I usually keep a fairly modern Windows system to hand, amid my extensive collection of Macs and other Apple hardware. Sometimes it is useful to calibrate myself back to what everyone else is having to suffer.
Little more than two years ago, as my wife was reaching the end of her distance-learning maths degree from the Open University, I bought her a neat little HP laptop, catchily known as an HP Pavilion TS Sleekbook 15. I have always liked HP’s products, as although they seldom attain the sort of innovation or design that you expect of Apple, they are usually fairly well-designed and reliable.
The HP came with Windows 8 installed, to which my wife added the MathCAD required by her course, and off she went and did it. Otherwise the laptop was untouched – no other apps, and an almost completely empty disk. We did not even set it up for email.
We had not done much else with the laptop since, but now that Windows 10 is available, I though it might be worthwhile to upgrade to it, and give it a whirl. That was over three days ago, and I am still no closer to even discovering whether the HP will run Windows 10.
The first day was spent catching up with all the Windows 8 and other updates that the laptop informed me were essential before it would even consider going any further. At one stage it downloaded and installed no less than 102 of them, and required multiple checks for updates, more restarts than I can recall, and interminable periods spent applying updates and generally farting about. It finally reached the point where it would consider upgrading at about ten o’clock at night, by which time I had had enough.
The second day was spent upgrading to Windows 8.1. No I didn’t want to, but Microsoft was not prepared to even consider whether I could be allowed to get Windows 10 until I had at least downloaded the 3.6 GB upgrade and installed it. I gave up and went gardening for the afternoon, at the end of which I still had a couple of hours to wait whilst it tidied a few things up, then found some more to set up, then just set things up, and so on. Again I gave up late into the night, still with no news as to whether Windows 10 would be available.
The only slight relief that I had during this was providing my iCloud/Apple mail address in order to confirm that I really did exist, and gain entry to the Windows Store. I hope that Microsoft enjoyed that little touch of irony.
I am now well into the third day, this time applying updates to Windows 8.1. I ate lunch whilst it assured me that it was preparing those updates, only to discover that it had done nothing of the kind. Its almost total lack of feedback means that I have no way of telling whether vital steps are taking a very long time, or things have ground to a complete halt.
I even visited HP’s support website to check that this relatively modern laptop could be upgraded to Windows 10. I am still none the wiser, as even after entering its model number, the website did not give a clear yes or no.
Finally (after several attempts with pages which were broken) I managed to get Microsoft’s Windows 10 update troubleshooter to run. All it could tell me was that it could not tell whether my computer was eligible for (or could use) the free Windows 10 upgrade, and suggested that I tried again in a few hours.
There are several lessons in this frustrating saga.
The most obvious would be to hell with it, just stick with Apple and use virtualisation: it can only be easier. However I am reluctant to start encumbering my Macs with Windows dross, and would hate to be going through this saga on a computer that I actually used.
The next is the importance of informing the user as to exactly what is going on. I have watched many different messages on the HP for many hours now, none of which ever told me what was going on, or what to expect next. This is patronising in the extreme, and fuels bitter frustration. If something is likely to take many minutes, or an hour or two, and require several restarts, please tell me this so that I can plan accordingly. “Taking a little while” is no help whatsoever, and insulting.
But perhaps the greatest is the value of reasonably well-calibrated progress bars. Not one progress bar shown over these three days has actually worked in any useful way. Most consist of a green strip which slides along the bar as if to pacify me that the computer is doing something.
Progress bars are really simple, basic bits of feedback to the user: the bar starts empty, as linearly as possible with time it then fills to indicate the proportion of the total task completed, and when it is full, the task is complete, and moves on.
It is an indictment of HP, Windows, and the whole sorry state of PCs that none works like that: despite some glitzy tricks in Windows 8, 8.1 and now 10, there really has been no real progress after all.