First Impressions – Windows 10

With Microsoft’s latest operating system mere hours from being launched to the general public (midnight launch tonight), there has been much anticipation surrounding Windows 10 and whether or not Microsoft can right the wrongs that Windows 8 committed. Needless to say Microsoft have promised a number of great things which they are adamant Windows 10 will be able to deliver.  Perhaps the biggest change is that Windows 10 will be “the last operating system ever” as the business model of the OS has now shifted to being offered as a service.  What does that mean for us? By being offered as a service, Windows 10 will be part of a continuous improvement process as the OS is continuously upgraded and tweaked via mandatory system updates (more on that in a bit).

Pressing on, I have managed to obtain Windows 10 Pro Edition (x64 of course) and decided to format my Win 8.1 installation in order to put the new OS to the test.  Bearing in mind that this article is merely my first impression upon successfully installing the OS and there will most likely be a follow-up article where I take a much closer look at what’s on offer.

The familiar system information screen, almost identical to Windows 8 and still devoid of the Windows Experience Index.

The familiar system information screen, almost identical to Windows 8 and still devoid of the Windows Experience Index.

So perhaps the most important aspect of installing a new OS (at least for me) is its ability to maintain compatibility with existing hardware and software – will I be able to install all my favourite games and applications successfully?

Starting at the top, I installed my Asus motherboard drivers (via driver disk) followed by AMD’s Catalyst 15.7 GPU package – both installed quickly without error.  Secondly, I attempted to install Driver Navigator (extremely useful app) however the software would not install due to a compatibility issue.  ACDSee Pro 8, Java 8, Adobe Flash, VLC Player, CCCP, Office 2013, Winrar, Witcher 3, Dragon Age Inquisition, CCleaner, Firefox, VeraCrypt, Rocketdock and Inkscape 0.48.5 all installed successfully – tested working. Because I found Windows Defender to be a little too enthusiastic (where cracked games are concerned), I installed AVG Internet Security 2015 which rectified the problem.

As expected, UAC makes a return and as usual it's the first thing I disable.

As expected, UAC makes a return and as usual it’s the first thing I disable.

Next, I wanted to test Apple & Android devices, I installed the latest version of iTunes and connected my iPod – detected, tested working.  Plugging in Android devices proved to be painless as well as both my Samsung S4 and Lenovo IdeaTab A3000 connected and were accessible without errors.

As Driver Navigator wasn't an option, I attempted to update several drivers via device manager, working surprisingly well (for a change).

As Driver Navigator wasn’t an option, I attempted to update several drivers via device manager, working surprisingly well (for a change).

As previously stated, I experienced no issues installing the 15.7 Catalyst Suite – omitting the components I didn’t want (AMD HD Audio driver) and that’s where Windows decided to “help out”. At this point I decided to run the update service to see how it works, sure enough, there were a number of security updates as well as the AMD Audio driver I had omitted installing from the Catalyst Suite.  Annoyingly, there was no way to stop this, however Windows does allow you to uninstall problematic drivers.

This aggressive mandatory update policy for Windows will undoubtedly change sooner or later especially since KB3073930 has already been released.  These mandatory updates have already proven to be problematic for Nvidia GPU owner’s as the auto-updates conflict with Nvidia’s own GeForce Experience application – an issue that will undoubtedly be addressed shortly.

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The KB3073930 update allows you to stifle/alter the mandatory updates to a degree.

Needless to say, as promised, Windows 10 comes with DirectX 12, which is also backwards compatible with a lot of DX11 cards such as my AMD R9280 OC GPU – great news!  Microsoft’s proprietary apps work as well as expected, such as Photos, and the updated Music application which I am quite fond of – upgraded from Windows 8.  I have yet to test Cortana as there were a myriad of updates for it and as Microsoft so proudly stated, Edge is fast, really fast but it will unlikely replace Firefox as my browser of choice anytime soon.

The sought-after DirectX 12 - an integral part of Windows 10.

The sought-after DirectX 12 – an integral part of Windows 10.

In closing, Windows 10 has made a good first impression with me, unlike the horrific ordeal I had with Vista back in 2006 (an unmitigated disaster).  I will continue to test and unearth what Windows 10 has to offer and if they manage to resolve this whole mandatory update fiasco they will earn further brownie points with users undoubtedly.  My opinion on all these “reasons not to upgrade to Windows 10” articles that are floating around? Ignore them.  The minimal requirements are negligible where the modern PC user is concerned and even older PC’s will run it quite comfortably.  Microsoft have learned their lesson since Windows 8 and I look forward to seeing how Windows 10 evolves in the coming months.

[Update – 2015-07-29:] I installed the latest version of Driver Navigator (version 3.6), installed successfully – tested working.

[Update – 2015-07-29:] Cortana Would not run due to my region (South Africa) not being supported.

Internet Stamping Ground

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The internet can be a bewildering place and at times it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for.  Even with Google being just a click away, finding reliable sources for information, wallpapers, applications and so forth can be a taxing and downright frustrating exercise.  With that in mind, I’ve decided to compile a list of sites I frequent in the hopes of offering a little assistance.  Since a multitude of Linux distros enable users to download apps from their desktops (in essence) with the help of built-in features such as Ubuntu’s Software Center, this list will be for Windows users (for the most part).  Windows remains my primary OS (and probably will be for some time) for as much as I enjoy using Ubuntu, I am a gamer and unfortunately Windows still offers the best platform for gaming, though thanks to Steam that might all change as Ubuntu is officially supported by the platform.

Desktop

While many operating systems come preloaded with a multitude of wallpapers and themes, they tend to get old very quickly, luckily the internet has countless resources to remedy this dilemma.

4walled | A very handy image scraper for popular Chan sites, modify search criteria (screen resolution etc) in order to suit your needs.

The Paper Wall | Arranged by categories and resolution.  Offers wallpaper packs for download as well as a featured ‘wallpaper of the day’.

Wallpapers Wide | Offers organised categories for ease of use and automatically detects your screen resolution.

Rocket Dock | These guys haven’t really provided any meaningful updates in a long, long time, however Rocket Dock still offers a very nice and clean way to manage desktop icons.

Fences | Stardock has offered Windows users alternative themes and skinning for years now, and not until recently I began using a very nice app called Fences that allows you to segregate your desktop icons into customisable categories.

DisplayFusion | If like me, you have a dual monitor setup then DisplayFusion is definitely worth considering.  DisplayFusion allows you to spread a single wallpaper over multiple screens, set different wallpapers on each and offers a variety of window and image options.

Applications

While Windows certainly offers a variety of preinstalled software, users will typically have to download additional software and packages in order to customise their computing experience.

File Hippo | Offers a plethora of software, arranged by category.  Also offers the option to download older versions of chosen software.

CCCP | Still my first choice in codec packs, has the added benefit of installing Media Player Classic (just remember to set MPC to auto-load subtitles).

File Sharing

While file sharing sites certainly attract all sorts of controversy, they are nonetheless a necessity for millions of users, including myself.

µTorrent | My torrent client of choice for Windows, user friendly and intuitive.

Kickass Torrents | Sure Pirate Bay has been around for ages and is perhaps the most controversial file sharing site out there, but I find Kickass to be more useful and comprehensive than its infamous competitor.

Browser add-ons

By now you will have no doubt selected your favourite browser for your internet exploring needs.  I like to use a combination of Chrome and Firefox – Chrome is fast and stable but lacks features, Firefox is buggy and filled with bloat, but regardless the latter remains my primary browser due to a combination of add-ons that are fundamental to my browsing experience.

Adblock Plus | Available for Chrome as well, Adblock Plus is an extremely useful deterrent for unwanted and invasive advertisements as well as pop-ups.

DownThemAll! | A useful image scraper, I use this add-on primarily for Chan sites, open a page and download all the images without having to open each link individually.

Video DownloadHelper | The indispensable video download tool, works great with YouTube allowing you to choose the desired resolution.

Security

Comodo Internet Security | It’s a well known fact that Windows Firewall is severely lacking and one of the first things to do after a fresh install is to locate a more efficient means of securing your PC.  After trying out a multitude of free solutions, I find Comodo to be the most effective and least invasive tool to do the job.

Enjoy this post, wish to add to it? Then add a comment or click the like button.  Constructive criticism is always welcome and I’d like to hear about your favourite apps and sites too, or perhaps even better alternatives.

Elementary OS

4666332698Those familiar with the open source operating system Linux will know that there are hundreds of distros (distributions) available and that most importantly they are free. So which one do you pick? Well, as with most things in life, one should make choices based on their preferences and needs.  Having been a long-time Windows user, I find Ubuntu to be the most user-friendly and intuitive due to various similarities that the two operating systems share.  However, lately curiosity has gotten the better of  me and I decided to see what else is out there and after a brief encounter with the decidedly dodgy Pear OS (I foresee a lawsuit from Apple on the horizon), I came across a forum that was buzzing about another distro called Elementary OS so I decided to check it out.

The first and most obvious aspect of Elementary OS is that borrows heavily from Apple’s OS X platform.  The idea was to create something lightweight, stylish and elegant, and taking a page out of Apple’s book, they’ve done just that.  Due to several grievances with Windows, Daniel Foré abandoned the platform and got involved with the Linux community.  Having no programming experience,  Foré joined forces with a developer in order to bring his vision to life.  Foré would handle the design aspect of the OS, sparking interest throughout the community and bringing others into his fold.

Elementary OS is a lightweight distro, with the intention of drawing those who have shied away from Linux due to its complexity and perceived user-unfriendliness.  Elementary OS is based upon the popular Ubuntu distro albeit stripped down extensively, however being Ubuntu-based, Elementary OS is able to make use of all its packages, repositories as well as the software center (though its own one is in the pipeline). The desktop environment entitled Pantheon is sleek and beautiful and makes use of its own proprietary applications such as Plank (similar to the OS X dock) and Midori, a lightweight browser (though still a bit skinny for my browsing needs).  Regarding window controls, Elementary OS has no minimize option (apparently there is some rationalization for this), rather annoying but easily rectifiable due to a tweaking app.

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Slick and clean, the desktop environment Pantheon resembles that of OS X, but with the benefit of being a Linux distro.

So what’s not to like about Elementary OS? It’s lightweight, starts up lightening quick, logs in even faster and uses a bare minimum of resources, making it user friendly on older PC’s too.  Elementary OS Luna (the latest version) is a competent alternative to both Windows and OS X and ideal for beginners, but in my opinion not a justifiable replacement for Ubuntu.  During my experience with Elementary OS, I found that the novelty of the sleek UI wore off pretty quickly once you realize that beneath it all it just feels like a derivative of another operating system (namely OS X and Ubuntu).  After I had updated the software and poked around a bit, it just felt a bit empty and perhaps a little too slimmed down, (like Ubuntu light) and little annoyances like preinstalled apps not being visible in Plank (so basically there’s no way of knowing that VLC is preinstalled for example) sort of killed it for me.  Combine the fact that one has to enable simple (expected) features like a minimize function for windows (really?) and that a lack of a Unity type interface meant having to search for things in a roundabout fashion clearly shows that while Elementary OS is certainly ambitious, it still has a long way to go.

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Ubuntu 13.10, better-looking in my opinion and easier to navigate thanks to Unity.

All in all, Elementary OS has a lot going for it and while it’s certainly worth checking out, I will definitely be sticking with Ubuntu.  For those looking to jump ship from Windows and OS X, Elementary OS is certainly a good choice for beginners and a nice introduction to Linux.  Elementary OS is definitely drawing a lot of its inspiration from OS X but at the same time its uniquely Linux unlike other distros, such as the aforementioned Pear OS that not only rips off Apple’s shell but does so in an inferior manner as certain aspects of the OS that attempt to emulate OS X fall short due to a lack of functionality.  I can offer one last piece of advice, if you insist upon installing Elementary OS, do so alongside your pre-existing installation (as I did), that way you can play around with the OS (although that’s what Live mode is for) to get a feel for it and to see if it suits your needs.