I’m not a Microsoft hater by any means, but I really do hate Windows 8. We’ve spent years working in the flawed but familiar world of the Start menu, but Windows 8 (and 8.1) pretty much toss that out. The downfall of Windows 8 is Microsoft’s attempt to have on a computer an operating system that's quite similar to one engineered for smartphones and tablets. Simply put, it’s a Frankenstein.
You can learn to use Windows 8, of course, but you’ll find the learning curve pretty darn steep. So what makes sense if you need a new computer? Here are some suggestions.
Buy a PC that comes equipped with Windows 7, a much more familiar operating system that works quite well. Although manufacturers push Windows 8 laptops (I’m assuming you’re not interested in a desktop), there are still plenty of Windows 7 machines for sale. Lenovo, for one, has a decent selection; HP does as well. Or simply check out the offerings in retailers such as Best Buy, where you’ll find many Windows 7 PCs.
My advice is to buy one with Windows 7 Home Premium, but the Pro edition would be fine too, if a bit more expensive. I know some people will argue that buying a Windows 7 machine means you won’t get a PC with the latest generation of Intel’s chips known as Haswell. That’s true, and it’s too bad, because the Haswll (or 4th generation core) chips save power and are fast. But the 3rd generation core chips are just fine. I’d recommend buying the i5 if you care about performance; if you want to save money, go with the i3. The i7 is expensive and really suited for gamers and people doing video editing and such. Opt for 8 GB of memory, if you can afford it; since it yields much more performance than a system equipped with just 4 GB.
Make the shift to a Mac. Yes, that’s a big leap for people like me who have used Windows for years, but people I know who have converted (yeah, like leaving a religion) have been very happy once they climbed the learning curve.
Despite what you’ve heard, the Mac OS isn’t so intuitive that you’ll just jump in without a care. You’ll also spend more money and maybe need new peripherals, such as a printer. Even so, moving to the Mac platform can be well worth the trouble and expense, because once you’re up and running, chances are you’ll be happy with the experience.
Hold your nose. If you simply must have the latest and greatest PC, which means Windows 8.1, buy something with a touchscreen, because the new Windows isn't designed to work by mouse and keyboard alone. Beyond that, there are a number of good add-ons that make Windows 8.1 less obnoxious. In general, they add a start menu and keep you from falling into the Metro interface, which is the one with the really big tiles. Our colleagues at PCWorld have a good roundup of helpful Windows 8.1 add-ons. I’d also buy a book. One recommendation is Windows 8.1: The Missing Manual, by David Pogue, who's very adept at explaining tech to non-techies.