Does It Make Sense to Upgrade to Windows 10?

Windows 10 operating on a Microsoft Surface computer

Windows 10 operating on a Microsoft Surface computer Richard Drew/AP

Having performed hundreds of Windows upgrades over the years, it’s safe to describe my enthusiasm for such a move as tepid at best, which is why I found myself nearly up against the deadline for the free upgrade.

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology and government. He is currently the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys

Hopefully, most feds are, like me, enjoying a short work week after celebrating the long July 4 weekend, even though it was a little too soggy. I had to cook my Independence Day steaks inside this year and watch from my den as MPT tried to pass off stock footage of old fireworks on the National Mall as a live event instead of attending in person. But it was still a nice weekend.

It was also the weekend I finally bit the bullet and upgraded most of my Windows-based test lab and production computers to Windows 10. If you have systems running Windows 7 or 8, there is a limited time offer where upgrading to Windows 10 is free. That window is closing fast though, as the offer ends on July 29.

Having performed hundreds of Windows upgrades over the years, it’s safe to describe my enthusiasm for such a move as tepid at best, which is why I found myself nearly up against the deadline for the free upgrade.

In the past when moving from XP to Vista, I have had upgrade operations completely fail, nearly ruining the machine it was running on. I’ve also lost files when moving from Vista to Windows 7, and found that supposedly compatible programs don’t work, or don’t work correctly, when changing over from Windows 7 to 8.

Then, there is the odd quirk that Windows operating systems are like “Star Trek” movies in that every other one is terrible, but interspersed with pretty good ones in between. Windows XP was probably my most favorite OS of all time, combining simplicity, ease of use, stability and compatibility in equal measure.

Then, Vista was a complete train wreck. Windows 7 was pretty good, almost like a smoothed-out version of XP. Then, there was the disaster that is Windows 8, which tried to force everyone to invest in a touchscreen and compute using giant app-like blocks displayed in gaudy colors. So, I suppose following the “every other one is bad ‘Star Trek’ pattern,” that Windows 10 should be OK.

The Defense Department certainly seems to think so. It is mandated to upgrade all of its systems to Windows 10 by 2017. And new reports say that both the administrations of Transportation Safety and Social Security are scrambling to complete their upgrades to the new OS as well.

Microsoft also recently announced major upgrades to its Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, which will add a new post-breach layer of protection to the Windows 10 security stack. Given that a lot of malware, and especially the insidious threat of ransomware, can sail past traditional anti-virus, adding a post-breach security option is going to be critical in the future. But you need to have Windows 10 to get it.

So, the time was right. I started off slowly with some of my laptops. Two moved from Windows 7 and one upgraded from Windows 8. In all three cases, the upgrade files downloaded in about 30 minutes over a wired connection or an hour using wireless.

The actual installation process took between 20 and 40 minutes. So, figure about 90 minutes max for almost any system regardless of configuration. A workstation I mostly use for gaming only took 25 minutes for the complete process, while a podcasting computer with more average specs took about 45.

In the end, there were no glitches anywhere on the network.

And I am pretty happy with Windows 10. For one, you can make the desktop look just like Windows 7. All those stupid colored blocks of Windows 8 are still there, peeking out from hiding when you click the Start Button turned Windows Key in the corner, but otherwise keeping out of sight. If you want, you can instead make the interface look like Windows 8, though I don’t know why anyone would want to do so.

And, surprisingly, every program, folder and document on every system is exactly where it was left before the upgrade. On a computer formerly running Windows 7, you almost can’t tell an upgrade was made to Windows 10. The menus are a bit sharper and things tend to open up a little quicker, but the interface is nearly identical.

Doing some performance testing with the newly upgraded machines, it also seems Windows 10 is a bit less taxing on less powerful systems. On an average desktop in the lab, CPU usage averaged about 9 percent with Windows 8. With Windows 10, it’s down to 4 percent on average, but can dip even lower.

Core memory use is also down across the board for every system that was upgraded, by an average of about 10 percent. Clearly, Windows 10 has been optimized compared to Windows 7, and especially when compared to Windows 8. That could lead to longer life and less heat generation for systems over time.

Windows Defender is also now smoothly integrated with the OS. It updates itself automatically along with the core system, so there is no need for user interaction or remembering to update profiles. It won’t run if another anti-virus program is present, so you may need to uninstall your current protection to get Defender on duty.

Defender does work with some anti-malware programs like Malwarebytes, so maintaining multiple levels of protection is possible under Windows 10 for high-security environments.

I’m only a few days into my full Windows 10 upgrade, but so far, so good. I even had one program, the new XCOM 2 game from Firaxis, stubbornly refuse to run under Windows 7 but start up right away under Windows 10. That’s a first for me actually, having a program start working following an OS rollover.

If you are holding out on your own free upgrade, the time is running out. For me, anyway, making the upgrade seems to have been the correct choice.