Five ways to skip Windows 8

As Microsoft's partners and fans edge away from Windows 8 on the desktop, it's time to re-consider the alternatives.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Even fans of Microsoft are no longer sure that Windows 8 is really any good on, or for the desktop.

I've been working with Windows 8 for months. Even after Microsoft dished out the release candidate to application developers, I'm still finding Windows 8 to be the worst Windows version to date.

Yes, worse than Vista, worse than Windows Millennium Edition (Me), and the only reason I'm not saying its worse than Windows Bob, is that Bob was just a user interface for Windows 95 and NT and not an operating system in and of itself.

Now, though even some of Microsoft strongest fans are beginning to back off from praising Windows 8.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) aren't happy that Microsoft is going to be competing with them on tablets with Surface -- the one area where Windows 8 Metro actually works. As a result I can't see them pushing Windows 8 hard to their customers. Besides, they're going to have to support potentially millions of customers trying to figure how to use the Metro interface and that will eat alive their already razor-thin profit margins.

At the same time, independent software vendors (ISVs), such as Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell, who thinks that Windows 8 will be "a catastrophe for everyone in the PC space." He's not the only ISV to look at Windows 8 with a jaundiced eye: Blizzard vice president Rob Pardo, whose company develops the ever-popular World of Warcraft game, said Windows 8 is "not awesome for Blizzard either."

Many users don't like it, vendors don't like it, and developers don't like it. Windows 8 could be dead even before it arrives. So, what can you do to avoid Windows 8 when the stores start filling up with it in the next few months? Here are your best options:

1: Stick with Windows 7 or XP

As ZDNet's Ed Bott points out, you can just keep using Windows 7. If you also can't ever imagine not using Windows but are getting the heebie-jeebies about Windows 8, when it comes time to buy a new PC tell your computer vendor that you won't even look at Windows 8 and insist on Windows 7.

If Microsoft gets enough push back from its customers, Windows 8 -- like Vista before it -- will get shuffled back into the deck and the previous operating system, XP was given a new lease on life. I believe Microsoft will do that with Windows 7 as well.

In any case, Windows 7 PCs, which will be on sale for at least two more years and it will be supported until 2020. Heck, even XP SP3 will still be supported until April 8, 2014. If you really love Windows, you can keep running the Windows you already know for years still to come rather than deal with Microsoft's poorly conceived Windows 8.

2: Go with desktop Linux

I've been telling you for ages that desktop Linux works great. It's far more secure than Windows will ever be, and is more stable to boot. I'm not going to repeat myself here. I will say, though, that Mint 13 is a really great Linux desktop that any XP user will quickly feel at home using. I'll also point out that anyone -- and I mean anyone -- can use Ubuntu Unity. I can also point out that Valve is bringing its Steam gaming platform to desktop Linux.

Finally, I'll add that you can buy PCs with pre-installed Linux from many smaller vendors and that Dell is recommitting to the Linux desktop. Dell has just released new high-end laptops with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and will soon be releasing a developer's Ubuntu laptop.
3: Go with a Mac

Want to know an evil little secret about many top "Windows" developers? I've seen lots of them walking around with Apple laptops at the software conferences I've attended over the last few months. And yes, they're running OS X on them, not Windows. Oh, Windows is on them; they just run Windows on virtual machines.

In particular, while I'm primary a desktop Linux user, I run all major desktop operating systems and I have to say Mountain Lion, Apple's latest operating system, is looking and works pretty well. On my MacBook Pro and Mac mini, it's proving to be faster and I like its new features. I especially like that, thanks to AirPlay Mirroring on late model Macs, it's finally possibly to easily and without wiring put my computer display on my Apple TV-equipped HDTV.

4: Cloud-based computing

Google has taken this idea the farthest than anyone else with its Chrome OS and its Chromebooks. (Chrome OS consists simply of a thin-layer of Linux and Google's Chrome Web browser.)

Before you dismiss the cloud desktop idea out of hand because you'll need an Internet connection to make the most of it, you should consider that everyone is moving this way. Mountain Lion uses iCloud extensively, Microsoft's Office 2013 is largely built-around the cloud, and Linux distributions such as Peppermint rely all but entirely on the cloud.

The personal desktop is becoming the personal cloud desktop no matter what your operating system is.

5: Time for a tablet

Is the PC old hat? I don't think so, but tablets often can replace PCs for many uses. It's not just the iPad either. The newer model Android tablets, especially the Nexus 7, are rapidly gathering users. Of course, Microsoft wants this market too for Windows 8 and Windows RT (Windows 8 for ARM processors) and its forthcoming Surface tablets. I personally doubt that Windows 8 will fly much better on tablets than it will on PCs.

On tablets it's not so much that Windows 8 Metro doesn't work -- it does from everything I've seen -- it's that Apple already owns the high-end, is keeping its hand in the middle-range with the continued availability of the iPad 2, and Android seems to be finally getting a firm grip on low-priced tablets. I don't see that that leaves any space for any Windows 8 tablet.

If it turns out that Surface tablet pricing really does range from $1,000 for the Windows 8 x86 model to $600 for the Windows RT version, I think Surface will be as dead as Microsoft Bob the second they hit the market.

The bottom line

Whether you stick with older Windows or move to something new, you have far better choices than Windows 8.
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