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The Windows 8 question: To adopt early or not?

The tech world faces a big decision on Microsoft's new operating system today. Go Windows 8 now or be forced to wait until next year?

Should I adopt a new, more "Metro" lifestyle starting today?

I've known for months that today could be filled with regret. When faced with a desperately needed new Windows laptop purchase seven months ago, I agonized over whether to delay my big system purchase until Windows 8 was finally released.

Needless to say, in the rapidly moving tech world, waiting seems to be one of the hardest things to do. So, not surprisingly, today I'm perusing all our great CNET content on new Windows 8 laptops from my 7-month-old 17-inch Windows 7 system and longing to be fingering live tiles.

The problem, of course, is that Windows 8 is the rare operating system upgrade that also requires a hardware upgrade to live up to its full potential -- namely a touch screen. So if I want to have the latest and greatest from Washington state, I need to set aside my relatively recent laptop purchase and invest in a whole new Windows system.

Before we go any further, let's focus the discussion. First, there's the brand new Microsoft Surface tablet/laptop hybrid running Windows RT. Even at $499, I have no interest in a Windows tablet that has essentially no support for legacy Windows applications. I'm looking to build upon the foundation of my history with Windows that goes back 20 years, not start over with a newly neutered version of the operating system.

That same line of thinking also eliminates switching to Apple, which many of you will surely suggest in the comments. It's a valid suggestion, but I'm just not interested right now, and besides, this is a story about Windows, as you might have noticed from the headline.

Finally, to the loyal Linux army. I've got a machine running Ubuntu in a corner, but I've not yet been able to break my Microsoft dependency. Maybe someday when the time is right I'll finally check into Windows rehab and see you all on the other side. But for now, I'm hooked on what Redmond is pushing.

What I'm trying to establish here is that in my life, there are only two operating systems that matter. For various reasons, if it's not Windows or Android, it's not for me. Despite a few youthful years on a Commodore 64, I've grown up, come of age, and made my contributions to society (clearly of dubious value) -- all from within a Windows ecosystem.

My first smartphone was a Windows Mobile phone that left a lot to be desired, so I turned to Android a few years ago and haven't been disappointed with the series of sweets that followed, from Eclair right up to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean on my Nexus 7.

To be productive, I work in Windows. To work in a touch environment, I fondle Android devices. Now, for the first time today, it seems Microsoft might really be able to merge those two worlds. But I'm not sure I'm ready to return to life in an all-Windows world.

Burned before
There is a caveat to all this. Obviously, it's not fair to say that Windows hasn't done touch until now. Like I said, I went with Windows for my first smartphone purchase without even investigating other options. That turned out to be a big mistake. The early Windows Mobile interface failed miserably with its approach of more or less just jamming the Windows desktop experience into a tiny touch screen.

Windows on tablets and similar form factors has also actually been around for years, but without ever gaining any iota of traction. Not exactly a great track record.

Raised stakes
Adding to my upgrade anxiety is the fact that today may be my only chance to hop on the Windows 8 bandwagon. Tomorrow begins a series of travels and other commitments for me that will make it near impossible (without adding great expense) to get my hands on a new touch-enabled Windows 8 system until next year.

Since I'm in this situation due to my complete lack of patience the last time I was faced with a purchasing decision, you might think the notion of having to wait even longer to finally upgrade would be untenable. After all, there are brand new shiny touch-screen Windows 8 ultrabooks just sitting on shelves mere miles from me right now. Tomorrow they'll be out of reach. So the decision should be easy, right?

But I'm just not sure.

Making the call
Microsoft has burned me before, and Android has been downright chivalrous in its ability to fill in the gaps. The flexible OS eagerly tosses its digital cloak on the muddy productivity puddles I run into in the real, wireless world, whereas self-absorbed Windows would just have me trudge through the muck on my own.

In this line of work, it's painful to pass on the chance to be an early adopter. Especially because I think Windows 8 will eventually live up to its promise, but it's probably going to be ugly at first. Lots of consumers will be confused about the difference between Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows RT, and these first machines aren't likely to be the ones that usher in the post-PC era.

So even though Microsoft promises me that for a quick trip to Best Buy and a thousand bucks it can give me a machine today that will do it all, tomorrow I'll step on a plane with a bag filled to the gills instead with my clunky old-school Windows laptop, an Android tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard, and an Android phone.

I'm going to be keeping an eye on the next Surface tablet, the one running full-fledged Windows 8 Pro on an Intel chip. That one seems like it might be the killer device for my needs. There's still no official release date that I've seen, but it's shaping up to be next year.

Watching the cool Windows 8 ads all over TV today, that seems like an eternity to wait, but perhaps I'm finally learning the lesson that Microsoft has been forcing upon so much of the world for so many years -- patience.

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