In my writings, I have almost entirely ignored Windows 8/8.1. That's a bit strange given that I own a Windows 8.1 phone and a Windows 8.1 Pro tablet and that my primary work PC is a DIY desktop box running Windows 8.1 Pro. But that's not the situation with most of my clients.
This is unusual because historically I have avoided the bleeding edge. My clients usually had a newer version of Windows before I adopted it despite my standard recommendation that clients wait for someone else to do the bleeding. I'd rather know where the thorns are, not find them myself. Admittedly, I skipped 8 but moved to 8.1 rather quickly.
Now, however, Microsoft has managed to change the equation in a surprising and dramatic way. Windows 10, for all intents and purposes, is being given away to almost all owners of Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. That's right - a free upgrade. Why? Because Microsoft is still supporting customers back to Windows Vista (nearly two years of support left as I write this) and all other versions of Windows since then. Worse, Windows 7 is just as popular as Windows XP was in its heyday, meaning that many folks will not want to upgrade if they don't have to.
They still don't have to, but Microsoft put a little kink in the deal. The free price is only good for the first year after Windows 10 is released (due July 29 or thereabouts). The implication is that it won't be free after that, although I think the duration of the free deal is fungible based on how its received.
This is clearly to Microsoft's long-term advantage. I think it's brilliant. If something like that had been possible for Windows XP, Microsoft might have saved itself a lot of heartache.
Is it to Your Advantage?
Let me start out by saying that I have not participated in the Windows 10 technical preview and have no experience with it at all. My opinion here is based on my experience with Windows 8.1, which except for three things has been extremely good. A part of me thinks that Windows 10 is more like Windows 8.2 and unless Microsoft really screws up, I think Windows 10 will be fine.
That's the basis for my first recommendation. If you are currently using Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, take the upgrade. Based on what I've read, I don't think you will have any problems at all.
If you are using Windows 7, I also think the upgrade will be smooth except in the case where you are running older applications. Here I do have some experience. I was able to get about 97% of the programs I used to run under Windows XP working in Windows 7. But with Windows 8.1, I was not so successful; I estimate that I got about 85% of the programs running and I lost some important ones. Those programs that did not make it to Windows 8 will also not make it to Windows 10. In other words, if you have such applications in Windows 7, do some advance work to find out what will be compatible and what won't. You may have to use up some of that free upgrade year to resolve compatibility issues before you can successfully migrate to Windows 10 and, of course, that might mean buying upgrades.
What's Wrong with Windows 8.1?
I mentioned three things that were problems for me with Windows 8/8.1. Most of these have been discussed widely in the trade press and thus may be known to you. Here's where I stand.
Eliminating the "traditional" start menu was a huge mistake on Microsoft's part, an opinion I think is almost universal. When you have a billion users familiar with a menu system dating back nearly 20 years, it's insanity to think that you can just up and drop it. Its absence spawned a dozen products to restore the functionality. I use one, the excellent, $5 Start8 from StarDock.
A stub of a start menu appeared in Windows 8.1. Calling it a "stub" is generous - it only provided access to important system areas like the Control Panel. While appreciated, it also was the deserved butt of derision.
The new Windows 10 start menu appears to be a hybrid of the Windows 8 start screen and the traditional Windows start menu. Not having tried it I can't say for sure, but if it turns out I don't like it I'll simply resort to StartDock's Start10, currently in beta. I hope Microsoft is on the right track with this new menu system for Win10 because if it blows it again, you'll hear a cacophony of laughter and anger and catcalls and, well, you get the idea.
I'm a big fan of the tiled interface and especially "live" tiles. They are terrific on the Windows phone and on smaller tablets, meaning they are pretty good for touch. On a traditional setup with keyboard and mouse, the tiled interface is not as fluid. This is what I think crippled Windows 8 and prompted Microsoft to begin to correct its errors in Windows 8.1, which allows much better access to the Windows desktop. On my Windows phone, the desktop is the tiled interface. But on my desktop PC, the desktop must be the Windows desktop. Again, I (and millions of others) have been using it that way for a long time. I expect to continue to use the Windows desktop well into the future.
Microsoft's mistake was in thinking that touch would be ubiquitous. That's hard to argue given all the phones and tablets out there with touch as the primary interface. And maybe I'm just a stick in the mud. Here's my point - a lot of users will be fine with just a touch device and will prefer it to a keyboard and mouse, but a lot of users will understand the advantages of, in particular, the keyboard. Someone who writes for a living, whether writing code or books or news or reports or legal briefs, won't find touch the preferred interface. Even if the mouse becomes less popular as all screens migrate to touch, a physical keyboard is still extremely useful and highly productive.
I certainly don't like using the Win8 start screen with a mouse. Once again I think that Microsoft focused on touch and thus did not bother to make mouse access to the start screen as smooth as it could have been.
"Metro" was an internal Microsoft code name for a style of application that always runs full screen and did not originally behave like the typical Windows app. The Metro name leaked out and stuck even though Microsoft calls this style something else now.
Yet again, Microsoft seems to have thought that everything would be touch overnight. Full-screen apps are the norm for phones and practical for smaller devices like tablets. But the notion that every app would be full-screen on today's larger displays is crazy. The Windowed interface is good, for heaven's sake. It's functional. It's powerful. Sure, not everybody likes it; I know folks who don't quite "get" the windowed interface. But most people, especially those who seek productivity, do like it, do find it powerful and useful.
I hate to be idle at the computer. Sometimes I'm doing things that require me to wait. If I don't have some other "real" task at that exact moment, I'll pull up solitaire and burn a little time while I'm waiting. I do that while watching videos. Naturally, I would never do that while I was on a boring important call with a client. Well, the Windows 8 version of solitaire is a Metro app, consuming the entire display. I can't watch a video or keep my eye on one of those long processes while playing Spider.
Yes, it's a trivial example. But it is the example. Whether it's a question of productivity apps or a Web browser or whatever suite of apps I happen to be using at any given moment, I don't want Microsoft telling me how I should organize my desktop.
In Windows 8.1, Microsoft brought back the Windows title bar, with the close button (X). In Windows 10, Metro apps can be resized so that they don't consume the full screen if you don't want them to. That's a big step forward (or is it backward?) as far as I'm concerned.
Should You Take The Free Deal?
If you're using Windows 8/8.1, yes, it's a no-brainer. If you bought a start menu program, whether you replace or upgrade it depends on how good the Win10 start menu is, how much you like what Microsoft gives you.
If you're using Windows 7, my answer is also yes but in this case you need to assess your situation carefully. Some applications you've been using might not run in Windows 8/8.1/10 and you'll have to decide how to handle that. It could be complicated and possibly costly.
So the bottom line is yes, take the deal. Based on what Microsoft has said so far, it's good through August of 2016.