Microsoft has begun showing off bits and pieces of Windows 8, the next version of the most popular computer operating system in the world. The question: Is this an operating system you should plan to install on your current PC, or wait until it comes preinstalled on the next computer you buy?
What's Different About Windows 8
The headline with this operating system — it's not just for desktops and laptops, but also for touch devices, namely the increasingly popular tablets. If not revolutionary, this certainly represents a major advancement. Until now, tablets have used a different operating system from their desktop and laptop cousins. But as hardware evolves, Microsoft is working hard to be ready for the inevitable merging of laptop and tablet technology.
Microsoft envisions a day when your average desktop computer has a touchscreen, and when your laptop can convert into a tablet. That day is coming soon. At this year's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a Chinese company called Compal unveiled a prototype laptop with a removable touchscreen — and that screen becomes a tablet. Very cool. Lenovo also unveiled their Lenovo Yoga hybrid. At first glance, the Yoga looks like a traditional laptop, but the hinge that connects the screen to keyboard can rotate 360 degrees, enabling you to tuck the keyboard flat behind the screen and transform the device into a tablet shape. At 3.2 pounds, I find it a little too bulky to use regularly as a tablet, but the innovation is one of those "Well, duh" ideas — why doesn't every laptop do this? My guess is that plenty of other manufacturers will soon follow suit — and that's Microsoft's bet as well.
Windows 8 will let you type with a keyboard or with an on-screen virtual keyboard. Like any tablet, menus and apps appear with the swipe of a finger. To get to the main menu, you swipe from the right edge. To see other open applications, swipe from the left hand side. Menus for the application at hand are all found by touching the bottom of the screen.
You may have seen the snap feature in Windows 7, where you can put two windows on the screen and multitask. This works the same in Windows 8, only better. In addition to being able to move windows around with your mouse, you can do it with touch.
Joining the App Craze
Microsoft has set up their own app store, and they're eager for you to buy. So Windows 8 is designed to integrate virtually all of the apps we love — games like Cut the Rope and social sites like Twitter, Facebook, and photo-sharing sites — right on the start screen. You can customize what's on this display, and the information — whether is news feeds from your friends or the weather report — updates automatically.
Buy or Wait
Back to the big question: should you buy Windows 8 as soon as it comes out? Well, the vast majority of its new features are designed to maximize the touch screens that many future computers will have. So while Windows 8 will work on your existing PC, I wouldn't go to the expense and hassle of upgrading a current device that doesn't have a touchscreen. One caveat, that's based on the initial look we've gotten at the Beta version of Win 8, and as with all things tech, new developments may alter the decision making process for consumers.
Microsoft hasn't committed to an official launch date, but company insiders have hinted at an October release.