October 25, 2012, 4:33 PM — With Windows 8, Microsoft is boldly going where no operating system has gone before: combining a touch-friendly OS with the traditional PC desktop. Even if you don’t own a tablet or touchscreen monitor, there are many compelling reasons to upgrade. There are also definitely reasons to pass on Windows 8. Here’s how to decide what’s best for you.
Definitely, absolutely do not upgrade if you aren’t willing to put the time into learning a new interface. You’ll just end up frustrated. Windows 8 is a whole new game and the tile-based start screen (formerly called Metro) isn’t very intuitive to use. Who would guess that to close a Metro app you have to drag the top of the screen and drop the thumbnail at the bottom? Or that to get to a list of running apps you should hover over the top left corner of the screen with your mouse pointer and drag down when the thumbnail appears? If Microsoft put out a tutorial on all these unknown gestures and motions, new users would be better off. But as it is, you have to go find and learn them yourself. (The Windows 8 Cheat Keys app in the Windows 8 Store can help.)
If you own a tablet PC or touch-enabled monitor, the answer is fairly obvious. Windows 8 greatly enhances the tablet experience and is built for touch. I’m not a fan of the on-screen keyboard (too big for my tastes, compared to the slide-out one in Windows 7), but Windows 8 actually improved some issues I had with touch recognition on a 5-year-old tablet PC.
That brings me to another, perhaps most important point: Windows 8 offers a great performance boost over previous Windows versions. In its presentation today, Microsoft said boot times on one device became 33% faster and memory usage reduced by 42% with Windows 8. Windows uses about 281MB of RAM versus the first release of Windows 7, which used almost twice that: 540MB. Several benchmarks run by CNET, TechSpot, and Zdnet also suggest this is the faster version of Windows so far. My test Windows 8 laptop also feels zippy to me. If you have an older computer, upgrading to Windows 8 could breathe new life into it.
Some other noteworthy enhancements and improvements include: