With the release of Windows 8 only days away, Hardware 2.0 readers are asking the obvious question:
Do I need Windows 8?
I'm certain that the people asking this question expect a simple answer. They're looking for a straightforward yes or a no.
I wish it were that easy.
The problem is that I cannot possibly see into your home or office and know what your particular circumstances are. The best I can do is to offer a big picture based on certain scenarios, and then hand the decision over to you.
Let's take a look at a few scenarios.
Home users are the easiest to advise -- if you have to ask someone whether you need Windows 8, then chances are you don't need it. On a standard desktop or notebook system, the new operating system isn't going to offer much in the way of new features beyond access to Microsoft's app store.
Windows 8 is not cheap, and it is far more economical to get it as part of a PC than as a stand alone software upgrade.
Then there's the scope for things going wrong. Upgrading a system without taking precautions such as backing up data and grabbing drivers in advance can lead you into a world of hurt in double-quick time. While most upgrades go smoothly, home users who do, for one reason or another, steer themselves into the tar pits can find it hard to get themselves out of trouble.
Remember to factor in the upgrade costs. Windows 8 is not cheap, and it is far more economical to get it as part of a PC than as a stand alone software upgrade.
The best way for home users to get their hands on Windows 8 is by buying new hardware. That way, Windows 8 comes pre-installed and pre-configured for the specific hardware, and should just work.
Windows XP users
I've been hearing a lot from Windows XP users wondering if they should finally upgrade to a modern operating system designed for this decade we are in. Yes, these users should probably be upgrading, but chances are that much of the hardware running this aging OS isn't worth upgrading. Even given Windows 8's modest system requirements, systems designed for Windows XP might not have the muscle needed to run the new operating system.
Also, these users need to have a good hard think about why they stuck with Windows XP for so long. What makes them think that Windows 8 is better than Windows Vista or Windows 7 was? How do you see Windows 8 as being different?
At present, the disadvantages -- training, potential for downtime, and workflow disruption -- outweigh the benefits. However, those wanting to make use of Windows 8 or Windows RT tablets may find the new operating system making its way into the business in a limited way.
My advice here is to tread carefully for now. There's no compelling reason for small businesses -- outside of tech businesses leveraging Windows 8 or Windows RT -- to be thinking about making the leap to Windows 8 at present.
Remember, foul-ups cost money.
Another aspect of moving to Windows 8 that adds to the cost is training. Employees are likely to need quite a bit of hand holding, and Microsoft doesn't offer much help when it comes to this.
These guys are only starting to adopt Windows 7. Yes, they should be looking at Windows 8, but their focus is on Windows 7 for now.
But, as always, there's a 'but'.
That 'but' takes on the form of Windows 8- and Windows RT-powered tablets and other touch devices. Microsoft, along with its hardware partners, are going to be pushing these devices at enterprise users hard, and so organizations could well find themselves in a situation where they are starting to deploy, or at least having to support, Windows 8 and Window RT before deploying Windows 7.
Companies that allow BYOD need to be especially ready for this influx of Windows 8 and Windows RT devices coming in under the arms of employees.
Yes, Windows 8 does seem to have a slight edge over Windows 7, but this small gain is hardly worth the expense. In fact, I'd wait for a few months at least for drivers -- especially video card drivers -- to mature more. This maturity will bring with it better performance, and, more importantly, greater stability.
Yes, specifically for testing. It's also useful to be familiar with the platform if you develop for it because it gives you a good feel for what works in terms of UI and usability, and what doesn't.
Anyone who is going to be supporting users running Windows 8 needs to be familiar with the OS. Training should handle much of that, but the best, most fluid familiarity comes from running the OS.
These users are likely to have been playing with leaked betas, previews, and the RTM version for weeks and months.
These are the folks who know best whether they want Windows 8 on their PCs or not. They're likely already running Windows 8, or putting it off until the time is right.
The bottom line
While Microsoft -- and its hardware partners -- wants everyone to rush out and make the leap to Windows 8, most users can afford to play things a little more cautiously. This is especially true for small businesses, who can ill-afford to make a misstep that could cost money or result in downtime.
When it comes to enterprise, I think that Windows 8 may get traction there quicker than previous versions of Windows because of the new form factors such as tablets.
As for home users, given the cost of a Windows upgrade compared to the price of a new PC, the money spent on upgrading the operating system would be better put towards a new PC.