So what’s the deal with Windows 8?

Being an IT guy and a bit of a techie I like to be on the bleeding edge of technology.  So when Windows 8 came out I bought it the first day it was released.  I will say that I had read a lot of negative reviews on it and had held off on trying the beta because of that.  However, I knew Microsoft was going to aggressively push adoption of the new operating system and wanted users badly to get off of Windows XP.

How badly?  They are offering Windows 8 Pro to anyone with Windows XP, Vista or 7 for only $39.99 through January 31st.  And they’re throwing in Media Center as a free add-on as well.  By comparison, Windows 7 Ultimate sold for $199.  That’s aggressive pricing.

Microsoft is in unfamiliar territory.  Their cash cows, Windows and Office, aren’t bringing home the cheddar like they used to.  Apple’s OS X is taking market share and demanding price premiums.  People are lining up outside stores for iPads and iPhones and other mobile gadgets but  I couldn’t tell you the last time anyone in the media got excited about a new laptop or desktop.  Clearly consumer preferences have shifted away from the traditional desktop to tablets and smartphones.  So Microsoft is trying to pivot their flagship product away from traditional PC’s to tablet and touch-enabled devices.  However, they can’t just abandon those devices and their established base.  So the result is Windows 8.  It’s a dual mode operating system with two interfaces, Metro and the traditional Windows desktop.

Metro is the look you’re seeing in all the ads with the cool live tiles and on a tablet or a laptop with a touch screen they make sense.  On a traditional computer with a regular non-touch monitor…not so much.  After I took the plunge there was some serious culture shock, especially when I got to desktop mode and found THERE’S NO START BUTTON.  No, seriously, there’s no start button.  I have absolutely no idea who thought that was a good idea or why they did it but it cripples the computer and makes doing anything take three times as long.  There’s a small cottage industry popping up with programmers adding back the Start button to Windows 8 and I have settled on using Classic Shell which lets you have a Windows XP or 7 start button and all its functionality back.  It really saved Windows 8 for me and it’s free (but consider donating to the developers to support their fine work).

Aside from the Metro interface, which is really made for touchscreens, Windows 8 is a highly recommended upgrade for those of you unfortunate suckers souls still running Vista.  If your computer has at least 2 GB of ram and meets Microsoft’s other criteria for running Windows 8 (and basically if your PC handles Vista, it should handle Windows 8, maybe even better than it did Vista) then I would at least purchase the upgrade to Windows 8 while it’s still less than $40.

If you’re running Windows 7, I might still buy the upgrade and sit on it if everything was running well and only upgrade to Windows 8 if you saw a compelling need to do so a little further down the road.  $40 is cheap insurance to pay to guarantee you’ll have the newest operating system in six or twelve months.

If you’re running Windows XP I would only upgrade to Windows 8 if you happen to be on a machine that originally shipped with Windows Vista or 7 or was made for one of those two operating systems but you kept XP on it for some reason (like software compatibility with older software you now no longer use, etc.).  If you’re on a computer that’s five years old or older then I would just upgrade to a new machine whenever the spirit moves you to do so.  Keep in mind, Microsoft ends support for XP early in 2014 – so there’s less than 500 days of life left for that eleven year old operating system.

I can recommend Windows 8 running in Desktop Mode (with Classic Shell giving you back your Start button) as a nice, stable operating system.  It’s definitely an upgrade over Windows Vista and XP.  It’s very similar to Windows 7.  The key differentiator is going to be that Microsoft is going to cut off support and updates to Windows 7 soon so you’ll need Windows 8 to get the newest version of Internet Explorer at some point in the near future.  That is why I say even if you have Windows 7 you should still plunk down the $40 now and at least buy a license while they’re giving them away por nada.

You have until January 31st to get the upgrade for only $39.99.  In spite of its dual nature, I would still buy the upgrade, at least as insurance to future-proof your machine, if you have a new-ish desktop or laptop.  Jump on it.

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