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Windows 8 is Here - 8 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy

10/26/2012 11:59 am ET | Updated Dec 26, 2012

If you're a dedicated Windows user, then Christmas just came early -- the first Windows tablet and mobile-suited operating system are now out of the gate. But are they worth your money? Should you buy now or wait until after the New Year? How hard will it be to actually use this new-fangled OS?

We've spent weeks reviewing the new Windows 8 operating system and found it to be both promising and also a little intimidating, especially for people who aren't terribly tech-savvy and used to the older Windows operating systems. But it does have a lot of promise, and whether you buy it now or in 16 months, it's the wave of the future for Microsoft - and eventually, you're going to have to learn it.

Here are eight things you should know before you buy:

  1. It's Complicated -- Ok, so the press has largely dubbed Windows 8 as a confusing paradoxical riddle of an operating system. Is that really true? Well, if you're used to Windows 7, XP or even older Windows operating systems, then, yes, Windows 8 is going to feel pretty weird - and will definitely take some time to get used to. Apparently there are some three-year olds on the Web that can whiz through it on first try, but that doesn't mean you will. After all, watch this 12-year old struggle with three basic tasks on Windows 8.
  2. What's Confusing About Windows 8? -- The most confusing aspect of Windows 8 is the tiled Metro-style start screen, called Modern UI - particularly if it's not on a touchscreen computer. Also, you have to jump between the new tiled interface and Microsoft's classic desktop in order to do certain tasks. The app situation is also perplexing. Some apps are modern and others aren't. Users might also be confused by the difference between Windows 8 and Windows RT.
  3. Surface is Not Windows 8 -- For those thinking of buying the new Surface tablet, here's what you need to know. First, the tablet will be running Windows RT - not Windows 8. Why does that matter? It's a slower operating system, doesn't have a rich app experience and it runs on a slower Tegra3 processor. Microsoft plans to launch a Windows 8 Pro tablet down the road - but your Surface tablet won't upgrade to it. Since the starting cost for a Surface tablet is $499 - the same as a new iPad - you may want to wait for the pro version tablet.
  4. Will the Price Drop? -- While I don't expect Windows 8 upgrades to get any cheaper, I do think there's a reasonable chance Microsoft will have to reduce the price of its Surface tablets in order to incentivize sales. After all, at $499 to $699, they're priced as high as an iPad - that surprised a lot of analysts early on, us included. Their pricing would make more sense in the $350 to $399 range for the basic model, and I expect we may see it reduced down the road.
  5. Upgrade or Buy? -- It only costs $39.99 (until January 31) to upgrade an existing Windows PC to the new Windows 8 operating system. That's a lot less than the $100-$200 it usually costs for a new Windows OS. Compare that to the cost of a brand new Windows 8 desktop or laptop - for example, $1,199 for Dell's XPS 12 Ultrabook with Windows 8. Since some users find this operating system to be confusing and hard to use, it's probably wiser to upgrade an existing PC to Windows 8 first, in order to test it out, before spending big bucks on a brand new Windows 8 computer. Of course, you'll be missing out on the coolest feature of Windows 8 - touchscreen computing - but you can always buy a new machine later once you feel comfortable with the new platform.
  6. Who Can Upgrade? -- In order to upgrade to Windows 8, you must have a computer that runs on Windows 8 Preview, Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP in order to upgrade - older systems are out of luck. Also, before you upgrade, make sure to save all of your important files, documents, photos, etc. to an external hard drive in case some of these do not convert.
  7. Get a Tutorial -- Don't waste your time or money. Get a Windows 8 tutorial before you buy anything - to make sure this is the right operating system for you. Best Buy's Geek Squad has posted 12 two-minute video tutorials online that walk you through the operating system's main features, and the electronics retailer is also offering in-store demos and tutorials on a range of Windows 8 products.
  8. Microsoft Doesn't Do Hardware -- Microsoft is a software company, not a hardware manufacturer. Although it's forayed into hardware a few times before - most notably the Zune music player and Kin smartphones - it's never done very well at it. Not to pick on Microsoft unnecessarily here, but it's a factor to consider when deciding to buy a Windows RT tablet from Microsoft versus Asus or Dell. Also, expect to see software bugs and glitches, particularly in the first few months. For instance, shutting down a Windows 8 machine appears to be a problem for certain users, as expressed in several early reviews.

Microsoft's Windows 8 is definitely a promising platform, but it may take time before it's well-suited for consumers. What do you think are the top issues with Windows 8 and Windows RT? Let us know in the comments section below.