Q: I’m in the market for a new computer; when will Windows 8 be out and is it worth getting? — Stanley
A: Windows 8 is Microsoft’s ambitious attempt to create a new operating system that would allow users to work the same on a PC as they would on a tablet or smartphone.
Windows 8 will use a tiled dashboard as its home screen (called Metro) that looks very much like the touch interface on current Windows Phone 7 smartphones. These tiles are designed to allow those with touch screen interfaces to bypass the mouse to make a selection, thus making this new interface usable on tablets and special touch monitors as well as traditional PCs with a keyboard and mouse.
Underneath this dashboard is the traditional “Desktop” minus some old familiar items like the “Start” button, which is disorienting at first.
I’m predicting that a large number of users will scream “I want my old Windows back” when they first begin navigating this semi-familiar portion of the operating system, but over time, the new interface will allow you quicker access to information and programs that you want.
As of this writing, Windows 8 is still in a test version (currently called Release Preview) and should only be installed by IT pros and software developers that have a spare computer that can be sacrificed for testing purposes.
Test or “beta” versions should never be installed on a computer that has any important data or on the only machine you own, as you are almost guaranteed to have problems.
The first computer I upgraded with it, for example, was unable to connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi afterwards because the software (or driver) required for Windows 8 to make use of the wireless adapter didn’t install properly.
Error messages, hardware that isn’t recognized and programs that don’t function properly are a common result when installing test versions of any operating system, so it isn’t something average users should ever consider doing.
Microsoft hasn’t announced a release date as of yet, but the latest information we have suggests that computer manufacturers may start getting their “Release To Manufacturing” version so they can start their build process in late July.
If the process follows previous releases, we might start seeing computers pre-installed with Windows 8 hit the market starting in October.
Even then, unless you are an “early adopter” that doesn’t mind dealing with being the first to discover a new problem, I’d suggest holding off on jumping into the Windows 8 pool.
Letting a few million hardcore techies play with the public release version before you take on the challenge will generally save you a lot of grief. Lots of websites and YouTube videos (including ours) will publish all the do’s and don’ts for migrating to Windows 8 if you give the tech community some time to compile the intelligence.
Microsoft always offers special upgrades for those buying a computer with an older operating system close to the launch of a new OS. The Windows 8 upgrade will be available for those buying a new Windows 7 computer between June 2 and Jan. 31, 2013 and allows an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99 (via a download).
If you plan on upgrading an existing computer to Windows 8, you will definitely want to wait for a while after it’s released as this scenario is traditionally the one that has the highest likelihood of issues.
If you want to get a better understanding of how Windows 8 will work, you can view a handful of videos that Microsoft has posted at evtnow.com/2y2.
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.