts that I would echo.
Microsoft also isn’t making a compelling pitch for why you’d want Windows 10 on a phone at all, whether it’s the Lumia 950 or some other future device. The unique features that set Windows 10 apart aren’t fully baked, and frankly, aren’t enough to make up for the deficiencies elsewhere. The best experiences available on the platform — the mail and calendar apps and Cortana — are also available on Android and iOS, giving you even less of a reason to consider a Windows 10 phone.
The fact is that Microsoft are building better apps for competing platforms.
However, Seifert seems as confused as I am about Microsoft's direction:
it’s become overwhelmingly clear that the company run by Satya Nadella is largely concerned with getting people to use its services, and it doesn’t really care which mobile platform you use.
But in an interview with ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley, Satya Nadella said
If no OEM stands up to build Windows devices we'll build them. There will be Lumia devices.
So… Microsoft want you to buy Lumia devices while also encouraging you to use the best mobile email client which currently exists only on iOS and Android? They offer a mobile platform while also offering an Android launcher?
I should point out at this stage that Android's owner, Google, refuses to offer any apps or services for Microsoft's mobile platform. Nor do Apple. And why should they when Microsoft are pushing users towards Google's and Apple's platforms?
So why does Microsoft seem so keen to shoot itself in the foot?
Who is Microsoft
I think Microsoft is having a crisis of identity. Their new phones look bland, i.e., no design to note. Their services are available on all platforms - frequently before their own platform. The Mail app on Windows 10 is terrible, the Outlook app on the phone is apparently better but why the different name? And from what I'm led to believe the best mail app on any platform is Outlook on the iPhone - why? What is Microsoft's strategy other than confusing? If they want to be a services company then why the new devices? Nadella said that Microsoft would make Windows phones even if no-one else does but this confuses me: why are they so intent on building bland, forgettable devices, or top-end tablets and laptops which are birthed with defects? Why are they so keen on giving users on competing platforms a better service than those buying Microsoft devices?
And I hope Microsoft didn't invest a lot in Continuum because I just can't see it being more than a talking point. Aside from anything else, everyone's going to contactless payment mechanisms (naturally, Microsoft is yet again behind the curve on this one) but to use Continuum you need not only to carry an additional box but several more cables. [Apparently this does work over Miracast, but not as smoothly. Not that Microsoft have told anyone about this option.]
Microsoft's Continuum in 2015; Cables? What cables? [Image from the Verge]
I've also read in several places that the Lumina 950/XL aren't expected to sell in volume but that these phones are for the Windows fans. I don't buy that for a second. It's as much for the fans as is the Apple TV a “hobby”. Recent rumours suggest that Microsoft is going to try rebooting its mobile platform in autumn 2016. That'll be 9 years after Apple kick-started the genre and arguably Microsoft's 4th attempt at attracting users to its mobile platform.
What are they thinking?
I think Microsoft is at a crucial time and it doesn't know who or what it wants to be.