My worst week with Windows 10 Preview: When downloads go very, very wrong

First an upgrade to Windows 10 on a notebook went bad, then Windows 10 Mobile build 10149. When Microsoft's previews glitch, they glitch hard.

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Windows 10 kicked my butt this week.

If you’re looking for an exhaustive hands on of Windows 10 Mobile build 10149, this isn’t it. I spent most of Thursday afternoon trying to install it on two phones—managing to put one into an unresponsive state, and breaking Wi-Fi on the other. Instead, I’m sitting here, a Newcastle beside me, wondering whether other Windows Insiders like me will be willing to continue this life of adventure once Windows 10 launches.

broken computer

What is it with Windows 10 and Wi-Fi?

Windows 10 Mobile wasn’t even my first beatdown from Windows 10 this week. Honestly, Windows 10 for desktop PCs seems fairly stable, and I wanted to upgrade an HP Spectre laptop to complement the Surface Pro 2 that currently runs Windows 10. 

I chose to do an in-place upgrade, using the ISO files Microsoft provides of the most recent build. The update process itself went smoothly—no problems at all. Well, until the installation process began, at least. Windows 10 couldn’t connect to my router. A little sleuthing, and I discovered that it didn’t recognize the Wi-Fi radio’s driver. 

The Spectre is an ultrabook: That means no ethernet jack. I ran down to the local Radio Shack, which was in its final, heavily discounted death throes before the store closed for good. I found a USB-to-ethernet adapter for 90 percent off—score!—and hurried home. Except that it wouldn’t connect via ethernet. Connecting to a cell phone via Bluetooth didn’t seem to work, either. Neither did swearing at it. At length. 

Thank goodness for recovery disks, I guess. I still want to upgrade the Spectre to Windows 10, but I’m going to need a new build to do so.

Windows 10 Mobile frustration

New Windows 10 builds are always exciting. Even after being pummeled with Microsoft news on Thursday—a new mission statement! Better Games with Gold! HoloLens in space!—who wouldn’t look forward to some new code? 

I grabbed a couple of demo phones—the Lumia 830, running Build 10080, and the Lumia 1520 phablet, with the more recent 10136. I could upgrade both at the same time and compare the two, I thought.

Yeeeaahhh. Immediately I ran into a bug with the Lumia 1520: Without a charge of over 40 percent, tapping the “Upgrade” button would do nothing, according to Microsoft’s Insider chief, Gabriel Aul. No big deal. 

But the Lumia 830. Oh, you poor bastard. Let Aul himself describe what happened:

“There is a very rare situation where you are unable to unlock your phone after entering your PIN and it keeps letting you type even though you entered your pin correctly. If you hit this – leave the phone alone 1-2 hours before trying to unlock again. This is caused by a TPM [Trusted Platform Module] issue that could get worse and require you to reflash if you get into this state and power off the phone.”

windows 10 mobile wi fi broken Mark Hachman

No SIM, no Wi-Fi. This came later.

This is what happens when dumb reporters (me) don’t read the build notes carefully enough. I thought that a soft reset might solve the problem—which rebooted the phone, of course. (Even though the phone was a Lumia, I found that the instructions for resetting HTC phones worked best.) That, of course, led to rising blood pressure as the problem failed to resolve itself.  Eventually I wised up and reflashed the phone with a fresh operating system, returning it to its Windows Phone state. But I’m apparently not off the hook. Now Microsoft thinks I have too many Windows Phones on my account, and it won’t let me upgrade again.

Meanwhile, the Lumia 1520 upgraded flawlessly—or so I thought. Unfortunately, the new build breaks the phone’s Wi-Fi—it simply doesn’t turn on. And because I don’t have the proper SIM for it, I’m stuck. I suspect I’ll be downgrading it again in the future.

A quick review of Build 10149

So how is Build 10149? I can say a few things about it:

  • Microsoft advises downloading the new universal apps from the Store—without an Internet connection, I can’t.
  • I’m still seeing some “Loading” screens while flipping back and forth between apps, the Settings menu, and the home screen. In general, though, many of those seem to have disappeared, thankfully.
    windows 10 mobile flashlight Mark Hachman
  • The quick settings menu has been fleshed out with 16 or so default options, including the new flashlight icon (it works) and shortcuts to battery saving modes, display brightness toggles, and more. The font size seems a bit smaller, as it is on the list of apps, but everything is crisp and functional.
  • Unfortunately, I can’t quite see what Cortana reportedly looks like in its final form, or some of the other connected aspects of the build, including the apps themselves.

From my very limited experience, the new build looks promising. But that’s about all I can say.

Some Insiders may tire of buggy updates

Like most of the other millions of Insiders, the appeal of something new is undeniable; it’s part of my professional DNA. Ditto for being on the inside, and helping in some small part to shape Microsoft’s next operating systems. These feelings won’t go away overnight once Windows 10 finally goes out the door.

Windows 10 for PCs will launch in about a month. Microsoft will be squashing bugs right up until the final RTM version is released, undoubtedly, then continue patching it for weeks later. That’s just the reality of software development.

But the catastrophic issues I encountered make me wonder if we won’t see an attrition of sorts—not in terms of Windows 10 users, but as part of the Insider program. 

What I lost when my phone reset wasn’t valuable; a few quick snaps, or an app I was trying out. Virtually everything is backed up to OneDrive, anyway. But are consumers going to bother with troubleshooting a new build for hours on end, when a perfectly stable one is already available? Without the promise of something earth-shattering around the corner, I think many will simply move back to the stability of Windows 10’s RTM build. There’s no shame in that.

Still, Microsoft’s going to need to continue offering incentives—new features, at the minimum—for testers to try out and keep helping Microsoft develop further iterations of Windows 10. Yeah, I’m in it for the long haul. But not everyone’s going to want to continue putting up with the headaches.

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