How to decide: should you upgrade to Windows 8?

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.

TOPICS: Windows

If you're building a new PC

But what about if you're building a new PC from components? In most cases, those of us who build our own PCs need to individually buy our own operating system licenses. Further, to take advantage of the $14.99 upgrade sale, you have to supply an existing Windows 7 license code and retailer name, so an off-the-shelf OEM version of Windows 7 might not be eligible.

So, for this recommendation (and all the rest in this article), I'm assuming you're making the decision based on the $39.99 Windows 8 Pro upgrade offer. The other factor is that this $39.99 price is an upgrade. You're going to need to sacrifice an existing OS license to be able to perform the upgrade.

The fact is, no new PC should be running XP or Vista. XP is just too vulnerable and support is ending in 2014, and Vista is, well, Vista. So you should either install Windows 7 or Windows 8. Also, it's getting far harder to find workable XP drivers for new components, so you're pretty much forced to go with Windows 7 or later for production use.

From a cost point of view, one approach would be to recycle an old XP or Vista license on your new PC, get it installed to the point of basic operation, and then install the Windows 8 upgrade over it for forty bucks. That will get you a modern OS on your PC for a pretty inexpensive price.

On the other hand, your decision probably should be made more based on which drivers are available for the components you've chosen. Go to each vendor's driver download site and be sure there are drivers available. The OS with the better drivers is probably going to be your choice.

If you're running XP

This is perhaps the easiest recommendation, but even here, what you do depends on how you're using XP. I'll talk about the edge cases in a moment. For now, let's just discuss those legion of XP machines running around, open, and completely vulnerable on the Internet.

I'll put this quite simply: if you're running an XP machine and you're reading email or browsing the Web, you need to upgrade immediately. XP is enormously vulnerable to exploits, you can't run Internet Explorer later than IE8, and your PC is a calamity waiting to happen.

So you should upgrade to either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Period. Now, as it happens, it's probably actually a better choice to upgrade to Windows 8. First, again, you can get the Windows 8 Pro upgrade for only $39.99 and any Windows 7 upgrade will cost you more.

Second, as Jason Perlow reports, Windows 8 can breathe new life into old PCs and provide better performance and boot-up speed than Windows 7.

Essentially, upgrading an old PC from XP to Windows 8 will give your PC a new lease on life. Otherwise, you're probably living on borrowed time.

Now, what about those edge cases? What I'm talking about are old Windows XP machines that are single-use devices and don't browse the Internet. For example, I have an old server monitor that runs one piece of software -- a display of which servers are up or down -- and I think I rebooted it once, back in 2009 or so. For PCs running XP that are special use devices, I don't necessarily recommend upgrading. Especially since some of that special-use software might not run on Windows 8 (although you could run it in a Hyper-V XP-based virtual machine, another cool Windows 8 feature).

But, for every other XP user, I strongly recommend upgrading to Windows 8.

Oh, and as a shout-out to all of you gung-ho Linux kiddies, I will point out that my ZDNet colleague, Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, colorfully claims Windows 8 belongs on older PCs like a fish needs a bicycle. He recommends installing a Linux distro. Of course, Steven pens the Linux and Open Source column, so take that into account when making your decision.

If you're running Windows 3.x, 95, 98, or Me

Seriously? You are seriously still running one of these antiques? First, Windows 8 won't upgrade one of these clunkers, and second, if you're still running something from the Cretaceous Period, you probably have your own twisted reason.

Frankly, if I were you, I'd rush down to my local store and buy anything else, but perhaps you're living in the Museum of Forgotten Toys. Anyway, I can't help you. Not sure if anyone can.

Next up, if you're running Vista, Windows 7, and my recommendation summary...

Topic: Windows


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Great article

    This is a good recomendation for everyone out there with a previous
    Windows version, buy it now and install when you wish. Hopefully a big number of sales in this period will prompt Microsoft to extend the offer or keep this or a lower price for their OS from now on!!
    • luis3007 I purchased W-8 because I originally liked it from testing it for

      Six months.............but after awhile I really got so - so tired of the flashing tiles every time I needed to go back into Metro, the very poor Metro apps and just too many unsolved glitches that I whiped the drive I was using for it and installed Linux Mint 14 Cinn. PS I re installed a fresh W-7 on another drive and I'm glad I went back. It is working out just fine for me. PS and I don't give a hoot that I threw away $40.00 on W-8.

      Those flashing TILES are going to be the unduing of W-8 before its over.
      Over and Out
      • Hi!

        Hello there!!!
        Loverock Davidson-
  • You've made it far to complicated and confusing for people!

    1. Businesses: Should already be installing or in the process of deploying Windows 7. Windows 8 is not for you.

    2. Consumers running Windows Vista or Windows 7: If you're getting a new PC, get Windows 8 and embrace the future. If your PC works, unless you want to, there's no immediate need to upgrade.

    3. Consumers running Windows XP: It's unlikely your PC is fully Vista/Win7/Win8 compatible, bite the bullet and get a new Windows 8 PC. Again embrace the future, Windows XP and your PC are well past their sell-by-date. You've got your monies worth.

    Consumers who're also buying new PCs should consider Apple Mac and Linux too.
    • my version

      1. Do you want windows 8? If you do then upgrade.
      • Wow

        my buddy's ex-wife makes $89 hourly on the laptop. She has been without a job for five months but last month her income was $15146 just working on the laptop for a few hours. (Click on menu Home more information)
        • How many laptops did she have to work on, Spammy?

          I bet she caused a lot of happy endings, too.
    • Too Simply

      You've made it too simple. You seem to think that one should embace new things regardless of their merits.
      • One has to look to the future.

        Doing a thorough evaluation before you upgrade is just smart - ignoring the future is DUMB!

        Those still running Windows XP and have refused to evaluate Windows Vista / 7 have done themselves a great disservice.

        Embracing Windows 8 is a GOOD idea. All of the great things about Windows 7 are still there, and Windows 8 is faster and more secure.

        The original advice is good. If you have Windows 7 take your time and evaluation Windows 8 but expect to migrate in that direction as your hardware ages.

        If you are still running Windows XP and have NOT evaluated Windows 7, then start now to evaluate Windows 8 - don't wait until 2014. Change is good!
        M Wagner
        • Actually not

          ... Aero Glass is missing, and so is the start menu. You may not consider them "great things", but some of us do. (before anyone suggests, I'm not interested in 3rd party start menu replacements).
          • Aero Glass?

            Not even approximately a possible factor.

            Disabled it immediately on both of my home-built machines running W7.

            Unnecessary, silly, resource-hogging eye-candy.
          • Common misperception of Aero

            Is that it's resource hogging. Perhaps you don't like the way it looks, and that's fine. But considering enabling it on a system that has a GPU capable of rendering even half decent 3D graphics, like an integrated Intel, improved performance as all of that rendering is offloaded to the GPU. With Aero turned off much more of those cycles move to the CPU.
          • Thank you, LiquidLearner

            ..for your GPU versus CPU comment. I didn't know that. You've just given me a reason to use Aero. I had plugged in the almost-classic menu theme I've been using on all my machines since Win95 (and love that facility), but when I need resource-intensive calcs, will just switch to an Aero theme for the time being. Thank you again.
          • Yes, Aero Glass

            It'll be a good idea for people to understand that while *they* may not care much about the L&F and finish of the operating system they're spending 8-10 hours of their every day lives with, many others do. I would venture to say that they constitute the majority of Windows users.

            Necessary, beautiful and resource-light (this is 2012) design.

            So yes, assuming one does not care about !Metro, Windows 8 is not only *a* step back, it's a *huge* step back.

            First, the 'classic' UI is downright ugly, while it's simply beautiful in Windows 7. It's not just that Aero is gone. It's a flashback to Windows 2000.

            Secondly, the disappearance of the Start menu, plus the fact you find yourself in Metro by launching apps in the classic UI all too often, are also big hindrances to productivity.

            Last, the darned thing is just not designed to be used with mice, and you feel that backwards step also in the classic UI. The whole notion of 'hot corners' is a very poor concept for working with mice.
          • win 8 start menu

            You can do a start menu in win 8 without any 3rd party software.
          • How?

            Not a readily available option, that's for sure.
          • Win 8 Start

            Just mouse down to the lower-left corner. Ta Da! there it is.

            For everything else, just pin them to the Taskbar once you figure out where it got moved to in Win 8.

            Think of the Win 8 Start as a button that got expanded to a full-screen scrolling page of icons (tiles). Just because Windows wants to create a walled garden for their apps, doesn't mean you have to use it.
          • Not interested, sorry.

            The invisible start button is a ridiculous contrivance. Sorry, but on any Windows 8 box I add, first download is going to be Classic Shell.

            I think the Metro start screen is fine for Metro apps. But when I'm in the desktop, I want to stay there, and not have to pin fifty thousand apps to the taskbar.
          • the sky is falling?

            The start menu is there... Your applications are mixed in with the tiles, it's radical I know. Can't believe how some folks let their resistance to change dramatically effect basic levels of comprehension, it takes about 5 minutes to get use to.

            Dave Ozio
          • wadda ya mean 'start menu' is missing?

            Win8 boots to the start menu - only instead of having a list to scroll through, you get visual clues to take you immediately to whichever environment you want to work in. (A great time saver)!