A new version of Windows, already? Yes indeed, and its new touch-friendly interface represents a radical departure from the Windows you know and love (or tolerate, at least).
So, what are the new features in Windows 8? Will it work on your PC? What about your old Windows programs? And when is Windows 8 going on sale? Answers to those questions and more, coming up.
1. Wait, Windows 8 is on the way? Wasn’t there already a new version of Windows, like yesterday?
Yep, you’re right—and indeed, it was barely two years ago that Windows 7, the latest version of the Windows OS, landed in stores.
But while Microsoft is already showing off the latest and greatest features of Windows 8, the company has yet to announce an official release date, and no one expects the updated operating system to go on sale any earlier than 2012. In other words, Windows 7 still has plenty of shelf life ahead of it.
2. OK, so what’s so special about Windows 8?
From what we’ve seen so far, Windows 8 is shaping up to be one of the biggest Windows updates ever. Why? Because of its new, touch-friendly interface.
And no, we’re not just talking a tap here and there on the standard Windows desktop. Microsoft has come up with an all-new interface, dubbed “Metro,” that looks like a series of big, multi-colored tiles. Some of these tiles will show, say, the time and date, or the top few items on the day’s agenda, while others might display a preview of your email inbox or photos shared by a Facebook friend. (Incidentally, the new Metro interface will look familiar to anyone with one of Microsoft’s new Windows Phones.)
So instead of pulling up the old Start menu in the bottom-left corner of the screen to launch a program or access your files, you’ll fire up an app by tapping or clicking its “Metro”-style tile, or you can switch from one screen of tiles to another by swiping the screen one way or the other.
The other big change is that the new Windows 8 interface will work on both PCs and tablets, with Microsoft promising new “cloud”-based services (such as Windows Live SkyDrive) that will let you wirelessly share documents, contacts, calendars, and other data between your various devices.
In essence, you’ll be able to take your complete Windows 8 experience with you in tablet form—although based on the early, somewhat clunky tablets during a conference for software developers Wednesday, Microsoft still has a ways to go before concocting a Windows 8 tablet that’s as thin and light as the iPad or the most recent Android tablets.
3. Will I need a tablet or one of those new touchscreen PCs to use Windows 8?
Thankfully, no, with Microsoft promising that if you want to use a standard keyboard and mouse with the Windows 8 “Metro” interface, no problem.
4. OK, but will Windows 8 work on the PC I’m using now?
The latest word from Microsoft is that Windows 8 will work on any system capable of running on Windows 7—meaning essentially any desktop or laptop made within the past couple of years. Hopefully.
If you’re still using a 10-year-old desktop with Windows XP, you’re probably out of luck (and besides, you’d be ripe for an upgrade anyway).
5. But what about my old Windows programs? Will they become obsolete as soon as Windows 8 comes around.
Again, good news: Microsoft says that any “classic” Windows programs that work on Windows 7 will be compatible with Windows 8, “without compromise.” That said, don’t be surprised if older programs that no longer work under Windows 7 don’t work on Windows 8, either.
6. How much will it cost to upgrade?
Microsoft hasn’t announced any pricing information on Windows 8 yet—and indeed, we probably won’t get a price tag until the software giant announces a solid release date. That said, I’d be surprised if the final price for Windows 8 was anything less than $100.
7. I’ve finally gotten the hang of Windows 7. Will I really need to upgrade again the moment Windows 8 comes out?
Of course not. Yes, hard-core tech enthusiasts will probably drop everything and upgrade to Windows 8 the moment it arrives in stores, but as with previous versions of the Windows OS, Microsoft will surely support Windows 7 for a few years after Windows 8 goes on sale—and remember, it could be a year or more before Windows 8 finally arrives.
And here’s the thing: the very first version of Windows 8 is sure to be buggy. Even if you’re eager to install Windows 8 (and indeed, it does look pretty nifty), I’d advise waiting a few months until Microsoft irons out the initial, inevitable kinks.