If you need a new PC, run, don’t walk, to a retailer like Best Buy or a Web site like Amazon and buy a computer equipped with Windows 7. You have absolutely nothing to lose by avoiding Windows 8, and a lot to gain, including real savings on discounted, older machines.
But you have to hurry. Windows 8, aka Windows Frankenstein, will finally arrive on Friday, and that means that nearly all of the computers you’ll see for sale will come pre-loaded with the new operating system. Some vendors will still sell you a Windows 7 machine, but most won’t.
The biggest issue is how strange you’ll find the new operating system. As I noted when I reviewed a beta version, Windows 8 is Microsoft’s attempt to get back in the game via an operating system that incorporates the features of a smartphone or tablet. And that, of course, means touch.
There are a few Windows 8 PCs about to hit the market with touch screens, but they are pricey and not so well thought out. Dell’s XPS 12, whose screen rotates and folds down into a tablet configuration, runs $1200. And who wants a tablet that’s as heavy as a laptop? Doh! (See the image below.)
Even worse, most Windows 8 PCs don’t support touch. Running a touch-oriented operating system on a PC that isn’t touch enabled doesn’t make any sense. It’s as if Microsoft grafted a phone OS onto a PC OS and called it Windows 8. I prefer to call it Frankenstein as InfoWorld’s J. Peter Bruzzese dubbed it earlier in the year.
There’s no start button, there’s no handy, nicely nested list of applications, almost nothing is where it used to be. Instead you have a Start screen with a whole bunch of tiles, unlabelled corners that lead you to various functions, and something called Charms that appear on the right side of the screen that direct you to categories like Settings, Search and Device Sharing. At first I couldn’t even find the “power” button, let alone my apps. Coming to Windows 8 cold is a lot like jumping into the deep end of the pool and then remembering that you don’t know how to swim.
Most of the software you’ve been running for work or entertainment isn’t touch enabled. No doubt, many will eventually add support for touch, but it will take a while.
Generally, a new Windows operating systems comes out at around the same time Intel releases new generations of processors. That’s not the case right now. Intel’s new CPUs are already out, with nothing major on the horizon till Hasell launches some time next year. And even then, it’s not clear at this point, how much of a performance advantage the new generation of microprocessor will offer.
Suppose you follow my advice, buy a Windows 7 PC and then say, “Damn you, Bill Snyder, I should have gone with Windows 8.” No problem. Windows 7 PCs come with a cheap upgrade license that will let you install Windows 8 for $15. The upgrade program will run until Jan. 31, 2013. So if you like your new Windows 7 PC but you’re intrigued by Windows 8, you have until the end of January to get a deal.
Let’s recap. Buying a Windows 8 PC means coping with an awkward, unfamiliar operating system whose most innovative features won’t work with most of the software you use every day. And from a hardware perspective, most of the Windows 8 PCs you’ll be able to buy are expensive and no more capable than Windows 7 PCs. And they’ll cost more, since Windows 7 machines are selling at a discount as dealers draw down inventory.
Here’s what I’m doing: Waiting for Windows 9. Just like the capable, and much loved Windows XP was followed by the kludgy unlovable Windows Vista, which in turn was followed by the solid Windows 7, Windows 8 will likely be followed by something better. I’m no Microsoft hater, and I have confidence that the company will learn from its mistakes and do better in the future as the world moves away from PCs toward mobile devices.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.