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.
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.