The great Windows 8 debate

Love it or hate it, Win8 is here to stay, with or without the Start menu. Will users adopt it -- or grit their teeth and wait for Windows 9?

The other day I got a phone call from a friend I'll call Dave (since that's his name). He was sitting in front of his computer pulling out what little hair he has left. The reason: Dave had ignored my sage advice and purchased a new desktop over the holidays running Windows 8. Now he was desperately searching for the Start button.

"It's right next to the Any key," I told him. Dave, who has been using personal computers for more than 10 years but is determined to remain a novice, did not appreciate my sense of humor. (In this he is not entirely alone.)

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I am normally Dave's go-to guy when he gets stuck with a computer problem, but I was totally useless in this situation. Other than playing with a Surface tablet over the holidays, which I thought was pretty slick, I don't have a lot of experience with Windows 8. That's deliberate.

I have a few standing policies when it comes to Microsoft products. One -- a pretty common ploy -- is to avoid using any Version 1.0 product coming out of Redmond. Another is to avoid every other operating system upgrade (again, not uncommon). I didn't do that with Vista, and I regretted it. Windows 7 has been a much better-behaved houseguest, and I see no good reason to evict it for the not-yet-housebroken Windows 8, especially if that involves a system upgrade.

I figure at some point I will need a new laptop and/or tablet, at which point I'll struggle with the question of getting Win8. But unless that device has a touchscreen, I see no point whatsoever in adopting it. And I'm in good company.

A couple weeks back, Consumer Reports made the same recommendation: "If you've been happy with Windows 7 and even Windows XP up until now, there's no compelling reason to switch to Windows 8," wrote Donna L. Tapellini.

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer confirms that sales of Win8 reflect the same hesitation. Though Windows 8 sales jumped in December -- no doubt a reflection of people like Dave who decided to get a new Windows PC for Christmas and had little real choice of OS -- Windows 8 uptake is less than a third of Windows 7's. It's even slightly worse than Vista's. Keizer writes:

The inability of Windows 8 to keep pace with Vista is a troubling sign for the new operating system. Vista was pegged a failure, in part because it was adopted by relatively few customers, so associations with that flop rather than with the triumphs before and after -- Windows XP and Windows 7 -- could paint Windows 8 with the Vista brush.... Experts have said it's unlikely companies will migrate to Windows 8 because of the robustness of Windows 7 and their recent move to it.

Of course, that's not what Microsoft is saying. At a tech conference in late November, Microsoft veep Tami Reller claimed that the company had sold more than 40 million Windows 8 licenses and "is outpacing Windows 7 in terms of upgrades."

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