Though its still used on over half of all Windows-based computers around the world, Microsoft has stopped providing certain versions of Windows 7, specifically Home Basic/Premium and Ultimate, to computer manufacturers worldwide. Once the current inventory runs out, the only computers that can be bought with Windows 7 will be business-class machines (such as Dell’s Optiplex and Latitude model lines) with the “Pro” or “Enterprise” version installed. Everything else will be Windows 8 or 8.1 until Microsoft launches Windows 10 mid-next year.
What this means for you:
While it’s true that the average consumer may have trouble purchasing a Windows 7 machine for the foreseeable future, Microsoft has no intention of cutting off support for Windows 7 like it did for Windows XP earlier this year. There is still a very large base of enterprise installations running contentedly on 7 and some companies have only just recently completed their migration from XP! Microsoft will continue to provide licensing avenues for companies that need to expand their existing Windows 7 fleets, and most IT organizations appear content to wait to see what Windows 10 has in store for their companies as opposed to switching their operations to the much maligned 8.
All this being said, if you need a new computer, don’t let the lack of 7 or the presence of 8 deter you from a purchase. As mentioned above, it is still possible to purchase Windows 7 Pro machines, though they come with a premium price as compared to the cheaper consumer lines that sold with Windows 7 Home. If you can’t get a Windows 7 machine, consider shopping for one that has 8.1 (not 8), which has multiple improvements (mostly under the hood) over its predecessor. Be prepared for some transition pain – mostly in learning how to navigate Windows 8’s dual-personality interface, but once you get settled in, the experience will largely be the same as what you enjoyed in Windows 7.
Obviously stung by the world’s tepid reception of Windows 8, Microsoft announced that the next version of their operating system will be skipping Windows 9 and heading straight to 10. The jump is meant to signify a considerable advancement in the base operating system: this version of Windows isn’t just an incremental upgrade or updated version of 8. Microsoft intends to unify the operating system across mobile devices and traditional workstations (much like Apple is attempting to do with iOS), providing app makers a simpler development environment and presumably a much larger market. Previously known as “Threshold”, Windows 10 won’t be available to the general public until 2015, but preview-builds will supposedly be available starting October 1.
What this means for you:
If you’ve been holding out on upgrading your Windows 7 machine in the hopes that something better than 8 would come along, your prayers (may) have been answered. Early reports suggest that 10 is a mix of the best of 7 and 8, though you may wonder what parts of 8 qualified as “best.” Most gratifying will probably be the return of the beloved Start Menu, but with an 8 twist – the ability to add tiles to the menu (like the ones on the 8 start screen). Another eagerly anticipated feature will be improved window management utilizing the poorly-documented “snap” features of 7 and 8, as well as multiple desktops (something Linux users have had for years).
How should you prepare for coming of the mighty 10? There are rumors that 10 may be free to current Windows 8 users, but Microsoft refused to confirm this. If you have Windows 8 and were contemplating downgrading, you may want to hold off just in the off chance you can get 10 for free. Early reports indicate that Windows 10 will have the same hardware requirements as Windows 8, so older hardware may be left behind, but anything made in the past 2-3 years should be fine. If you want prepare right now, a larger monitor may provide you with the most bang for your buck, as Windows 10 looks like it will make multi-tasking even easier. More windows open equals getting more done, right?
Microsoft has announced that it will be raising the price of Windows 8 upgrades at the end of January to the full retail cost of $119 to $199 for the Pro version. The downloadable upgrade from Windows 7 to 8 is currently available for $39.99, and there is a boxed, retail version available for $69.99, but those prices will no longer be available on February 1.
What this means for you:
If you were at all considering upgrading to Windows 8, but aren’t necessarily ready to make the change right now, you may want to go ahead and make the purchase now and save yourself some money. Savvy technology users will have only minor issues transitioning, and Microsoft isn’t going to change their minds and rollback Windows 8, so eventually, savvy or not, you’ll probably be using Windows 8 at some point.
Keep in mind that the $39.99 price is for an upgrade version of Windows 8, so you will need a machine with a licensed copy of Windows XP, Vista or 7 to use it properly. The upgrade version cannot be easily installed on a blank computer unless you have the install media (and activation key) for your older OS handy.
The Windows 8 RTM (Release to Manufacturer) build has been available to technology professionals now for several weeks, and I recently took the plunge by installing it on my Dell Inspiron 1500 laptop. Even though my Inspiron was sold as a “Windows 8-ready” laptop, it definitely wasn’t ready for the RTM build. Despite repeated attempts to upgrade the existing Windows 7 installation (a path most folks will likely take), I ended up wiping out the entire OS and installed Windows 8 from scratch.
First, say something positive…
First impressions are important, and let me tell you, the new Windows 8 user interface is eye-popping and unlike anything you’ve seen on a desktop OS. Versions of this UI have been evolving on Windows Phones, the Xbox 360 and the Zune for months, and the designers behind the look of the OS have clearly been working very hard, and to great effect. The Windows 8 interface is a stark contrast to the shiny, chromed look of Windows 7 or OS X, using bold colors and geometric shapes in what they are calling a “tile” based interface.
It’s engaging, intuitive, and not as huge a paradigm shift in how we work as you might think. On the whole, the new OS ran as fast or faster than the previous install of Windows 7, and even though my laptop did not have a touch-enabled screen, I was able to navigate around the new interface comfortably after spending a few hours familiarizing myself without how it works.
…There’s a “but” and it’s a big one.
If Windows 8 blows your mind with its look and feel out of the gate, be prepared to have some of that wind sucked right back out of your sails. Windows 8 maybe ready for its close-up, but the rest of the world isn’t quite ready for it. Knowing this, Microsoft actually did the only thing it could do: incorporate large chunks of Windows 7 into 8 so as to maintain backwards compatibility with its gigantic (and predominantly slow-to-change) user base. This “layering” of two different OS’s will be a tremendous struggle for the average user, and it’s even a bit of a headache for seasoned technology professionals. In a nutshell, either your applications are designed for and run in Windows 8, or they run in the “desktop” layer, which is essentially a stripped down version of Windows 7. Some of them, like Google’s Chrome or even Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer, run in both environments, but they don’t use the same settings, nor do they communicate with each other! Say, for example, you have Chrome open in the desktop environment. Windows 8 alerts you via audible beep that new email has come in on your Hotmail account (which has it’s own app in Windows 8), so you punch the Windows key on your keyboard to bring up the tile interface. After reading the email, you punch the “Chrome” tile on the start page, thinking to go back to your surfing session in Chrome. Nope, that tile opens the Windows 8 version of Chrome with a blank window. To get back to your desktop session, you have to Alt-tab to the other Chrome window. As you can imagine, this will continue to be confusing until the majority of your applications live entirely in the Windows 8 world, and the desktop environment fades into memory.
What this means for you:
Unless you have a compelling reason to do so, avoid installing Windows 8 on any work computer for the time being, as at minimum you’ll be frustrated and slowed down by the awkward transition phase the new OS will be going through for the next 12-18 months. When ordering new machines, make sure (if the option is even available) to “downgrade” the installed OS to Windows 7. If you really want to try out the new Windows 8, think about purchasing a Surface tablet (arriving later this month) or installing it on a non-essential computer so you can take your time to learn the new OS without hampering your ability to get work done. If you really want to take the plunge, make sure your critical business applications and platforms can work with the new OS, and be prepared for a period of reduced productivity as you and your employees adjust to the new OS.