Anyone running Windows 7 or Windows 8 on their PC is eligible for a free upgrade to Microsoft’s newest operating system, Windows 10, for the next year. What happened to Windows 9? And should you or your business make the switch? Computer expert David Shinkfield is in the dark about the former, but has spent the last few weeks evaluating the new OS to help answer the latter.

Shinkfield, a presenter for the Computer Learning Center in Ewing, gave a presentation at the beginning of the month on the pros and cons of the new operating system. The CLC regularly holds classes at the Ewing Senior and Community Center on Lower Ferry Road, aimed at the general public. The next one, on Tuesday, September 15, will cover cloud services. For more information, visit www.clcewing.org. Another group dedicated to Windows machines is the Princeton PC Users Group meeting on Tuesday, September 29, at the Lawrence Library. Meeting topic to be announced. For more information, visit www.ppcug-nj.org. or call 609-883-5262.

Shinkfield grew up in Dover in Great Britain, the son of two low-tech parents. His father ran a company that made specialized cardboard boxes for fountain pens and vinyl disks. He has an electrical engineering degree from the University of Salford in 1962 and then went to work for AEI, where he managed the building of electrical substations. He moved to the U.S. in 1979 and worked for pharmaceutical companies. Since he retired 10 years ago, he has volunteered at the Computer Learning Center teaching classes.

Shinkfield installed the new operating system on his laptop and put it through its paces. He noticed several features that would be of interest to those using Windows in the workplace.

“Microsoft is trying its best to make the OS more friendly to those who use a mouse and keyboard,” Shinkfield said. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 were both designed with tablets and touchscreens in mind, which made them frustrating for some desktop PC users who were trying to get work done instead of play around with apps.

To remedy this complaint, Windows 10 brings back the “start” menu familiar to Windows users, and does away with the full-screen apps of the Windows 8 era. Instead, apps can now run in windows.

Further, the OS now allows multiple desktops, a feature that has existed on Macintosh computers for years. Someone could have one desktop for work and other for home use, if they used the same computer for both purposes. “That may be helpful for some people,” Shinkfield said.

Another vaunted feature of Windows 10 is its new web browser, Edge, which replaces the maligned Internet Explorer. Shinkfield found that Edge was impressive, and was faster than its rivals Chrome and Firefox, but had incomplete features.

“The consensus is that it is a work in progress,” he said. “At the moment it works fine, but whether you want to change to it from your existing browsers, I think, is very doubtful.”

One advantage Windows 10 has for businesses is security. Older operating systems, even with automatic updates enabled, require some degree of user intervention in order to stay up to date. Out of date operating systems can be full of holes for hackers to breach, making them a liability for businesses. “Only about 40 or 50 percent of people across the world install those updates,” Shinkfield says. Window 10 installs the updates automatically, whether the user wants them or not. “It may be a bit annoying at times, but I think it’s a good thing,” Shinkfield says.

The new operating system comes with Cortana, a “personal assistant” program like Apple’s Siri, or Google’s “OK Google,” which allows users to ask questions of their computer using natural language. Shinkfield said Cortana worked well, but would be more useful for mobile phones than for desktops.

Critics have raised privacy concerns about Windows 10, and Shinkfield says some of those criticisms are justified. The user agreement for Win 10 contains language that authorizes the software to find what it deems pirated programs and media on the user’s computer and disable it, although there is no indication that the operating system actually does anything of the sort, at least in its current version. However, this feature, if added, could be a problem for businesses that use software of questionable provenance, or if the OS wrongly determines that a program or file is pirated.

Much like web browsers do, the OS collects user information, including the contents of E-mails and web searches, and sends it back to Microsoft to create personalized ads and for several other purposes. Another potential privacy concern is the Wifisense feature, which allows users to give wi-fi access to people who they are connected to on social networks.

All of the data sharing features are able to be turned off in user settings but Shinkfield says only the most computer-savvy users will be able to do that.

So, how is Microsoft making money on Windows 10, if it’s free? The OS increases the prominence of the Windows Store, which lets Microsoft sell software, games, movies, and music directly to users. Shinkfield also wonders if Microsoft will one day charge users a monthly subscription for Windows 10 updates, much like it does with Windows Office. It is also possible to buy Windows 10 instead of using the free version, in which case you can keep your old OS as a backup.

Overall, Shinkfield says the new OS is better than OS 8 for desktop users, and recommends switching. However, he says Windows 7 users who are happy with their OS are better off waiting and seeing how Windows 10 develops.

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