Were you to look only at its ad campaign and high-resolution screens, one could easily assume that Windows 10 is primarily for home users. Under the hood, however, the engine is built for small-to-medium businesses, with many attributes that will benefit tax and accounting firms.
Since its official release on July 29, Windows 10 has had a structured rollout – going first to beta testers and corporate clients, and then to those who had reserved a copy. The final group will be users of Windows 7 and 8 who are entitled to a free upgrade.
For those still using Vista or an earlier operating system, Windows 10 Pro is available for sale at a retail price of $199 through Amazon, and as little as $119 elsewhere. If you run a Home version of Windows 7 or 8, you will get the Home version of Windows 10. In terms of core capabilities, there is little difference between the Home and Pro versions.
You may wish, however, to upgrade to the Pro version for its small business attributes, as recommended by Microsoft. These include an enhanced security features and desktop virtualization.
Regardless of which version you choose to install, there are three things you need to know immediately:
- The system still has a few bugs. Microsoft is expected to release the first update to fix these within the next few weeks. A larger upgrade pack will be sent out in October of this year.
- There is a learning curve. While it is not steep, it will require some time to figure out how to do things in the new applications. The highly instructive “Windows 10 for Dummies” retails at $18. You may also want an IT trainer to conduct a class for your staff to assist in the transition.
- October may be the best time to upgrade. Waiting beyond that risks trying the upgrade at the same time your core tax and workflow programs are released for the coming season. Doing it earlier means you may have to live with bugs in the software for several weeks until they are patched.
Every new version of Windows leaves some applications behind, even ones that are well liked and stable. They simply do not fit Microsoft’s development vision going forward. In this version, the Windows Media Center (WMC) disappears completely. If you need the capabilities of WMC, you may want to look it is largest competitor, Kodi.
Support for floppy disks is also gone, though it can be restored by downloading new drivers -- it just is not automatic. And the Hearts game is now gone forever. Gone also is the option for users of the Home version to schedule their own updates (Pro and Enterprise users are able to schedule these). This is an effort to cut down on support calls for the lowest tier of users who fail to update in a timely manner.
Much has been made about the absence of a built-in DVD player, though Microsoft has corrected this and a player is installed with the operating system.
Installation and Setup
Installation is smooth, with excellent on-screen guidance and information. It is not a fast process, taking a little better than two hours on my machine. While there were issues with earlier technical builds, these seem to have been largely resolved.
The one problem that may still be encountered on installation is incompatibility with legacy hardware. As with previous major upgrades to Windows, some peripheral manufacturers have not crafted new drivers for these legacy items, forcing the user to either find a work-around or buy new hardware. This is especially true of printers and graphics cards.
Setup is likewise smooth, but not quite as easy as installation. With the many new features, each of which requires some customization, the problem is not that there is insufficient guidance, but rather that there is too much. Wizards and help screens abound, though they are not always clear and sometimes do not match the setup menus they reference.
Still and all, both processes are relatively painless, if time consuming.
Core features to Like
There is a lot to like about the visual appeal of the operating system. It is bold and bright, generally faster than previous Windows versions. But the real value of the system is found in the rich set of core features included with both the Home and Pro versions. Here is a brief list of these, and the reasons you will like them:
- The Start Menu. The new start menu is a compilation of the Windows 7 start menu and the Windows 8 tile system – side by side and opened at the click of a “Windows” button in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. The menu looks like this:
Well organized and customizable, the new/old Start Menu should provide relief for those who like either menu style – or both. The tile version can be made to disappear if you like, but may prove a handy way to deal with the shortcomings of the non-tiled interface.
- New Security Features. Security has been an ongoing issue for Microsoft, primarily because Windows is the most-used operating system worldwide. Increasingly difficult to protect have been the password and passcode scheme for logins; and the 11 generations of Internet Explorer, in spite of the company’s efforts. In Windows 10, there are three new features for security:
Also built into Windows 10 is the support for TPM (Trusted Platform Module), an international standard for a computer chip that resides on the motherboard to authenticate a computer or server. If the motherboard contains a TPM chip, Windows 10 will make use of it.
Hello is Microsoft’s new biometric login system for Windows 10. It allows any user whose PC is equipped with a fingerprint reader or camera to sign in using iris, facial or fingerprint recognition. This is far more secure than traditional password and passcode security schemes, both of which can be hacked with ease. Combined with this is Windows Passport, which replaces passwords with a stronger two-factor login that consists of an enrolled device and a biometric or PIN. Passport and Hello work together to circumvent phishing and brute force attacks on the computer and network.
Though security has been enhanced in Microsoft’s browsers in virtually every generation, all of them through the current Internet Explorer 11 have contained vulnerabilities, including reliance on ActiveX controls. Windows 10 contains a new browser called Edge that brings Microsoft closer to the attributes of its competitors. Microsoft Edge also implements some new Internet security standards, including more secure web connections via HTTP Strict Transport Security and protection against cross-site scripting attacks through use of an HTML 5 Content Security Policy. The only negative for Edge is that it is wrapped tightly to the Bing search engine, and requires customization to get back to Google for searches.
- Virtual Desktop support. A virtual desktop is a method of running two or more desktops, each with its own taskbar, icons running applications. Though the ability to use virtual desktops in Windows has been around since the XP Powertoys add-in, the Windows 10 versions is more substantial. The application is invoked from the “Task View” button on the bottom Taskbar. From here, additional “virtual desktops” can be added and displayed at the click of a button. This is of particular interest to tax preparers and accountants who have a single work screen (rather than multiple monitors) and still need to access multiple programs at the same time in their own workspace – for example, working on a current tax return while viewing returns for the same client from previous years. The Virtual Desktop system is accessed from the “Task View” button on the Taskbar.
- Cortana. Named after the artificial intelligence computer in the popular video game Halo, Cortana is the new personal assistant designed to compete with Apple’s Siri and the Android application Google Now. This much-anticipated application works by keyboard or voice input (by saying, “Hey, Cortana!”). Cortana can make calendar entries, take dictation, open applications and local files, search the web, and give directions, all from voice commands on a PC. Cortana still has some bugs, but nonetheless can manage some important tasks – from ordering flowers on Valentine’s Day to finding a decent Thai restaurant. Cortana is available on PCs, Laptops, and Microsoft portable devices. Versions for Android and iOS are in the works, with release dates planned for this month.
- Windows Snapping. Windows 10 Snapping Assist is a program to make multi-tasking easier. Generally, open applications are piled on top of one another. In Windows 10, a screen can be “snapped” to the any corner of the screen in ½ or ¼ size, making it easier to organize windows for each application.
- Continuum. Continuum is the next generation of software to run the operating system in whatever mode the hardware is in – keyboard attached, or detached using the touch screen as the primary input device. Of value at present to mostly those running Microsoft Tablets, this enhanced “tablet mode” should eventually be ported to other dual mode portable devices.
- Other enhancements. There are a number of other features that are of interest to some users. These include a new Battery Saver feature for laptops and other portable devices; enhanced Bitlocker encryption system for files and documents; support for joining a domain; group policy manager, and Windows Update for Business.
Whether a tax or accounting office uses the Home or Pro version, Windows 10 is an upgrade that is worth pursuing for its enhanced security features, new browser and personal assistant, and faster performance.