Microsoft's Windows 8 biggest wild card: The hardware

Summary:In previous Windows upgrade cycles, the path was simple: Buy a new PC, get Windows and you're finished. The choices are much more complicated for Windows 8.

The armada of hardware designed to popularize Windows 8 is starting to surface and one thing is certain: Form factors are going to be critical for Microsoft's latest operating system and the upgrade cadence.

As most tech watchers know, Microsoft launches Windows 8 on Oct. 26. The ambitious effort is Microsoft's attempt to bridge multiple screens---PCs, tablets and smartphones. Meanwhile, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer now sees itself as a device and services company .

In other words, Microsoft is getting ballsy and is going the high-risk, high-reward route with Windows 8. The catch here is that the best hardware for Windows is largely unknown. In previous Windows upgrade cycles, the path was simple: Buy a new PC, get Windows and you're finished. Now you have to choose between the following:

  • Convertibles: These hybrid tablet and laptop contraptions. Sony has one. Lenovo has a few. And others will roll out. 
  • Touch-enabled ultrabooks: The key here is that there's the traditional clamshell with a touchscreen and a keyboard. 
  • A dedicated tablet: Microsoft will have a range of iPad killers. 
  • The Surface: Microsoft's device, which has a unique keyboard with a tablet format.

Some of those hardware types will be relatively new to the average bear. The upshot is that technology buyers are going to have to actually pick one up at their friendly neighborhood store, play with it, touch it, and feel it and then figure out the use case before buying.

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The reality to me is that many of those aforementioned form factors sound decent on paper. However, it's a bit unclear whether I want a light laptop that doubles as a heavy tablet. The way I work, I'm more likely to gravitate to an ultrabook with a touch screen. The keyboard would be for work and the touch screen would cover consumption.

As for the Surface, I could be sold, but never played with one.

My only option is to play with the devices as they land down the hall with my CNET Reviews colleagues. Then I'll think about my use case.

Simply put, this Windows 8 purchase decision is a bit complicated and that means the chances for a first weekend pop may be slim.

Toss in the fact that Windows 8 is a new user experience and you come away with one big realization: Few will go preorder happy. Some of the Windows 8 hardware entries will be spectacular failures. There will be a few hits too. The catch is that this Windows 8 upgrade cycle will take time. The interface is new. The hardware is new.

Bottom line: Windows 8---especially on the hardware side of the equation---isn't all that friendly to your average impulse buy.

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Topics: Enterprise Software, Hardware, Mobility, PCs, Tablets, Windows

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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