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Windows 8: Yes, No, and Maybe

October 26, 2012

Times Square lights up in Windows 8 colors at midnight, last night.

New York, New York – Windows 8 Launch. I’ve written about Windows 8 in the past, on the occasion of the first consumer preview, the announcement about Microsoft going into the hardware business with Surface, and of the rolling thunder public relations campaign which reaches its crescendo today. And I’ll surely be writing about Windows again as the marketing communication challenges facing Microsoft with this release have just begun. But today – launch day for Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets – I simply want to address the question I’ve been getting from friends and family, should I buy it? My answer is simple: yes, no, and maybe.

Windows 8 represents the most significant change in the ubiquitous PC operating system since the introduction of the Start button with Windows 95. Some would argue that it’s the biggest transformation in the user interface (the way you interact with your screen) since Microsoft made the shift to a graphical user interface (GUI) more than 25 years ago. But beyond that Microsoft is betting the bank that they can kick start (“reimagine” is the term they like to use) their desktop, tablet, and mobile phone efforts all at once. It’s this strategy that drives the significant changes you will see in Windows.

If you are in the market for a new Windows laptop or desktop PC, you should buy a touch enabled (note emphasis) device with Windows 8 installed. The Microsoft version of this is called Surface Pro. Even Mac aficionados ought to pause to consider some of the versatile options coming onto the market from all the major manufacturers, though I don’t predict many will be swayed. Yes, Windows 8 looks different and there will be a learning curve, but there is no reason to “downgrade” a new PC to Windows 7 as some people downgraded to Windows XP during the dark days of Windows Vista (granted, I also thought that was a wild overreaction). You’ll figure Windows 8 out and (eventually) you’ll be happy you did. If you can, wait for the “dot update” (meaning version 8.1, or whatever they call it) to smooth out some of the rough edges.

On the other hand, for most people there is little reason to upgrade their current laptop or home PC to Windows 8. This is because Windows 8’s primary advancement is the new user interface designed to work well with touch screens (using your finger as an alternative to the mouse) and very few people have touch sensitive screens on their existing PCs. I have little doubt that this will change over time. Today’s standard PC displays will eventually be replaced by the touch sensitive variety in the same way that the CRT (tube-based) displays were displaced by flat panels. In the future, it will be as peculiar to use a PC without a touchscreen as it is to use one without a mouse today (possible, but peculiar). But this switch will happen over time as older computers are replaced, many with laptops and all-in-one designs. Only true geeks will be adding a touch sensitive screen to an existing computer setup – and those folks aren’t asking for my advice.

In summary: yes, get Windows 8 on your new touch enabled PC or laptop if it’s time for a new PC anyway. Don’t get if you are against change, hate the whole notion of a touchscreen, or you are perfectly happy with your current setup. Here’s the maybe: If you are in the market for what I would call a “productivity tablet” (think iPad with a keyboard and Microsoft Office) you might want to consider a Windows RT machine. This is Microsoft’s attempt to create a Windows version of the locked-down iOS Apple uses on their iPads, iPods and iPhones. You can only get Windows RT on new devices from a handful of manufacturers and you can only use applications designed specifically for RT (legacy Windows applications won’t work). The majority of hardware (USB mice, keyboards, printers, etc.) should work just fine. Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows Division, called Windows RT “An amazing expression of Windows.” I call it “Windows-Lite” or “Windows 8 for tablets only.” A brave attempt to launch a new platform, but for now my money is on the full featured Windows.

Steven Sinofsky, President of the Windows Division, at the Windows 8 launch. The image behind him shows the three primary PC form factors: All-In-One, Laptop and Tablet.

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