Windows 8 has been launched for a few weeks now, and my local customers are asking what their options are, and “Should I buy a Windows 8 computer?” I still sell Windows 7. What to do?
Well, 8 is a big maybe. Just about every computer for sale in the chain stores is running Windows 8. But Windows 7 is still available if that’s what you want. Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Enterprise will continue to be available to system builders (like me) for a few years yet, because business users always lag behind the home market on new operating systems. That, in turn, is because every office has a program that is impossibly complex, specialized, and absolutely essential to running a particular type of business. So the Pro version of Windows 7 will be available for a few years yet. Windows 7 Home Premium will go away as the warehouses empty out. So if you want Windows 7 on a new computer, you can use Windows 7 Professional to do everything that Home Premium can do, and it looks just like it–there are a few extra features over Home, including the ability to join a client/server network, and to run old software in the “Windows XP Mode” which allows running Windows XP in a box. (There is no “Windows XP Mode” in Windows 8.)
OK, should you buy Windows 8? If you’re getting a touch-screen notebook or tablet, yes, buy Windows 8. Windows 7 supports touch screens already, but touch is the big-deal improvement in Windows 8, so for touch, get Windows 8. If you’ll use a touch-screen monitor on a desktop computer, the answer is a conditional yes: Yes, if the software and touch screen monitor are known to be compatible with Windows 8.
How about no touch? Well, Windows 8 defaults to a tile desktop, like a tablet. You can turn off the ‘live’ feature of individual tiles that grabs internet content to update them, and can group them as you like. You can’t create folders of program tiles (nasty, that–a Nexus PHONE can do that). And when you run a desktop program, the tile menu goes away. Need to switch between programs a lot? It’s visually annoying to have the screen flashing in and out of the tile desktop, and you will be forced to learn keyboard shortcuts to make that happen without a touch screen. And Windows 8 is a media store device that defaults to logging you into the computer as a Windows Store purchaser of apps, although you can turn that off (usually) and use a local login like Windows 7.
So there are some big hurdles here. And in the words of a Microsoft trainer at the launch event I attended, “We get pushback every time we change the interface, but they’ll learn it and like it.” Wow. Some serious disconnects going on there. Why did they do it? Why is the change so radical? The answer is in the device numbers. If you count smart phones and tablets as if they were computers, Microsoft has lost massive market share. Is that an Apples and Oranges comparison? Well yes, if you count an iPhone as an Apple iMac computer; it isn’t. Of course, yes, all these new devices really are computers, but they don’t run desktop software, and it’s dangerous to force your entire customer base to jump to a tablet interface on a computer that has no touch surface. I don’t expect the next version of Windows to be quite so block-headed. (Pun intended. Sorry. 🙂 )
Back to what to buy. Windows 7 is the best version of Windows since Windows 2000 Professional. I’m not giving it up on my main work PC. I will continue to build Windows 7 PCs for anyone who wants them, or Windows 8 computers for ONLY those customers who have seen it, played with it, and still want it. I don’t run a chain store; I run a small local computer sales and repair shop, and what the customer wants is what they’ll get. Which is apparently a lesson that Microsoft has forgotten.
Jerry Stern, Chief Technical Officer and PC Builder, PC410.com
Building computers and Helping PC users for 23 years.