Monday, 28 December 2015

Windows 10 Mobile: Impressions after a week.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on Windows 10 Mobile, and I haven’t really liked what I’ve seen. The navigation is a clear lift from Android, and not in a good way, and paradigms like the Pivot control which made WP8.1 unique seem to have disappeared. But I’ve never been one for sticking my head in the sand and sticking to the current version of something because the new version looks scary and different so, rather than wait for WM10 to be released, I decided screw it, I’ll get what is essentially the RTM build on my Lumia 1020 by joining the Insider Preview programme.

This was about a week ago, and these are my impressions after using WM10 on my daily driver for a week.

The Upgrade


The upgrade itself went very smoothly. Took about an hour and everything was exactly where I left it when it came back, even down to the Start layout which wasn't preserved when upgrading 8.1 to 10 on the desktop. Kudos for attention to detail though, as I had the old neutered Office app pinned to my start screen, the upgrade downloaded the new Excel, Word, and Powerpoint apps and put them in a tile group in the same spot where the old Office app was pinned. Not a massive feat of software engineering, but a nice touch.

Overall, the upgrade is much like going from Windows 8.1 to 10 on the desktop, generally a non-event with a few niggles that I'm confident will disappear over time.


It’s still screwy, although not as bad as I expected. The mail app for example, has the old ellipsis menu at the bottom of the page AND the new hamburger menu at the top of the page. This is just plain confusing and I hope that apps will settle on using one method of navigation over time, even if it is the hamburger. I'm yet to decide if the "hold down the Start button to bring the screen down so you can access controls at the top of the phone with one hand" feature is a nasty hack to get around the idiotic decision to follow Android and put all navigation at the top of the phone away from the user's hand, or a clever trick to get around the idiotic decision to follow Android and put all navigation at the top of the phone away from the user's hand.


My initial impression of performance was that it was generally comparable to Windows Phone 8.1 on the same device, slower in some areas but faster in others. After a few more days of working with it however, it is definitely slower overall. Loading the main apps I use, such as Mail, Twitter, and Readit, can take seconds. Once they’ve loaded, performance is about the same as on WP8.1, the only issue here is initial load time.


The settings app is immeasurably better. The old one was just a completely unorganised list of options, with no sane grouping and a number of really useless names that don’t help you figure out where to find the setting you want. The new one follows the same layout and groupings as Windows 10, so that’s one advantage to the OSes sharing a larger amount of functionality these days.

The tiles are larger than on Windows 8, however the “Use More Tiles” option makes them too small in my opinion. Guess you can’t please everyone!

The ability to reply to texts without unlocking your phone is really convenient, although I’m slightly concerned about the security issues with such a feature.


My overall impression is that this initial release is a little rough. Obvious, keep in mind that even though build 10586 is RTM, I’m still running the insider preview so there may be extra telemetry enabled and reduced optimisations that may be hampering the performance. Is it as smooth as WP8.1? No. However, I still prefer it to Android even in it’s current state, and given that Windows 10 has improved from it’s already pretty stable condition upon release, if Microsoft keep up the same pace with WM10 as they did with desktop post-release, then I’m confident the rough edges will be gone fairly soon.

Will WM10 make Windows Phone a mainstream consumer phone OS finally? Again, no, I highly doubt it. But there are a lot of benefits to the shared code, features, and manageability of Windows 10 and it’s various derivations, including WM10, that may look very tempting to businesses, especially as that space is being rapidly vacated by Blackberry, there is room for a new mainstream business phone, and WM10 may just have a chance there.

Monday, 21 December 2015

In-place upgrade Windows?! You’ve got to be kidding me!

Before the release of Windows 8, this was my default reply to anyone who dared suggest doing an in-place upgrade of Windows. I’d done it before in upgrading from 98 to ME and I’d seen and heard many horror stories of failed in-place upgrades that it become clear that it wasn’t even worth the effort, you were going to have to do a fresh install either way, so you may as well make it plan A.

Then along came the £15 upgrade offer for Windows 8 shortly after it’s release in October 2012. It seemed like a no-brainer just to get the latest version of Windows for such a small price. So I went for it, in the expectation that I would have to do a clean install anyway, reducing the upgrade to simply the hoop I had to jump through to get the offer.

Imagine my surprise when it worked. There were no BSODs, no applications failing to load after the update, no driver issues, nothing. It. Just. Worked. The only thing I had to do was re-intsall Linqpad to get Windows Search to show in the results lists when searching for “linq”, but in retrospect, if I’d given it a day or two to reindex everything it probably would’ve picked it up on it’s own eventually. In the months after, I upgraded several more machines and witnessed a number of other upgrades, all of them completed with at most minor issues easily solved by driver/Windows updates, or no issues at all. My faith in Windows in-place upgrades was restored.

That upgraded OS served me faithfully until I elected do a clean install when replacing my spinning rust HDD with an SSD 6 months later. While I now trusted Windows upgrades, I still don’t trust transferring OSes between disks, been burned on that front numerous times too.

Then in early 2015, Microsoft announced the Insider Preview programme for Windows 10. Why not I thought, so I took a laptop, signed up, and in the following 6 months, saw in-place upgrade afer in-place upgrade take place, successfully too for the most part, while keeping in mind this was pre-release so breakages were expected. By the time Windows 10 was released in July, I had no hesitation in just going ahead with the in-place upgrade. To my delight, but not really to my surprise anymore, it just worked. I have since updated a number of machines from both Windows 7 and 8.1 to 10 and haven’t had a single failure yet or major issue that hasn’t been simply resolved by running Windows updates.

Whatever you may think of Windows 8 or it’s successors, Windows in-place upgrades are no longer the joke they once were. They’re a very appealing and extremely reliable way of updating to the most recent version of Windows without going through the chore of a clean install. I’ll take an hour to do an in-place upgrade vs spending a day doing a clean install any day!

Having said that, always back up anything important before doing an upgrade. Even if the upgrade process works 9999 times out of 10,000, you don’t want to be that unlucky 1.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

OpenLiveWriter–It’s like Windows Live Writer but it works with my blog!

Since I started blogging, I’ve had to suffer the apalling mess that is the blogger editor.

Windows Live Writer was hailed as the panacea of free editors, but whatever I tried I could never get it to work.

Then Scott Hanselman and a group of Microsofties resurrected it as Open Live Writer and less than a week later, blogger support now works!

Go download Open Live Writer now!