Shell's TechBlabber

…ShelLuser blogs about stuff ;)

Windows 10 is amazing!

win10_logoIn November last year my trusty Windows 7 32bit machine with a whooping 4Gb of memory (of which only 2,7Gb could be used due to the 32bit restrictions) crashed for reasons unknown (later examination hints that the power supply might have failed). And this left me with quite a problem because it was the only Windows machine I had. And to make matters worse: in an attempt at creating redundancy I had set up dynamic disks to mirrored those. The strategy was perfect, but unfortunately you can’t easily access dynamic disks on another PC.

Alas; I managed to cope, thanks to my FreeBSD backup desktop, and had set my mind on getting a new PC. I wanted to go high end and earlier in January this year the new machine finally arrived. As one could expect it ran Windows 10, the same OS I had been actively trying to avoid for a long time (I even applied registry changes and installed anti-upgrade software to ensure that my Windows 7 environment wouldn’t get hijacked).

Although I did consider a downgrade first, as always, I gave the new environment a fair chance. And honestly? I came to enjoy Windows 10 quite a bit, I think it’s actually pretty good!

A new start menu

start_menu

There are two main reasons which make the start menu so appealing to me, first are the dynamic tiles which constantly provide me with the kind of information I want (a good example is the weather map, provided by “Buienradar.nl”; this tile displays rain clouds over the Netherlands) and also a bit of leisure (like a collage of some of my favourite pictures, notice the Rei Ayanami figure?).

But second is the fact that you can fully customize the start menu to your own needs and/or requirements. As you can see I’m using 5 main groups of applications: Connectivity contains all my software which is somehow related to “connective usage”, I dunno it sounds good Winking smile Several news applications, my favourite browsers, the weather app I mentioned earlier and of course my file browser.

Then we get to Productivity; here I keep things such as my todo list, my Office applications, calculator, sticky notes, calendar and of course my agenda and another weather application (this time one which only shows the weather in my home town).

Games should speak for itself. Three Microsoft puzzle games (these are somewhat of a love/hate for me due to the occasional advertisements) together with some of my favourite Steam games and obviously my all time favourite Minecraft. Although the Windows 10 version has a bigger tile I actually prefer the Java edition.

The Media group contains all my media applications. Daz Studio and the other two Daz titles: Hexagon (3D object editor) and Bryce (3D scenery creation tool) combined with some excellent support tools such as IrfanView and The Gimp. And then we get Ableton Live (DAW; digital audio workstation), Reason (idemditto), Max (multimedia programming environment) and Wavosaur (wavefile editor). And because I enjoy dynamic tiles I also added Microsoft Photos’s which provides a quick preview to some of my pictures.

And finally the development group. The most important applications here are (Apache) NetBeans, Visual Studio 2017 (community edition) as well as Visual Paradigm. I also heavily enjoy working with Expression web (HTML editor) & Expression design (bitmap editor).

Much better access

Now the reason I enjoy this so much is because this kind of direct access to all your favourite applications was plain out impossible on Windows 7. Back then I had pinned my audio software to my taskbar and relied on the “recently used” section to gain quick access to my other software (whenever I would have a period of more development tasks then software such as NetBeans would surface, and when I had a week full of administrative tasks I’d see programs like Word and Excel pop up).

But now I get the best of both worlds: my most often used applications (and folder locations) combined with all the applications I want to access directly.

And for everything else? Easy: the search function has been immensely improved as well:

dosbox

As you can see: if I want to run ‘dosbox’ (which I actually use on an irregular basis) then all I have to do is type ‘dos’ and I’m done. You’ll get the results very quickly, it couldn’t be easier!

Also noteworthy: most entries on the ‘enhanced’ start menu (the section with the tiles) also support jump lists which you can access by right clicking.

The network is the computer

Back in the days of Sun Microsystems (this is the company behind Java and the Solaris Unix operating system) the company had a specific slogan: the network is the computer. Based on the Unix philosophy and the Unix environment as a whole. On a Unix console everything is the same: directories which can represent “other” things. On Windows you’d access different storage media using different drive letters. C is normally your system environment, D could be an extra harddisk, then you might also have a DVD drive and of course options for memory sticks. All those media devices would get their own dedicated drive letter.

But not so much on Unix. On Unix everything starts with the root filesystem noted as ‘/’. Everything else gets ‘mounted’ (= made accessible) somewhere within the directory hierarchy. Accessing a CD on Unix would involve mounting it (= making it accessible) and then accessing its mountpoint. For example:

# mount /dev/cdrom /mnt
# cd /mnt

Sun always had this vision that there should be some kind of transparency between computer and network access.

Now fast forward our present time and it is Microsoft out of all companies which actually made it happen.

Note that this is a fully optional feature, but you can consider to log into Windows 10 using a so called Microsoft account. This would give you direct access to several Microsoft services such as Outlook (mail), online Office applications as well as OneDrive which is a cloud storage system. Windows 10 can even automatically synchronize several folders with that cloud storage which means that you’ll always have a backup should something nasty happen to your computer.

But there’s more…

Windows 10 environments can be set up to allow people with a Microsoft account to log on after which some of their settings and personal data will be retrieved from their cloud storage and set up on the PC they’re logging into. What this means? Simple: if you log on using a Microsoft account, then set up your desktop with a specific image and looks then all those settings would be made available if you log onto another Windows 10 machine using the same credentials.

The network has become (part of) the computer…

We’re in full control

Now, all this talk about network connectivity and cloud synchronization might startle some of you, and rightfully so. We (hopefully) all know how intrusive Google has become and the effects of all that? So what about an operating system which we use on a daily basis and which is apparently also heavily tied into online usage?

Fortunately for us we can customize just about everything. It’ll take a while to go through all the options, for sure, but you can turn pretty much every kind of online behaviour on or off.

And there’s more…

Under the hood

system_menuIf you right click on the start menu icon then you’ll see a menu like the one on the left pop up, this gives us access to several specific system settings.

As you can see I’m using a Dutch version (which is actually another Windows 10 advantage in its own: if I wanted to I can change the language to English ‘just like that’), and I’m not going to mention all available options here.

But some notable features are “Logboeken” which refers to the event viewer, Computer and Schijf –beheer which points to the computer and disk management screens, and of course the command line (opdracht prompt) which is available as a regular and elevated environment (= run as administrator).

And this is where Windows 10 truly starts to shine for me.

You see: Windows isn’t “just” a graphical user interface (“GUI”) which merely has some options to click through. Underneath it has a very specific system design which has been in effect all the way back Windows XP and beyond!

Those management options (computer, disk, devices)?

All powered by the same program: mmc.exe, the Microsoft Management Console.

Try it for yourself: press Win-R, then enter mmc and hit enter. You’ll see soon enough.

This is also the reason why ‘power users’ are usually not bothered all that much whenever Microsoft changes some options to another location. Because at the heart, the very foundation of the OS itself, nothing really changes all that much.

And we can go even deeper than that if we want to…

 sfc_exe

I’m not going into full detail about every available Window tools, but Windows 10 has provided a lot of command line utilities out of the box which can be used to verify (and optionally repair) the integrity of your system. That is also something I’m referring to when I mention that “We’re in full control”.

It even runs Linux!

No, I am not kidding you and I had to see this for myself before I would have believed it, but it’s true!

desktop_linux

Here is a screenshot of my desktop at the time of writing this blog post. As you can see I opened a new window which features none other that Debian GNU/Linux, how about that? And not some small emulation kind of environment, this is the full deal. Including that piece of shit of a program called systemd.

How to get this? Easy! You do to the Microsoft store and download the distribution you want. You can pick between several, and all the major distributions such as Debian, SuSE and RedHat are available. Then all you have to do is ensure that you installed the Linux subsystem in Windows. Which is relatively easy: go to your installed apps (start menu => configuration => apps). Then click “programs and functions”. Then click the option in the left menu: “Add / remove Windows components” (or something roughly similar). Another way to access this is to open the control panel (click start and search for control panel, ‘configuratie scherm’ in Dutch) and then click “programs”. The option to add/remove Windows components should be immediately visible.

Somewhere at the bottom of the list you’ll find “Windows sub-system for Linux”. Enable & install it, and you’re good to go.

Who would have thought that this would be possible? If you told people 10 – 15 years ago that this was going to happen then they’d consider you crazy Winking smile

And so much more!

A new and enhanced version of PowerShell is obviously also included, (somewhat) direct access to the online office applications, Windows’ own virus protection also makes a comeback and this time it’s fully integrated with the system.

For me Windows 10 is truly an advanced desktop environment where the user (usually) comes first and where user friendliness is (mostly) guaranteed.

But there are no guarantees…

That’s not to say Windows 10 isn’t without flaws of course. See, Windows 10 gets constantly developed. Right now the current version is 1809 and you can expect new versions to appear throughout the years. On the positive side this means that your OS continues to be supported and won’t easily get obsolete.

But the major con with this setup is that things within the OS can change on a whim, and if those changes affected something you actually enjoyed as way it was then you’re probably out of luck. I’ve seen this happening with the file explorer. Although I enjoyed using Windows 10 with the dark theme I also didn’t mind the file explorer to remain light; it made it easier to see certain file names (and types).

Earlier this week I performed a manual upgrade which landed me on version 1809. And now all of a sudden the file explorer also utilizes the dark theme, something I’m not too thrilled about. I’m getting used to it, sure, but I still would prefer that it would use a light theme. And then you’ll quickly run into some of the Windows limitations: you can’t customize everything there is. We can tune a lot within the system but when it comes to things such as themes and colour schemes then Microsoft sometimes has the strangest ideas.

A small sidestep: even though I have a license to use Outlook and even though I think Outlook is an amazing and extremely impressive program I’m actually using Thunderbird. Why? Because in my opinion Outlook 2016 has an interface which is totally unusable. If you place the message headers on top and the message preview at the bottom then those two sections are only separated by one small greyish line which is easily overlooked. Ergo: it’s almost impossible to quickly see where the section with the message headers ends and where the actual message preview begins. Total garbage if you ask me.

And of course there’s no way to change the colour scheme or the overall theme. Microsoft presented us with a whooping amount of 4 themes and that’s it. And all of them have the same visibility problem.

That too is a major con which could also have its effect on Windows 10.

In conclusion

I’m actually positively surprised with Windows 10 and so far I’m having a good time with the environment. Easy to use, quick access to all my data, cloud backup, and I get a constant brief peek into recent news events.

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February 10, 2019 - Posted by | Editorial, Software, Windows | , , ,

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