Don't bother with Microsoft Windows 10 until you read this

This OS release might fix many problems and resolve some usability problems, but make sure you look before you leap

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Wait, doesn’t it always make sense to download something for free? Microsoft released its brand-new operating system this week, and you can grab it at no cost, but make sure you know exactly what you are getting into before you upgrade.

Let me be your guinea pig on this one. I’ve been testing the beta for several weeks. HP just sent me an Elite X2 laptop with Windows 10 preloaded. And, I’ve been testing and using Windows since the 2.0 release back when people used to question a “windowing” interface. I’ve been testing Windows laptops for a decade or more.

The first thing you should do before making the upgrade is to look closely at the gear you have attached to your computer. I mean closely. You might already know that Microsoft has put great effort into making sure just about every printer and scanner in the known universe will work with the new OS, but what if you own one from an unknown universe? More to the point, if you have really odd peripherals — say, a 3D printer or maybe a drone that needs constant driver updates — think twice about jumping on the download so quickly. Check with the peripheral maker first.

Second, ask yourself some tough questions about why you are updating. Are you an early adopter? It’s definitely less risky than being one of the first people to drive an autonomous car or use a new VR headset when there are so few VR apps. You can expect Chrome to run smoothly (I’m using Google Docs on Chrome running on Windows 10 right now). But any new OS will have some issues. Maybe they are security-related. Maybe your accounting app will crash. Be ready to spend time tinkering and have a good backup plan (and a good backup). At least do the upgrade during a time when you don't have a ton of projects due.

I do most of my work in the cloud these days, and I always have a few computers floating around. It’s an incredibly low-risk upgrade for me. If one of them crashed, I'd grab another, I tend to live on the edge (and the Edge) when it comes to computing, but then again, I don’t have to do the payroll for hundreds of employees or develop a marketing brochure using Photoshop by 5 o'clock tonight.

If you get past those hurdles, it’s time to think about why the upgrade makes sense. It’s a smarter interface. The Start menu is now located back where it belongs, on the left-corner of the screen instead of taking over your entire screen with tile apps. That means it is easier to use. Before, you had to know where to find simple features like how to turn the computer off. Microsoft has mostly addressed the usability problems in Windows 8 with this release. It's getting great reviews.

It’s faster, easier and smarter. It’s also not going to change your world in a million ways. Windows 10 has not made much of a difference in how I work, the apps I use, or the fact that I tend to do most of my work in a browser these days. I don't mean that as a diss, I'm just not that OS-centric these days, There’s still some question about whether it will run reliably, and there’s no way to know unless you try it with your apps on your computer for a few days or weeks. It’s pretty tough to go back to a previous OS. Anything new in technology should be evaluated for the value it provides to you, not just because it is new, available, free or good.

I’m not saying to skip this release at all. After complaining about Windows 8 over and over again, I will say that Windows 10 is a big step forward in making the OS more user-friendly. I’m happy with the update so far and haven’t have any problems. Your mileage (and patience level) will vary. As with any new OS, just be careful before you jump into the fray.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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