Upgrading an operating system install is never a small decision. Upgrading to Windows 8 is a particularly challenging decision because the user-interface has so substantially changed from what we were all used to in Windows 7. In this article, I'll give you some guidelines that -- based on your personal circumstances -- will help you decide what's right for you.
If you don't have time to read all the details, you can skip to the end of the article and read a short summary of my recommendations.
Also, almost all your upgrading questions (licenses, copies of downloaded software, etc.) are answered in Ed Bott's excellent Everything you need to know about Windows 8 upgrades (FAQ part 2). Be sure to read it and Ed's first installment, The ultimate Windows 8 upgrade FAQ.
Before January 31, 2013
Pricing is always an important component of any upgrade decision. Microsoft is offering a number of great upgrade deals for moving to Windows 8 Pro, but the deals expire on January 31, 2013.
What might be a good, cost effective decision before January 31, seems like a far less viable decision after. Right now, most existing Windows users can get Windows 8 Professional for $39.99 -- before January 31. Although Microsoft hasn't published their eventual Windows 8 Professional price, the best Windows 7 Pro upgrade price we've seen is in the $160 range. Essentially, you could buy four Windows 8 Pro upgrades now for the price of one copy after January 31.
So, if you're reading this in February or later, factor that into your decision.
So what are the pre-February 2013 price options? There are two that are worthy of consideration:
- Windows 8 Pro upgrade for Windows 7, Vista, and XP users is $39.99. Here's Microsoft's upgrade page.
- Windows 8 Pro upgrade for buyers of Windows 7 PCs is $14.99. Here's Microsoft's upgrade page.
These upgrade prices are only available for downloaded versions of Windows 8. If you want it on disk, you're spending at least sixty bucks.
If you're buying a new PC
If you're buying a new, off-the-shelf PC or laptop, you may have the option of having it equipped with Windows 8 or Windows 7. Unless you're absolutely in love with the Windows 8 experience, I recommend getting the system with Windows 7 installed and then, immediately taking advantage of the $14.99 Windows 8 upgrade offer. You don't have to install it right now, but you're not going to see a better price.
The reason I recommend this approach is because we've seen a number of problems with users deciding to "downgrade" their new Windows 8 consumer PCs to Windows 7. Drivers for Windows 7 may not be published by the PC vendors for newer PCs, and it might be a real challenge to back-rev to Windows 7 later if you want to.
Also, a license of Windows 7 (even the Home version) is considerably more expensive than the $14.99 upgrade option. So, for a new PC, you're better off getting Windows 7, and then immediately securing a cheap upgrade path to Windows 8.
If you're buying a new PC with a touch screen
If you're buying a new laptop or tablet-ish thing with a touch screen, you're probably going to want to just bite the bullet and go with Windows 8 directly. Windows 8 is optimized for touch.
That said, if there is the option to get your touch screen-enabled laptop with Windows 7, then my $14.99 upgrade recommendation from above still applies. It's still a smart idea to get Windows 7 now, because you're almost undoubtedly not going to be able to go back later and get drivers if you should change your mind and want Windows 7.
Next up, if you're building a new PC or are running XP...