Is Windows 10 for Photographers?

Windows 10, the latest overhaul of Microsoft’s operating system, is coming VERY soon.  Is it right for photographers?

Short Answer

Win10LogoPhotographers would be crazy to upgrade in August 2015, but should plan to upgrade before July 2016.  It is very hard to tell right now.  Windows users, spurned Microsoft’s gamble on a drastically different UI in Windows 8, will likely find Windows 10 looks MUCH better.  But I need to see the end result with the initial release at the end of July before I can know my final recommendation.  The Technical Preview builds of Windows 10 have been made available to “Windows Insiders”, the name Microsoft has given to the brave souls trying things out, since late in 2014.  Even through early June 2015 those builds have been pretty buggy.  The testers are reporting that no build has been stable enough for day-to-day use thus far, but I don’t expect it to stay that way.

Due to the fact that Microsoft is giving away the new version for free (see below), photographers will have an important decision to make before July 29th, 2016 – when it is no longer “free”.  I am betting there will be many good reasons for photographers who use Windows to upgrade from Windows 7 (or Windows 8) to Windows 10 before that date, but not as soon as August 2015.

The good news is that I will be checking out the new version very thoroughly from a photographer’s perspective.  So, stay tuned on the site and listen to the Improve Photography Roundtable Podcast for more updates on the topic throughout the next year.

The Long Answer

Readers of the site know that I (Jeff Harmon) am an unabashed PC using photographer.  I am an IT professional by day and a passionate hobbyist photographer by night (and weekends).  I don’t consider myself a Windows fanboy (there is a long list of things I don’t like about Microsoft and Windows), but there are many reasons why I have personally chosen to use a PC (check out my Mac vs PC for Photographers article).  Over the past 20 years I have been an early adopter of new versions of Windows, including beta testing of the operating system before the final release, so I am very accustomed to evaluating things and recommending when it is time to move.

I wanted to take some time in this article writing some answers to common questions I am hearing from photographers (and many other users in general).

What about Windows 9?

One of the first common questions about Windows 10 is, what happened to Windows 9?  In a somewhat strange move, Microsoft has chosen to jump the name of this next version from Windows 8.1 directly to Windows 10.  Why did they choose to do such a thing?

I have seen speculation on the answer being everything from the number 9 being “unlucky” in some cultures, to a more practical and technical reason being that it really messes up version checking software may do when Windows 98 and 95 would have a leading “9” in the name.

Terry Myerson, EVP of Operating Systems for Microsoft, put it this way:

[x_blockquote cite=”Terry Myerson, EVP of Operating Systems for Microsoft” type=”left”]We know, based on the product that’s coming, and just how different our approach will be overall, it wouldn’t be right to call it Windows 9[/x_blockquote]

Personally, I think it is all marketing spin.  Seems to me the long-time dominant provider of operating systems in the market needs all the marketing spin they can get in order to continue that reign.  I think the Windows 9 as the name was skipped because like Windows ME and Windows Vista, Windows 8/8.1 hasn’t been accepted by the market.  Microsoft needs to put as much distance between that brand and the new brand they are trying to create here as possible.

Not that I think they deserve the hate for Windows 8/8.1.  I am willing to be that most of the PC users reading this article are using Windows 7.  In fact, a good portion of you probably went to great lengths to make sure the last computer you bought DID NOT have Windows 8.  Do you actually know why?  Have you really tried it for more than 5 minutes at a store, or have you just heard that you don’t want it and should avoid it like the plague?

I use Windows 8.1 on my critically important, day-to-day PC.  While I wouldn’t have made all the same choices Microsoft did with Windows 8 (many of which were fixed in 8.1 to make it much better), it is not only fine, it is great.  Seriously, I don’t want to go back to Windows 7 for anything.  I am convinced that if I could spend 15 minutes to explain how to use Windows 8.1, any Windows 7 user would be just fine with it as well.  The problem is it shouldn’t take a personal 15 minute session to make an operating system understood.

But as many companies, most recently Apple, have been able to demonstrate for many years, the “reality distortion field” created by marketing is far more important than how something actually works.  After all, that is really how Microsoft became so dominant in the first place.  It is just so hard to hang on to that for long periods of time.  The market has spoken.  Whether deserved or not, Windows 8 is a failure and now Microsoft is going to try everything they can to convince users to go to Windows 10 – part of that is by skipping Windows 9.

I find it interesting and a little ironic that Microsoft has outlined a plan with the release of Windows 10 where going forward updates will be applied very differently from what PC users have become used to for 20 plus years.  Windows 10 may end up being the name of the product for a long time.  Very similar to how Apple has been using OSX for the name of their product since 2001.  I can’t imagine that will actually end up being the case since there is no way Microsoft wants to look like it copied Apple here, but who knows?  I mean you are reading an article from a photographer who actually uses Windows!

Is it Really Free?

The next question I am being commonly asked is if the new version is truly free.  You need to understand that one of Microsoft’s biggest goal with this new release is to get as many of the more than 1 billion PC users on the planet all using the latest version.  It has become an extremely difficult problem for Microsoft to support all of the versions of Windows out there and they want to get as many as possible on Windows 10 so that we can all move on.

To help make it more enticing, they are indeed offering the new version for FREE!  Sort of.  No such thing as free lunch, right?  There are two requirements you have to meet to get Windows 10 for free:

  1. You must have a valid Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 license.  If you are still using Windows XP, you will have to pay for the new version.  By the way, if you are still using XP, you really need to get a new version of Windows because you aren’t getting security patches any longer.  I recommend you upgrade by buying a new computer.
  2. You must upgrade your computer before July 29th, 2016.  Microsoft is saying that you have 1 year to do the upgrade for free.  However, they haven’t said yet what the upgrade price will be at that point.

Win10ReserveButtonSo, yes, if you meet those two requirements you get the new version for free as an upgrade.  In fact, if your computer does qualify for the free upgrade you may have seen a new Windows logo button in your Taskbar that has something to do with Windows 10.  This is a strange move since Microsoft has never done something like this before, which made many wonder if they had a virus (totally understandable and good for you if you did wonder that).

It is also strange that when you click on the button you are asked if you want to “reserve” your copy of Windows 10.  As if Microsoft may only be giving out a limited number of free licenses.  Really what this is going on if you do reserve your free upgrade copy of Windows 10, is downloading the installation of the upgrade slowly over a few days leading up to the initial release date so that it is all there and ready to go without needing to download 3GB worth of data.  Microsoft is likely going to have literally millions of people trying to download Windows 10 on that day, which tends to make for a terrible launch day experience, so this is their attempt to smooth that out with as many as they can before then.

Should you click that button and reserve your copy?  It won’t hurt anything, but I don’t recommend you install Windows 10 on the initial release date (7/29/2015).  Let me and other early adopters check things out and let you know if things are all good to go before putting your mission critical PC at risk.  If you have gone ahead and “reserved” your copy, just ignore the message that comes up that day.

What’s New?

Let’s get to the reason you came to read this article.  What is new and different with version 10?  What will it do for your photography?  Or maybe a better question, what might it do TO your photography.  Even though I make my mortgage each month through a non-photography day job, I understand that your computer is almost more critical to the livelihood and well-being of your small business as your camera and lenses.  Hey, I said almost.

The point is I get how important your computer is to your business.  It is used for post-processing, customer communication, marketing, and accounting at a minimum.  Putting all of that at risk in order to install a new version of Windows is understandably a little scary.  You are only going to consider doing that if there is a darn good reason, right?  So is there one?  Or maybe a few?  I think there probably will be, but as I have already stated several times here, it is too early to tell.  There are a few things that are worth noting, so let’s go through them.

Speed

Because the technical previews of Windows 10 are still quite a ways from what I expect to see on launch day, I can’t yet say if you should expect speed improvements over Windows 8.  What I can say is that since most of you PC using photographers are probably running Windows 7, you will see a speed boost with Windows 10 because that came with Windows 8.

With Windows 8 boot up times were decreased significantly, sleep and resume worked much better, USB 3.0 was natively supported (possible in Win 7 with the right drivers) and the amount of RAM allowed in the “Home” version (128GB with Win 8) of the software was increased from what was allowed in Windows 7 (16GB with Home Professional and 8GB with Home Basic).

My expectation is that Windows 10 is going to offer more speed improvements from Windows 7, especially because the hardware has changed a lot in the 6 years since the release of Windows 7.  In particular, photographers should be very excited for SIGNIFICANT disk speed improvements with PCIe based SSDs (internal drives) and USB-C ports (external drives) that should be well supported and commonly found on new computers coming with Windows 10.  Provided Windows 10 gets a pretty good acceptance, I doubt those features will ever be well supported in Windows 7 or 8.

Bottom line is that I have seen speed improvements running Lightroom in particular, but also Photoshop in Windows 8 over Windows 7.  I expect that photographers will see speed improvements to the fairly intensive photography related applications they run after upgrading to Windows 10 on the computer they already have.  Again, just don’t do it in August 2015 until we have checked it out.

Start Menu

Windows-7-Start-Menu
Windows 7 Start Menu appeared as a small window in the lower left corner of the screen

Before going into the Start Menu of Windows 10, we have to talk about what happened with Windows 8.  Microsoft took a very large gamble, one that has proven to be a bad bet.  They tried to be forward thinking.  They tried to show they were progressive.  They wanted to show that they aren’t still your Dad’s Microsoft by making an operating system that would work pretty much the same way on a tablet as on a desktop.  With hindsight being 20/20, after the market has spoken, Microsoft knows it was a massive mistake.  They screwed it up in a very big way.

Windows-8-Start-Menu
Windows 8 replaced the Start Menu with a Start Screen that users hated.

With Windows 8 Microsoft changed out the Start Menu that has been a prominent feature in their operating system since Windows 95.  Actually, it is probably better said that they REMOVED the Start Menu completely and added a Start Screen instead.  Instead of having a little menu come up when you clicked the Start button in the lower left corner, users were taken to a full screen view that showed their “live tiles” and square icons for common programs installed on the PC.  Finding the program you want to launch was not intuitive, the way you were supposed to do it was to use search rather than picking through some long list of applications.  But there was no readily visible search box!  The search was activated if a user started typing.  This is one of those things I would show you in that 15 minute personal training session that would make Windows 8 acceptable.

Making matters worse, instead of starting off with the traditional “desktop” view we have been so used to for years, the first thing you saw when you started up the PC was this new Start Screen.  It was a jarring change that left users unsure of what they were seeing.  It didn’t look like the Windows they were used to at all, and they didn’t know where to even start.  I believe this to be the biggest reasons for the hate on Windows 8.  That, and haters gonna hate (you know you started singing a little just now).

Windows-10-Start-Menu
In Windows 10 the Start Menu comes back, but quite a bit larger than in Windows 7 and has “live tiles” that update with information from the Internet.

Realizing their mistake and how negative an impact this drastic change made on adoption of Windows 8, Microsoft released an update they called Windows 8.1 just one year after the release of Windows 8 – something very unusual.  The Start Screen mostly stayed the same, but they now offered an option to start up Windows going directly into the desktop view that would feel almost completely natural for anyone accustomed to Windows 7 (or even Windows XP).

OK, enough of the backstory, now we can talk about what is happening with the Start Menu in Windows 10.  Microsoft is making a compromise between what they wanted in the Start Screen in Windows 8, and what the users have been screaming about wanting the old Start Menu back.  In Windows 10, the Start Menu will continue to have the new widgets they call “live tiles” that have active content like the news headlines, health tips, reading lists, even National Geographic Photo Contest winners.

In fact, if Windows 10 is running on a tablet the very touch-friendly Start Screen will look almost identical.  What’s going to be different is if Windows 10 is running on a PC, when it will only take up a little more space in the lower left hand corner of your screen that you are used to from Windows 95, XP, and 7.  I can’t wait to check out where Microsoft lands exactly on the design of the Start Menu in Windows 10, but that will be something I will report on after we see the final version after the initial release in late July.

I personally think Microsoft has come up with a pretty good compromise with what I have seen of the Windows 10 Start Menu.  I think it will make a lot more sense than what was in Windows 8.1, and this will no longer be cause for skipping the newest version.  It won't take long after Windows 10 is released to know if the market agrees that Microsoft made the right adjustments.

Security

Contrary to what those Mac-loving fanboys would have you believe, Microsoft has made tremendous progress with each major release of Windows ever since starting their secure computing initiative with Windows Vista (there is an OS even I skipped).  In Windows 8 made some significant strides on the security front with built-in antivirus and UEFI Secure boot that has made it much harder for malware to infect the boot process.

No, it is certainly not immune, but NO operating system is.  It is software, and software has bugs.  If we just eliminated the humans using the PC that can be tricked into running bad things on them, we wouldn’t have as big a problem.  But a good pattern has been established as Microsoft has made security better with each new version and I expect Windows 10 to continue in that pattern.

Microsoft has said they are working hard to add more secure ways to login to your computer, something called “Windows Hello.”  It is supposed to use facial recognition and/or other biometric data like your fingerprint (which of course has been available but not worked very well for some time) to get you logged in.  I worry about how easy it might be to fool these things and can’t wait to try that out.

Another pretty important change with Windows 10 that improves security is how updates are being applied.  PC users are already pretty familiar with the Windows Update service that routinely bothers them about updates being available.  Most PC users also ignore whatever their computer is telling them they need to do in order to apply those updates because they are getting on their computer to get something done and really don’t have time to deal with it or don’t understand it.  This has been a big security problem for Microsoft.

You see, a huge portion of software bugs that malware and viruses use to infect a PC are things that are already fixed!  If people only applied all of the security updates as soon as they were released, their chances of getting infected with something nasty would go down significantly.  For this reason (and others) Microsoft has decided to take this control out of the user’s hands in Windows 10.  For non-corporate users, updates will be applied automatically for them.  There will be no action the user to take, and therefore also no choice to wait.

In some ways this can be scary.  There have certainly been fairly recent examples of updates that have not gone well on some computers.  It isn’t an easy problem for Microsoft since their software is run on so many different types of computers with different things inside of them.  Yet I think this is a must.  PC users have been given years to show they could manage this for themselves and failed miserably to do so.  For our own good, for the good of the Internet, we need these updates to be pushed out automatically.

Overall I don’t expect security to be an overwhelming reason to upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 to Windows 10, but it would be a nice benefit if there was more continued improvement here.

Others

There are other features coming in Windows 10, just not anything I think is going to end up being important to PC using photographers.  Still, I should cover them briefly just to be complete:

  • Cortana.  Think of this like Siri on a PC.  It is voice activated help and has been demonstrated to do things like show all of your photos from last December very well – provided you use Windows tools for that (which I would imagine nobody reading this article will do).  I think I may find it interesting and am anxious to try it out, but I doubt it will be an important feature for photographers.
  • Universal Apps.  This one matters to developers and users of Windows Phone (have you even heard of Windows Phone?).  It will enable a developer to write an application once and have it work on the PC, on a Windows tablet, on Windows Phone, and on XBox.  Again, I don't think this is a feature any photographers will really be scrambling for.
  • Project Spartan.  We know now that it will actually be named “Edge,” and is a brand new browser that will be replacing the relatively hated Internet Explorer browser.  In my day job I work a lot with web applications and am interested to see how the new browser fares against Firefox and Chrome, but I plan to run Chrome and Firefox (I use both) in Windows 10 just like I am in Windows 8.1.
  • Settings/Notification Panel.  Another pretty large miss I haven't covered in Windows 8 was how to get to the settings for your PC.  It was confusing, and Microsoft aims to fix that along with adding a centralized place for notifications to occur.  They are also going to coordinate those notifications between the PC and the Windows Phone so that if you dismiss it on the phone it is dismissed on the PC.
  • Continuim.  This feature almost made the list of features I thought photographers should care about.  It is the ability to very seamlessly transition a PC/tablet 2-in-1 kind of device, like the Surface Pro, from desktop to tablet mode.  Meaning if you have the Surface Pro docked to a keyboard and mouse you will get the desktop experience like it is a PC.  Soon as you undock it, making it more like a table, the UI will change to the more touch-friendly version like Windows 8 is today.  I think there may very well be good potential in the Surface device.  I have seen it run Photoshop and Lightroom pretty well, although not good enough for me to consider ditching my iPad and custom built PC.  I still like those two things being separate, but I am willing to be convinced.  If I ever do become convinced, I think it will be in large part due to this feature.

Final Thoughts

I believe Windows 10 is going to be impressive.  Not just because they are doing things differently this time.  Not just because I think they are headed in the right direction with the Start Menu and the overall UI.  I think it is going to be impressive because it has to be.  Microsoft is on the brink of losing a lot of market share.  They seem to have already lost the next generation who is pretty happy with a smartphone and a MacBook Air or Chromebook.  I think Microsoft knows they have to bring it with Windows 10 because they aren't likely to get a serious second chance to impress that rising generation.

However, with the technical previews being so buggy thus far, I am not confident it will be fully ready for mass adoption by users who can’t afford any speed bumps with their computers by the initial release date just 2 short months from now on 7/29/2015.  There are still 2 months, and I expect a lot of fit and finish work is going to be made between now and then to make massive progress, but I know how hard it is to develop software when provided a timeline by the marketing team.

Given we have all been told we can get it for free for only the first year, I think photographers who use a PC should plan to upgrade to Windows 10 before 7/29/2016.  Unless you are a PC enthusiast who feels comfortable reinstalling Windows and troubleshooting your hardware, I don’t recommend photographers upgrade with the initial release.  I also don't know yet if I recommend getting a new computer with Windows 10, or doing an upgrade on the computer you already have.  In the past it has not been a good experience to upgrade the computer you already have.  The biggest reason being that with all of the past releases things have worked better if you installed the OS fresh and clean rather than upgrading things in-place.  Microsoft is saying this time it will be different, but I will believe it when I see it for myself.

Let me kick the tires and take it for a spin around the block.  I promise to provide a non-fanboy review right here on the Improve Photography site.  If it truly stinks, I will tell you, and switch to Mac myself.  I just don’t think it will.

5 thoughts on “Is Windows 10 for Photographers?”

  1. I think this is a very good piece, and very helpful. When I got the “invitation,” I called Adobe, first. They said that they have not yet tested Lightroom and Photoshop, with Windows 10, and don’t plan to until release time. I called Microsoft and was told that testing, with Windows 10, is the responsibility of the third party vendors, as is them adapting their software to run well, on Windows 10. I told them I was happy running Windows 7 Ultimate (32GB RAM), but what if I upgraded and was not happy with Windows 10? They told me that to revert to Windows 7, it would be a “clean install,” so I’d first need to back up everything, files and programs, which would be a terrible pain. So, I’ve ignored the “invitation,” for now. Microsoft also told me that they plan to support Windows 7 “for a very long time to come.” Between this info and your excellent article, I will be waiting, at least till someone I trust, like you, puts out a thorough recommendation. Thanks a lot.

  2. I loved this post – I too was a little ‘hmm – one eyebrow raised’ when I saw this random icon pop up on my taskbar however after closer look I went ahead and “reserved” a copy of the new version. Whilst it will no doubt download on the day of release, I have always been sceptical in using new technology immediately after release day. I will be doing as I normally do and exactly as you have advised – wait until the kinks are ironed out. Better yet I’ll be hounding Bloglovin to await your post about your final thoughts on Windows 10. Exciting Times ahead haha!

    Jo.

  3. Many thanks Jim, for answering some very pressing questions for me and helping me to make a decision. I was set to automatically install Windows 10 on my PC until I read your article here. I didn’t know it was free for the first year after release. And with you doing the testing of the release, I know you’ll put it through its paces and let your listeners know whether or not it’s a good idea to install it now or later. Thanks again and I look forward to hearing about the new software and your recommendations.

    1. @Al,

      It isn’t just free for the first year. So long as you upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8 within the first year of release, it is free FOREVER! Microsoft is trying hard to get the entire planet to move to Windows 10 so that they don’t have to worry as much about Win 7 or Win 8 so they are offering this to try and accomplish that.

      Jeff

  4. Jeff,

    Nicely done article ! As a novice digital photographer, I continue to skim the surface of “publice domain” photo software…Just started using Windows 10 (5/5/16) and needed some perspective….Your writing is appreciated.

    Dr. Clikk
    Atlanta

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