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Do you need to upgrade to Windows 8?

Reports from beta test users indicate this is a stable release

Three days from now, on October 26, Microsoft will formally roll out its latest and greatest operating system, called Windows 8. It will have a very different look and feel as compared to the Windows systems most of us are using now. Whether or not you’ll like it has a lot to do with the type of computer you’re using.

Tablet computers have been around for years, but most of them have been laptops with the keyboard turned around and folded onto the back of the display. Those are/were thick, heavy and difficult to hold for extended periods. Apple changed the tablet game with the iPad, a device smaller than a sheet of paper and no heavier than a thin book.

It wasn’t long before every major computer maker rolled out an iPad wannabe, and even Microsoft has gotten into the act with its Surface device. Windows 8 is intended to work across the various platforms that run Windows, including (maybe especially) the Surface.

Some Visible Changes
Instead of the Start button or icon that we’ve been dealing with since Windows 95 to access programs and documents, Windows 8 puts access to most programs right on the desktop in a multicolored grid. Microsoft calls this the “Metro” interface.

Many of them are active, so that the panel section for email might summarize the most recent messages received, and the calendar section shows your next appointment. You’ll see additional panels, user-selectable, for things like text messages, Facebook updates, and Twitter feeds.

This design works very well if you are using a computer with a touch-sensitive display or have multiple monitor screens to play with. If you have a more conventional setup with a single display, it’s probably going to get in your way.

Whatever you’re working on at that moment will obscure the desktop panels, so you’ll have to slide it aside or minimize it to get to the control for whatever you want next. If you’re already moving things around on the display with your fingers, as with a tablet, this will work pretty well; with a mouse or other point-and-click device, not so much.

Like Food Poisoning
Reports from beta test users indicate this is a stable release. It’s necessary to say that, as it took three tries for Microsoft to get a stable operating system to replace Windows XP. Windows Me (for Millennium) and Vista were annoying to the same degree that a lingering case of food poisoning is annoying.

Windows 7 got it right, but it doesn’t translate as well to tablets. Microsoft apparently believes tablets are the future, and they may be right. Now that we have more as much computing power and storage in a Smartphone as we did in some desktop computers of ten years ago, a central platform may be around the corner.

You may eventually have a single unit that drops into a dock or connects wirelessly to a keyboard and large display when you’re at a desk and runs the dashboard display and interface in your car when you get behind the wheel. When you’re away from both, it’s your cell phone, e-reader, and tablet.

If you are still using Windows XP — and I know many people are — there are some very good reasons to upgrade to at least Windows 7. Microsoft has officially stopped supporting Windows XP, so that means no more service packs to protect against security risks already in the wild and that will appear.

Some newer software won’t run on XP. If your computer won’t run Windows 7 (you can download a test here ), you may need to bite the bullet and buy a new machine. You’ll no doubt see a significant increase in performance.

I usually jump on new software versions and operating systems shortly after they appear, as this is as close to being stylish and trendy as I ever get (I rely on GQ for fashion advice — I’m using the August 1973 issue).

In this case, I think I’m going to hold back. Windows 7 is running just fine on the computers I use and support, and I don’t see anything offered by Windows 8 that justifies the change and expense.

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