Windows 8 compatibility

Now that Microsoft’s new Windows 8 has released, a few comments about compatibility.  I’m making a couple assumptions here.  You’ll be upgrading one or more PCs from Windows 7 to Windows 8.  Note: Upgrading PCs from Windows XP to Windows 8 isn’t supported, nor a particularly good idea.  Alternatively, you could be adding new hardware with Windows 8 pre-installed into your existing environment.

As I noted in my post from last June in which I evaluated the pre-released offering, Windows 8 is largely an upgraded version of Windows 7 under the covers.  The principal change in Windows 8 is the graphical user interface (GUI), which is a break from previous versions of the user interface.  Though there are ramifications of this change, most existing applications should continue to run unabated in “desktop” mode, which looks exactly like Windows 7 (sans the START button).

What about hardware compatibility?  Though the underlying Windows 8 operating system is an upgrade to Windows 7 and doesn’t require a complete reinstallation like the upgrade between Windows XP and Windows 7, it does potentially have some impact on your existing hardware and peripherals that you’ll need to be aware of before upgrading or purchasing a new Windows 8 system.  This is no different than the issues effecting Mac users when they want to upgrade from say Lion to Mountain Lion.

As with all upgrades, before acting, you need to evaluate your own environment to see if the rewards are worth the work and risks involved.

To see if your computer is upgradable, run Windows Upgrade Assistant.  I ran it on against a Windows 7 VM that I run and it showed that it was upgradeable with 5 items of concern.  4 of the items had to do with the fact it was running as a VM and wouldn’t be an issue.  The final item of concern was that Windows 8 doesn’t support Microsoft Security Essentials, which is their anti-malware software.  The reason for the non-support?  It’s already built into Windows 8, so I can safely ignore it.

Once you’ve decided that your PC is upgradeable (or you’ve decided to purchase a new one with Windows 8), then what?  Microsoft has done a good job putting device and application compatibility information into one place, with their Windows Compatibility Center.   Though it’s not totally clear to me the process for validating compatibility, there are two “compatible” statuses: Certified compatible and a simple compatibility checkmark.  There are two “incompatible” statuses: “Incompatible” and “Status Varies”.   There is also a place for user community to weigh-in by clicking compatible or incompatible checkboxes.    Many of the apps that are listed as compatible have a mixed community message with some percentage of the respondents noting incompatibility.  Unfortunately, there is no way to tell what folks found to be incompatible.

One comment on the new interface.  For applications to leverage the new interface, they will need to be upgraded specifically to run as a tiled application in full-screen mode.  However, most of your traditional Windows applications will run in the alternative desktop mode.

So, now we come down to the crucial question?  To upgrade or wait?  As with all OS upgrade decisions, you need to balance the new functionality with difficulties of upgrade.  When looking at the latter, be sure to take into account the learning curve for learning the Windows 8 interface.  Though I personally think it’s a significant step in the right direction, learning it can be frustrating for the casual user.  Also, if possible, I typically advise waiting until after the initial maintenance upgrade occurs, which with Microsoft will be the first  service pack (SP).  The reason is to get the rough edges smoothed and more device and application compatibility.  However, if you’re an early adopter, ignore that last sentence. 🙂

If you start running Windows 8, please let me know how it’s going!

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