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Oh My Tech!: Hold off on upgrading to Windows 8

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During any other time of this year, the release of a new version of the Windows operating system would make big news. Instead, it’s being released amid a flurry of other big consumer tech announcements, including the debut of the iPad mini, a new video game console from Nintendo and even the introduction of Microsoft’s first big computer tablet, called the Surface (which is being released Friday).

So, did you even know that Windows 8, Microsoft’s biggest retooling of its PC operating system since Windows Vista five years ago, was being released Friday?

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You will be able to download it from www.windows.com or purchase the disk online. The price to upgrade from Windows XP, Vista or 7 is $40.

My advice is simple. Don’t get it right away.

For years, I’ve advised users to never be the first in line to get an upgrade to a computer operating system, whether it’s Windows or OSX for the Mac. Installing it can render many of their software programs useless, and changes in the features can be very confusing. Windows 8 could be the biggest example of the latter.

I haven’t used Windows 8 extensively, and this should not be considered a review of the new OS. I did play around with a preview months ago, and surely bug fixes and feature changes have been made to it since.

Regardless, this is an operating system that is radically different from previous versions of Windows. That’s because it’s been designed to simultaneously be an operating system for two types of computers — desktop PCs and tablets.

Microsoft decided that because tablets have become a popular computing platform, Windows 8 should be a big step toward merging mobile and desktop computing.

Instead of the usual icons we all are familiar with, Windows 8 uses a new interface called Metro that employs big tiles that update or change in real time. If you own an Xbox 360 video game console, then you know what Metro resembles.

When you start up the computer, there are no "Start" buttons or folders from an "All Programs" section such as in previous versions of Windows. In fact, a lot of the new Windows 8 will be confusing to users because the graphical user interface is a big departure from before.

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Users can switch to the old desktop version of Windows from there, but they can’t set it so their computer boots up to that interface by default. In other words, you’re forced to look at this new, radically different interface.

The other worrisome issue with upgrading an operating system right away is its compatibility with older programs. Mostly likely, at least one or two programs you use will either become buggy or stop working if you upgrade. This might be especially true with Windows 8. Users will want to wait until program developers put out software patches that make their programs more compatible. The last thing anyone wants is, say, for the word processor to stop working after the upgrade.

I have a feeling that Windows 8 is more likely to fail as a new operating system than succeed. Like the failed OS before it, Windows Vista, Windows 8 is going to scare off a lot of businesses for its radical redesign. Why would a company upgrade its operating system when the one being used works well and is more stable?

Individual users might be turned off by all of the changes Windows 8 makes, which seem to benefit tablet owners more than desktop owners. They might see Windows 8 as a schizophrenic operating system that tries to satisfy two platforms at once, only to perform badly for both.

If you’re still bent on getting the new operating system, there is a free trial you can use that locks up after 90 days. Try it first and see how well your older programs work before spending the money and making a permanent shift.

Otherwise, there really is no compelling reason to upgrade right away.

If you have a tech question for Vince, email him at ohmytech@sltrib.com, and he’ll try to answer it for his column in The Salt Lake Tribune or on its website. For an archive of past columns, go to www.sltrib.com/topics/ohmytech.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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