Every time a new version of Windows is imminent, people who are thinking of buying a new computer ask the same question: is it better to wait until the new version is released so that the new computer will be up-to-date?
There used to be so many people pondering this question that it seriously affected computer sales in the months leading up to the release of a new version of Windows. Microsoft dealt with this problem in a very sensible way in the run-up to Windows 7: they offered a free upgrade to the new version when it became available. So, people carried on buying computers with Vista, knowing that it would be relatively simple – and free – to upgrade to Windows 7 when it became available. As well as being able to buy a new computer without being disadvantaged by a near-obsolete operating system, this also meant that the buyer could wait a while before taking the plunge into Windows 7. In other words, they could let other people do the “real world testing” before taking the plunge. In the meantime, they had the use of their new machine (albeit with the much-reviled “Vista”).
We are expecting Windows 8 to be released some time in the autumn (probably) and Microsoft has just announced a similar offer. This time, however, there is a $14 charge for the upgrade (I’m not sure if that’s also the exact price we’ll see in the UK). It will upgrade from any version of Windows 7 to the best version of Windows 8 – Windows 8 Professional. Microsoft say this on their blog
… starting on June 2nd, 2012, Microsoft will roll out the Windows Upgrade Offer in 131 markets including the US and Canada. Consumers who purchase eligible Windows 7 PCs that are preinstalled with Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate and include a matching and valid OEM Certificate of Authenticity through January 31, 2013 will be able to purchase an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 (U.S.) which will be redeemable when Windows 8 is generally available (the program expires in February 2013).
However, the decision to buy a new machine immediately is not as easy as it was when Windows 7 was imminent. Windows 8 includes a lot more functionality for interacting with a desktop or laptop computer in the same way that we interact with a smartphone or tablet computer. In other words, there’s going to be less typing and mouse-clicking, and more “flicking” and “tapping” and “swiping” of the screen. Touchscreens for Windows computers have been around for some time, but they are still not the norm and the “trackpad” on laptops is also not yet working optimally with this new way of interacting with the computer. Microsoft are currently working on this with Synaptics (the company who write the software that makes the trackpad work on laptops).
You may or may not wish to consider all this new “flicking” and “swiping” when thinking about buying a new desktop computer or laptop. Even if you do wish to consider it, we’re not yet sure just how good it’s going to be in practice. But we know that Windows 8 will not require any more sophisticated hardware than Windows 7, so all of the touchscreen stuff mentioned above is an optional alternative to the mouse or keyboard. In other words, you could just ignore all of this and use Windows 8 in the same way as you currently use XP, Vista or 7.
So, it appears that with Windows 8, Microsoft are trying to bring together the two different worlds of screen-based interaction and keyboard/mouse interaction. I can’t yet offer an opinion as to how good this is, but I’m sure you can already find many different opinions by doing a bit of googling (a word that is now in the OED – “search for information about (someone or something) on the Internet, typically using the search engine Google“).
You could judge Windows 8 for yourself by downloading the newly-available “Release Preview”. It’s meant to be fully functional and it’s completely free of charge. Be careful, though, as you can not easily go back to your previous operating system without re-installing it from scratch from recovery media. I would very definitely advise installing it on a different machine than your “normal” one. If you wish to install the Release Preview onto a separate partition of your hard drive, then it can be done by installing it from an iso image that can be downloaded from here.