Microsoft's Windows 8 biggest wild card: The hardware

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.

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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, Tablets, PCs, Windows

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50 comments
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  • agreed...

    this is a very good observation and totally agree to it...
    you need to play with a couple of hardware options from multiple vendors.. and may be look out for expert reviews for which one is the best design for a particular use... and then go for it...

    I am sure that OEMs will play all new comparison games with offerings from their competition.
    sreesiv
    • and in the end, I will settle for a Surface...

      , but then hey wait the ElitePad is also a super PC, so is the IdeaPad... the fact is OEMs will compete like crazy...
      sreesiv
      • Exactly

        One thing people should stress when talking about Windows 8 is the "SELECTION". We live in a democracy, it's an election year and we have Windows 8 coming with a plethora of options! There will be a piece of hardware that is suitable for everyone. The OEMs are all-in and even with the learning curve of Windows 8 you can't argue that it looks great. It's fast, fluid and once you adjust to it you learn to appreciate what it brings to the table. I haven't touched a Surface yet but what I've seen and read is enough for me to line up at a Microsoft Store, Pop-up store or to pre-order online. I'm a PC user and I love how MS is bringing this all together. This is an exciting time!
        Rob.sharp
        • So having the OS preinstalled with no user input, is really... a Democracy?

          With your comment you underlined a point that people realized when Windows Vista was released. Microsoft can care less what people think about their new OS, they just force fed it until people "Like" it.

          Reminded me of the Nineteen Eighty Four Quotes:

          “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

          “Perhaps a lunatic was simply a minority of one.”

          and, last but not least, the one which most comes to mind is, aka, the "no compromises" quote:

          “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”
          cosuna
  • For me:

    It'll be Windows 8 Touchscreen Ultrabook but those will almost certainly be out of my price range, Non-Touchscreen Ultrabook but they will probably be out of my price range, Slim Laptop.

    I'm almost certainly getting a regular slim laptop (hopefully with DVD drive). Most of the time I leave my laptop plugged into a large screen monitor so would realistically want to get a touchscreen one of those.

    That said, Windows 8 does indeed work well enough with a mouse/keyboard.

    Windows RT Tablets are dead in the water (very little software) and Windows 8 Pro tablets will A: Be heavier than iPad/Android tablets and B: Do I want to be using Destop programs on a tablet? Not in the slightest, even Office 2010/2013 are clearly not designed for touch in mind.

    I see myself owning a Windows 8 laptop and Android tablet (almost certainly something in the Asus Transformer range).

    "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."

    Exactly me too.
    bradavon
  • Forgot a few hardware variations:

    The current hardware:

    -traditional netbook/laptop/ultrabook with or without an optical drive
    -desktop with or without touchscreen

    And finally, the way I'm going, build your own! All I want with Windows 8 is Storage Spaces, I'm building my own gigantic machine to make a file server with Storage Spaces out of it with many SATA connectors for expansion.

    Besides that, I couldn't care less for the Metro stuff and tablet stuff, I'll install Classic Shell to add a Start Menu back and avoid Metro as much as possible.
    lepoete73
    • Agreed, there is no point in precluding Windows 8 on ...

      ... a traditional netbook or notebook. After the holidays, we should see Windows 8 on netbooks and notebooks for under $500. A year from now, we should even see some at $350.

      Windows 8 runs better on a 1GB netbook than Windows 7 even!
      M Wagner
  • The hardware includes the processor

    Why no discussion of Windows RT (read ARM) vs. Windows 8 Core/Pro/Enterprise (read Intel)? Will there be a significant difference in battery life on Windows 8-based tablets running ARM vs. Intel?
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • No rt vs. 8?

      The answer is a simple one, because other than the 'Modern UI' there is none. Yes, the Windows 8 tablets will run RT apps, beyond that there is no comparison. These are different machines meant for different types of users. The RT is for the 'Tablet crowd' the Windows 8 machines are full PCs that will run all the programs a PC runs. This is a point that even Microsoft has failed to point out, so far.
      pllamonica@...
  • You left out a teeny tiny step...

    in the Windows upgrade process. Since the Windows registry, left over from the DEC/VMS OS it was based upon, mixes the hardware and software parts of the OS, you have to reinstall all your programs when you upgrade the OS. On the iPad, there is no re-installation. Give it a half hour and you're ready to go. No muss, no fuss, no viruses and no IT staff to pay!
    Tony Burzio
    • You left out a teeny tiny step...

      Re: "On the iPad, there is no re-installation..."

      However, this is a discussion of Windows 8, not the iPad. If you want to discuss Apple, there are other forums that are relevant.
      jrbales@...
    • Why do I have to install all the apps?

      Can you prove it? I upgraded my Windows 7 Laptop to Windows 8 RTM and never had to reinstall any of the program. I think you are full of it.
      Ram U
      • How dare anyone speak an untruth about Rama's religion

        That is utter Blasphemy. In other news: other OSes have been doing this for the last few decades. Since Microsoft if finally catching up, it must be a banner news day
        Troll Hunter J
    • False

      When you upgrade your Windows 7 computer to Windows 8, you will not have to install your applications. And with WinRT, you'll be able to completely refresh your device's OS without affecting your applications. It's beena long time coming, but Microsoft has gotten there.
      FDanconia
    • Not True

      I have already upgraded a laptop and desktop to preview versions of Windows 8 and I did not have to reinstall anything. Get a clue...
      Matthew Pitts
  • Microsoft's Windows 8 biggest wild card: The hardware

    Wild card, choices are complicated.... I don't know where you come up with this fiction. There is no wild card and the choice is not complicated. You will get Microsoft Windows 8 on your new hardware. You have the option of going for a tablet device, a laptop, or a touch screen. Its all so simple. People who are in the market will know what to look for. If they want a convertible then they get it, if they want just a simple notebook like device they go with Microsoft Surface. You are making this more complex than it is.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • +1

      +1.
      Ram U
    • On average, consumers are not that bright.

      If you are talking people that visit sites like this. Sure, you are correct. But if we are talking about the average consumer....the average consumer is pretty stupid when it comes to technology and often get their information from their 13 year old nephew. They don't know what they want, need, and stay away from. Work in retail a couple years and you'll be banging your head against the wall from the stupid things you see and hear from the common man.
      Chad Voller
      • But, if they have a choice ...

        ... between buying their first iPad or buying a Surface table (either flavor) there is a certain amount of comfort knowing that their Surface tablet will have a familiar desktop and will be completely compatible with their Windows files.
        M Wagner
  • It's complicated for me.

    I don't want to carry anything heavy around with me. I don't want a big laptop burning my legs while browsing while on the couch or reading in bed. That said, typing on my S3 or Galaxy tab Plus stinks. It's awesome to slide the Tab into my back pocket, or read a book omit or the S3, but they are horrible to write upon.
    The Surface sounds like it might do the job, but it takes me a couple of days, at least, to see how I feel about a new device.
    The choices available with Win8 are enormous. I think highly of Lenovo and Samsung and the Surface is unproven. Is it obvious which is better, ARM or Intel/AMD? The former have cost and battery life, the latter Legacy software not optimized for touchscreens, ie obsolete.
    What do I really get with Win8 pro that I don't get with Rt? Souped up works or basic Office with simple photo editing and a browser will suffice for almost all of what I do on a computer.
    Minecraft, is another issue. My son would be upset if it didn't work.
    rp518