A Windows 8 Primer: What do I do?, Why?, What is it?, Does it matter?

Windows 8 is the latest version of the company’s operating system, but it’s unlike any Windows you’ve seen before. It’s bright and colourful and has been built to be a tablet- and mobile-friendly operating system that’s for desktops too.

What is Windows 8?

The interface uses tiles, which show information about what’s happening in that area of the computer, like an indicator when a new email arrives. On phones and tablets, the tiles make it easy to slide, and have gained Microsoft many fans from the design community.

The unanswered questions are how well it will work on desktops and, even more important, how consumers will react to a Windows interface that looks nothing like it has before. Trust me, it's a big shock to the system. But change is good. I think…

It’s clearly touch-friendly and very slick, but users are notoriously apprehensive about change. Some will adapt and some will resist. But this is the direction Microsoft and the world is moving in so adaptation is going to be required for everyone. Unless you are willing to keep using Windows XP or Windows 7. In the corporate world Windows 7 will most likely be the ongoing business standard.

Analysts have stated that Windows 8 is a consumer operating system that they will later sell into corporations once consumers have been show to sign on in full-force with their tablets. It remains questionable whether touch screen laptops running Windows 8 are just a transition step to tablets that bridges the gap while users continue to use laptops.

The post-personal computer age is upon us and the laptop and desktop is slowly becoming a thing of the past for general computer use on a daily basis.

Should I upgrade?

If you have a Windows PC — and that’s 92 per cent of the desktop market — there will likely come a day when you are forced to upgrade, either at work or when you upgrade your PC.

With any new piece of software, it best to wait a bit to see what bugs and issues are rolling around in the software, which will likely get patched with service updates in the months to come. Windows 8 is a massive operating system rewrite so expect a lot of updates before it works flawlessly. Microsoft tends to release software that other companies would call pre-release. Microsoft fixes the software to release quality over the first year in the market. Hey, it's an approach but that is why corporations always wait at least 1 year before adopting new Microsoft operating systems.

For example, there are already reports of some recent Windows 7 PCs using Intel’s Atom Cedar Trail processor that can have an issue with the OS. The list will continue to grow and the service packs will continue to roll out.

Can my system handle the upgrade?

A better question to ask is if your system can handle the upgrade. The basic requirements are:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit) RAM for memory
  • At least 16 GB (for the 32-bit version) or 2 GB (64-bit) RAM
  • A Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM driver

You can upgrade if you are already running Window XP, Vista or 7.

Windows Tablets: Tell me about them?

While most tablets are considered entertainment or consumption devices, Microsoft’s differentiator is that these are supposed to be productivity tablets. They come in two flavours.

The first is a higher end, more expensive model that will be able to run the same Windows programs as your PC that’s not out yet.

The second one, although available first, is the Surface RT, which will be able to run specific Windows-based apps.

There are also several different keyboards that come with the tablets. Initial impressions of the tablets are that they are quite good, although a bit expensive, particularly with the keyboards.

A few more things

Windows 8 is Microsoft’s big bet to tie together all of the disparate parts of its business into a unified ecosystem for users. One big addition is the Windows Store, a place where you can buy apps and programs for its devices. This is similar to Google's Android Market or the iTunes Store from Apple.

Two of the most interesting additions are add-ons. Xbox Music, which is the company’s new music service, allows subscription, streaming or downloading to buy music. There is also Smartglass, which is an app that will interface with your Xbox and enable control of the system’s entertainment options, as well as adding a second screen experience to games.

The great thing about Xbox Music is that it's cross platform and will be available for Android and iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod) as well as Windows 8 devices. It’s an interesting strategy, showing that Microsoft is attempting a more open approach than its competitors.