How to decide: should you upgrade to Windows 8?

Summary:With all the hype about Windows 8, one question remains for most current Windows users: should you upgrade to Windows 8? In this article, David Gewirtz walks you through all the possibilities, so you're armed with the best decision-making strategy for your needs.

If you're running Windows Vista

I have one old PC sitting on a shelf that runs Windows Vista. It's sitting on a shelf since I haven't booted it for more than two years, but back in the day, it actually ran pretty well. Vista, once all the bugs got worked out, wasn't really a half-bad operating system, despite its reputation.

Vista is a bit of a way-station security-wise, between XP and Windows 7. While Vista does implement some of Windows 7's increased security, it's still far more vulnerable than a modern operating system. As with Windows XP, if you're actively using your Vista machine, you should upgrade to either Windows 7 or Windows 8 -- and Windows 8 is probably the better and more cost-effective choice.

If you're running Windows 7

Well, I'll tell you this: I'm not rushing out to upgrade my Windows 7 PCs. I am going to buy as many of those $39.99 licenses as Microsoft will allow, because I expect to upgrade my Windows 7 PCs eventually and that's the best Windows pro price I think we'll see for a long time.

I find that Windows generally runs fine for six to eighteen months, and then things start to get crufty. At that point, I generally do a fresh reinstall, and that cleans things up quite nicely.

I expect that, over time, I'll start bringing in a bunch of Windows 8 machines, upgrade some older boxes, and then, as each Windows 7 machine starts getting cranky, I'll throw a fresh coat of paint on it in the form of a Windows 8 upgrade. But that will be in the fullness of time, not this week.

As for you, here's what I recommend. I again recommend snarfing as many Windows 8 Pro licenses at $39.99 as you anticipate needing, because the price is very right. But I don't recommend upgrading your Windows 7 PCs unless you're enamored by the new Windows 8 experience (really?) or your PC is getting cranky enough that it's time to do an OS reinstall.

Basically, my bottom line for Windows 7 PCs is this: if you're installing the OS, install Windows 8. If you're not doing an install, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But make sure you get the sale-priced Windows 8 license now, to fix it later.

Recommendation summary

All of these pertain to decisions made before January 31, 2013. Prices become more expensive after that. Here's a short summary of what I recommend:

  • If you're buying a new PC: If you can, buy it with Windows 7 and take advantage of the $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade offer to use later.
  • If you're buying a new PC with a touch screen: You may have to buy Windows 8 to take advantage of the touch screen.
  • If you're building a new PC: If you have a Windows 7 license, go ahead and use it if you wish. If not, use a sacrificial license to an older OS to install the Windows 8 Pro upgrade.
  • If you're running XP: For security reasons, you should install a Windows 7 or Windows 8 upgrade just as soon as possible. Windows 8 Pro is cheaper, and will run better.
  • If you're running Windows 3.x, 95, 98, or Me: Seek professional help.
  • If you're running Windows Vista: You, too, should upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8, and once again, Windows 8 will be cheaper.
  • If you're running Windows 7: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. When it's time to do an operating system reinstall, then consider Windows 8 (but buy it now, while it's on sale).
  • If you're a Mac or Linux user: Stop yer laughing. It's not polite.

There you go. Don't forget to visit ZDNet's comprehensive Windows topic section for all the latest in Windows 8 news. And remember, Windows upgrades go best with pizza and the non-alcoholic beverage of your choice. Don't drink and install drivers.

Topics: Windows


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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