Microsoft's Windows 8 wants to be everything to everyone -- an operating system that's terrific for both personal use and businesses, for tablet-owners and laptop-owners, for those buying new machines and those upgrading to Windows 8 from Windows 7 (or Vista, or XP, or -- it's okay to admit -- 95).
Given the uncompromising boldness of the new Windows, and that most will be totally unfamiliar with Windows 8 when they first use it, computer users seem likely to cleave neatly into two camps: Those who hate 8, and those who think that 8 is great.
Which camp will you find yourself in when Microsoft unleashes Windows 8 on the world on October 26? We've been playing around with the next Windows on a number of devices, and we think we know who's likely to love it, and who's going to have "How to reinstall Windows 7" in their Bing search history sometime soon.
Let's start with the good news first and hopefully make a few people happy. You might love Windows 8 if you are:
An Aesthete: Windows 8 is wonderfully, cleanly designed and is, to these eyes, immediately more visually appealing and striking than any other operating system on any other device in the world. Mac's OS X looks stale, static and uninspired by comparison. Those who can appreciate fresh design will be pleased to boot up their computers to the WIndows 8 Start Screen every day.
An Avant-Gardist: While Apple has mostly tweaked and tinkered with its operating system over the past several years, Microsoft's Windows 8 represents an epic wave of change that brings with it an entirely fresh, largely unexplored computing experience. The release of Windows 8 is a once-a-year (at best!) opportunity to probe a major company's truly unique product at the beginning of its life cycle.
Touchy-Feely: The anthem for Windows 95, you might remember, was the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up;" for Windows 8, it might as well be another staple of classic rock radio: The Doors' "Touch Me." Windows 8 works best with a touchscreen, whether a tablet or a traditional "clamshell" laptop with a touch-enabled display. Windows 8 brings the ability to legitimately use a touchscreen device as your everyday (and every night) computer in a way that the iPad, for all of its virtues, cannot offer to most adults.
Impatient: That routine you'd come up with to make time go by as you wait for your old computer to start up? You don't need it anymore. Windows 8 boots incredibly quickly -- 55 percent quicker than Windows 7 boots, and in as little as 7 seconds on new computers. (Now we just need a professional bull rider to try to boot up a machine while coming out of the gate at a rodeo). Apps also load up with better speed than they do on older versions of Windows. This will be much-welcomed news, especially to those of you with older, bulkier editions of Windows.
Penny Pinchers: Upgrading your current Windows PC costs a relative pittance. $40 gets you a digital download of Windows 8 for the next few months. Now, it's true, that's twice as much as it cost Mac owners to upgrade to Mountain Lion; but, as a rebuttal, Windows 8 is far more than twice the upgrade Mountain Lion was. Those going from Lion to Mountain Lion received a few nice new features; however, Windows 8 really is a new operating system, an upgrade that changes your computer in fundamental ways.
Easily Distracted: Most of the apps in Windows 8 essentially take up the entire screen by default, making it difficult for a user on a laptop to stack 8 to 10 different application windows next to each other. If you find yourself constantly eyeing your email, Twitter, Reddit, sports scores, Gchat, the crossword and your Minesweeper game while you're supposed to be plugging away at Excel, you might enjoy the secluded app islands that define Windows 8.
Brave: There are bugs to be worked out. Windows 8 is not a perfect operating system. Despite the reported 1.24 BILLION hours of testing that Microsoft engineers put into Win 8, Windows 8 still functions, in many ways, like a work-in-progress, an imperfect though ambitious first crack at a certain look for a piece of software.
Speaking of which: The reverse of many of these categories represent those who might not mesh so well with Windows 8. For example, though "The Brave/Avant-Garde" might like rushing out and committing to the new Windows, more traditional users could find the changes intimidating or annoying. Indeed, there is a fairly steep learning curve from your first bootup, and though I now feel comfortable enough with Windows 8 on a day-to-day basis, it will take a newcomer some time to figure out where everything is, how to switch back and forth between apps, where exactly the start menu disappeared to -- and more.
If you're already comfortable with Windows 7, and you aren't up for completely re-learning a new operating system or aren't that computer-savvy, I'd stick with your current Windows, for at least a while.
Users of older PCs, especially those with a subpar touchpad, won't get as much out of a Windows 8 upgrade and should probably just avoid it all together. So much of navigating Windows 8 without a touchscreen display depends on a precise touchpad that can respond to gestures, swipe the cursor around the screen with precision and scroll up and down without hiccups. The well-documented troubles that Windows PC manufacturers have had with touchpad responsiveness might (and should, frankly) affect upgrade numbers in the initial months of Windows 8 availability.
(If you're comfortable with your touchpad and are intrigued by Windows 8, then go for it: Microsoft claims you'll get improved battery life, better performance, and faster boot times, among other benefits.)
Serious multi-taskers, too, might have some difficulties adjusting to Windows 8. Though the full-screen apps of Win 8 can enhance your focus and immerse you in your work, if you need to view Excel, TweetDeck, your web browser and email and chat list at the same time, Windows 8 can present certain challenges. You have to open every app in desktop mode, which resembles the home screen of your current Windows 7 operating system, in order to tile your windows next to each other and size them the way you'd like. Otherwise, you're looking at two apps, max, in Windows 8 mode.
Curmudgeons will definitely hate Windows 8 because, hey, curmudgeons hate everything.
Finally, I know we said the impatient would dig Windows 8 for its quick bootup and app loading, but if you are seriously impatient, Windows 8 probably isn't for you. Again, there is a fairly steep learning curve, especially at first, to learn where everything is and how the system works. It can be frustrating, especially if you're trying to get work done and get outside for some air. Once you master the system -- and it can be mastered -- everything is gravy, but it might take you some time, depending on your computer savvy.
Windows 8 probably won't make everyone happy, but it does herald -- for better or for worse -- a new era in PCs and a refreshed way of thinking about computers from one of the largest tech companies in the world. You can download Windows 8 now (unless you're a curmudgeon, in which case, don't do it!) for $39 on the Microsoft website.