I had a timely question this week from reader Norm Watt, who asked what a lot of tech consumers are wondering this season: should he buy a Windows 8 machine?
Watt has an aging Dell desktop that's run Windows XP for nearly a decade. He's assiduously avoided upgrading to Windows 7, but now his machine is close to death (I commend his thriftiness in keeping it alive as long as he has) and he needs to buy a new laptop soon. His question is, should he go with a Windows 7 machine and upgrade to Windows 8 in the future, "or bite the bullet now and go directly to Windows 8, even though I wouldn't be able to use its touchscreen capability."
Watt says he is considering either Dell or Samsung, which means his question is already answered. I've checked the Dell site and I couldn't see any Windows 7 machines available and from what I can tell, unless you can find older inventory on shelves in brick and mortar retailers, any new PC available for sale will have Windows 8 by default.
The real question for Watt is whether he's ready for Windows 8 and if he wants to get a laptop with a touchscreen. If he can afford a touchscreen model, I'd say go for it, since he'll take full advantage of what Windows 8 offers, and the ability to combine touch capability with a real keyboard makes for a powerful machine. But even if he chooses a conventional laptop, Windows 8 will be a fine choice.
Make no mistake: the jump to Windows 8 is startling for users accustomed to the traditional desktop interface found on Windows and Mac machines for decades. I upgraded my Windows 7 laptop to Windows 8 shortly after the new operating system launched. Despite having read and heard details about Windows 8 for months, my initial reaction to the new operating system's dramatic start screen of live tiles was a quiet, "OK, what do I do now?"
Windows 8's start screen pulses with information. Its tiles rotate through constant updates on emails, social networks, photo sharing and whatever other news, sports and weather apps you throw on it. It begs to be touched.
Using a mouse and keyboard on that living interface felt weird at first, if not inadequate, like being an awkward teenager on a first date. But, like most teens, I grew up and got over it, and within a few days I was finding my way through the new interface using mouse and keyboard commands. Windows 8 is Windows 7 with a funky arts degree, and once you get past the start screen and revert to the familiar desktop mode it functions in almost exactly the same way as its predecessor and will run all the same software you've used for years. Stay in the desktop mode and you'll be right at home.
Should users with Windows 7 machines upgrade to Windows 8? It's not necessary. There are advantages to doing so, however. The current upgrade price at $40 is cheap and in my experience, the actual upgrade done over the Internet was one of the easiest and most painless computer-related installs I've ever done.
Two months after my upgrade, I have few complaints about Windows 8.
Security in Windows 8 is baked in and seamless so you don't need to worry about it (I hope). Integration with home entertainment devices like the Xbox is tighter. It boots up faster and features powerful search functions across apps.
But it is a change. Windows 8 is bold and beautiful, but also frankly weird, and more than one tech reviewer has called it a system with a split personality that tries to marry, not always successfully, a forward-looking, touch-centric approach with the old school desktop. If you've got a Windows 7 machine and don't want an adventure, you can safely stick with what you've got. If you're buying a new machine, welcome to that adventure. Microsoft is betting that it's the future of home computing.
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