Recently I have been asked several times about using Windows 10 for astronomy or astrophotography. Many of you know that my day job is in technology. I am constantly being forced into looking at new technology no matter how well my equipment may or may not be working. Sometimes this gives me huge increases in productivity. When I went from Windows XP to Vista itgave me the ability to search inside documents and launch programs fast from the Windows key which was awesome. Sometimes keeping current makes me buy headache medication in bulk. When I rant Windows 8 it originally would not run two desktop monitors, clobbered my searching, generally made me mad.
In July Microsoft began releasing Windows 10, the replacement for Windows 8. They have been heavily pushing this version with pop-ups on virtually all Windows Vista and Windows 7 computers enticing you to reserve your “free upgrade”. With the issues presented with Windows 8 it is no wonder they are really advertising the heck out of this release. Is it something you should run to, or away from when considering running Windows 10 for astronomy uses?
The first concern I have heard about from many people is usability, is it easier to use than Windows 8? If you found Windows 8 hard to use or confusing, you were not alone. Regardless of how good the operating system was, Windows 8 was a substantial departure in the way you interfaced with it from virtually all Windows versions since Windows 3.1. From the users I have talked to, and my own personal opinion is that yes, Windows 10 is vastly easier and more familiar to most Windows users. I think Microsoft did a good job keeping the elements that most users wanted and introducing new features. This is very important when using Windows 10 for astronomy as everything needs to be as easy as possible out in the dark.
After usability the next question is always how easy it is to upgrade. With few exceptions all of the Windows 10 upgrades I have seen have been lengthy, but smooth. I have seen a couple of cases where the upgrade went horribly wrong however this could have been because the computer lost power or was forcibly rebooted by a user who didn’t understand what was happening. The vast majority of installs were trouble free. Regardless of the odds, you should always make backups before you upgrade any software, particularly the operating system. If you are in doubt, take it to a professional and have them make an image so that if something does go wrong they can put it back exactly the way it was.
Compatibility with existing software is generally the next question with the worst problems I have seen involving antivirus. If you are using any of the major AV suppliers such as Norton, Kaspersky, or MacAfee and are using your computer in a home or small business environment (not using corporate class antivirus, not on a domain) then you will most likely only have to reinstall your antivirus after the upgrade to Windows 10. All these vendors have current versions that work with Windows 10. If however you are using corporate class AV then you should wait at least until mid December to ensure that you have antivirus that works as that seems to be when the vendors will be ready to roll out corporate protection for Windows 10. If you are on a business network and are unsure, contact your system administrator or person in charge of your network at your office and ask before upgrading. Again, if you are planning on running Windows 10 for astronomy you may not even run antivirus on your computer if it is dedicated to that use.
Another problem with compatibility is any software that relies on hardware drivers to provide a specific function. These include software to scan, print, or display high resolution graphics such as gaming software. One piece that did not work on one of my laptops that surprised me was Stellarium. It worked fine under Windows 7 but once I upgraded to Windows 10 it would not launch but instead displayed an error about my system not having OpenGL. This of course is not a fault with Stellarium but with the video drivers on my computer of which I have the latest version (both the latest version from Intel and the latest version from Microsoft failed). This laptop was originally designed for Windows XP and has been upgraded through Vista, 7 and now 10. That really did not shock me and I am not sure I will pursue the issue as this is not my astronomy laptop anyway.
Fortunately if something goes wrong Windows 10 gives you 30 days to make up your mind as long as you did the standard upgrade and not a clean install. If you decide that Windows 10 is not for you, or that it simply will not work with your equipment, click the start menu (or hit the Windows key) and type “go back to windows 7” and you should see the “Go Back to Windows 7” system setting right at the top. Click on that and follow the prompts to get you right back to where you started. I will assume there is something similar for Vista but since all my upgrades were from 7 I have no way to verify that.
There are a couple of ways you can install Windows 10. The first is that little icon in your system tray that keeps telling you to reserve your copy. That method will download the entire installation to your hard drive and then prompt you to install it when it is done and ready. The next method involves making a DVD or USB drive to run the upgrade from. Simply visit the following website:
and follow the directions. You will need a USB drive that has nothing on it you want to keep (preferred, I recommend an 8GB USB 3.0) or blank DVD media and a DVD burner. I do all my installs now off a USB 3.0 drive and the installs are fast and easy.
If you plan on primarily using Windows 10 for astronomy should you try it? My opinion is that if you have a rock solid setup on Windows 7 and it is just for Astronomy/Astrophotography, then no. The reason is that there is nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose if in nothing else, time trying to get things working again. This includes the fact that I have found no compelling astronomy apps for Windows 10. Then again, it isn’t like there is much in the way of Microsoft astronomy software.
If however the computer is running Windows 8, 8.1, Vista or is dual purpose (astronomy and every day use) then sure. Just be sure you have excellent backups just in case, as you should have anyway. For me, my daily use machines are all being converted to 10, my one astrophotography only unit will currently stay at 7, and my astrophotography backup unit will probably be converted to 10 as the test bed for the primary unit.
One problem with Windows 10 that may affect your desire to upgrade is the Windows 10 broken search feature. In previous versions of Windows if you downloaded an exe file, it was added to the search index and you could hit your Windows key on the keyboard, type the filename and it would appear in the search results. Unfortunately that no longer works. I have an executable file that it has not found in weeks, reindexing does not help, and even pinning the file to the start menu will not cause it to show up in search results.
I verified this problem on other Windows 10 machines with other executable files in different directories and even found a thread about it online at Windows 10 broken search with some other additional quirks in the search. If you rely heavily on the search capabilities of Windows then Vista, 7 or 8 would be a better choice for you than 10.
Another issue is the Win 10 forced updates, and you can not easily turn off the automatic update feature. While this may not sound too bad there have been many times I went to leave my office only to have Windows start to install updates which I could not stop. Once I just left the laptop running in the passenger seat of my car updating because I have to leave right then for any appointment. If however you are using Windows 10 for astronomy forced updates may not be an issue for you.
The bottom line is that I think Windows 10 is a good step forward in the Windows ecosystem as long as they fix issues with the search feature and maybe do something with the forced updates. While more evolutionary than revolutionary it is what Windows 8 should have been and is faster and sleeker than either Windows 7 or 8. Even better, if you have Windows Vista, 7, 8 or 8.1 your upgrade to 10 is free!
If you are considering running Windows 10 for astronomy or astrophotography and are sure all your software and drivers will run, give it a shot.
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