October 06, 2012, 7:05 AM — The clock is quickly winding down to the official launch of Windows 8. Along with a completely redesigned interface and Windows experience, hardware partners are lined up, ready to offer Windows 8 ultrabooks. The question businesses and consumers will need to answer, though, is whether or not a Windows 8 ultrabook makes sense.
The short answer is, "No". If you're in a hurry, you're welcome. If you have a few minutes, though, read on. I'll explain why I believe Windows 8 ultrabooks aren't a wise purchase right now.
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In a few short weeks the Windows 8 era will begin, but right now the anticipation of the next-generation flagship OS from Microsoft seems tepid at best. There's a confluence of factors that could impact the initial success of Windows 8--Windows 7 is very popular and still gaining market share, Windows 8 seems uniquely suited to touchscreen hardware, and ultrabooks don't seem to be delivering the bang for the buck necessary to deliver what users are looking for.
Let's look at each of those factors a little more closely:
It took a while for Windows 7 to knock Windows XP off the pedestal to assume its rightful place as the number one desktop operating system, but it finally did so a few months ago. Windows 7 is very popular, and both businesses and consumers are still making the switch from older versions of Windows to Windows 7 in droves.
Windows 7 is a solid, proven operating system. It seems like Windows 7 will be the new Windows XP--the OS that people love, and refuse to upgrade from without a very compelling reason.
The problem, then, for Microsoft is that Windows 8 doesn't seem to present a very strong case for upgrading from Windows 7.
Windows 8 has a bit of a split personality. The main "Modern" (formerly "Metro") interface is comprised of colorful tiles, designed to run mobile-style apps, and uniquely engineered to be used as on a touchscreen device. Behind that veil, is "desktop mode", which is essentially Windows 7.
On a touchscreen device like the Microsoft Surface tablet, Windows 8 will probably shine. However, using Windows 8 on traditional desktop or laptop hardware with no touchscreen leaves a little to be desired. It basically feels like you're still using Windows 7, but you have to jump through some extra hoops to get past the Modern UI to run the software you need to run.
So, that brings us to the ultrabooks. An ultrabook is basically just a thinner, lighter laptop--a' la the Apple MacBook Air. Ultrabooks cost significantly more than comparable processing horsepower in a larger notebook, generally lack built-in peripherals like DVD drives in order to save space, and yet still don't have touchscreen technology.
One lofty estimate for ultrabook sales was recently cut in half due to underwhelming results thus far. The launch of Windows 8, and the impending holiday season will probably create a spike in ultrabook sales, but overall the demand simply doesn't seem to match expectations.
For Windows 8, it seems like a better alternative would be a tablet. The tablet is designed to be used as a touchscreen device, and is suited to take advantage of the unique features of Windows 8.
Many vendors are offering hybrid solutions--Windows 8 tablets with a physical keyboard docking station that turns it into a convertible tablet / ultrabook mashup. If the price is right, a tablet hybrid could be a better platform for Windows 8, a more versatile mobile device for users, and deliver better bang for the buck than a Windows 8 ultrabook.