windows 8 mockup logo

As we slowly approach back to school season we know a lot of you are debating between getting a new computer or perhaps continuing to use your current one and looking at the thinner, more portable tablets (like the iPad 2, Xoom, Galaxy Tab, PlayBook etc.) instead. Microsoft hasn’t really had a good tablet OS to answer to the iPad and those other tablets, and while they won’t have an answer for those looking for a Windows tablet for this back to school season, last week they showed off the first glimpses of Windows 8, the next generation of Windows and the first version of Windows to really focus on being completely used by touch.

So what exactly is Windows 8 and what does this mean for anyone buying a new Windows 7 PC today? Read on.

What is Windows 8?

Let’s begin with what exactly is Windows 8.

windows 8 start menu

The awesome new Windows 8 Start menu

As we all know, every 2-3 years Microsoft (and Apple too for that matter) release some major new changes to their big computer OSes– Windows and OS X respectively. About 2 years ago was the most recent update which brought us Windows 7 and OS X Snow Leopard and now it’s approaching that time for a new round of updates (in case you haven’t realized yet, this crazy tech world we live in moves ridiculously fast). Tomorrow at WWDC Apple will show off what probably is the final version of their new OS, OS X Lion, that is coming this summer. Until last week, Microsoft has been pretty quiet about what their next version of Windows will look like (let alone when we can expect it), but again, that’s all changed.

Think of Windows 8– which is just a codename not the official name– like this: a it’s a mix of Windows 7 and Windows Phone 7. Take some of the best of Windows Phone 7 (like the great tile interface and amazing keyboard for example), put it together with the already very impressive Windows 7,  add a some new features on top of all that (such as an app store and faster startup/shutdown/sleep times– things that I personally am looking forward to. Anyone with a Windows PC knows it can sometimes take forever to turn on) and you’re beginning to get the idea of what Windows 8 will look like.

windows 8 app next to windows 7 app

Windows 8 apps side by side with older Windows apps

And by still having the older Windows 7 interface behind the new Windows 8 touch-focused Start menu this also means you’ll be able to use all of the great new Windows 8 apps fully optimized for touch, but at the same time still be able to run any old Windows program right next to it (like games, an older version of Office as seen above, etc.).

For a full run down of the new Windows 8 interface check out this video:

Windows 8 is also the first version of Windows able to run on ARM processors like the NVIDIA Tegra and Qualcomm Snapdragon that are found in many of today’s top cell phones and tablets. This should lead to Windows 8 PCs and tablets that are thinner and have much better battery life while still giving you all the power you’d expect from a Windows computer.

So can I run Windows 8 on my new/current computer?

windows 8 thumb keyboard

The new Windows 8 keyboard

This is the question sure to be on the minds of anyone looking for a new PC for back to school: will Windows 8 run on it? Thankfully, that answer is  yes. Microsoft didn’t release the full specs for what will be needed to run Windows 8, but they did make it a key focus during their unveiling to mention how Windows 8 will only not run well on those lower power processors and touchscreens which are designed for Windows 8, but that it will also run fine even on non-touchscreen, current Windows 7 computers. Even the apps designed for touch in Windows 8 Microsoft said should be able to run fine with the traditional mouse and keyboard, and this includes features like that awesome new Start menu (though obviously we’ll need to test this claim out for ourselves to see just how well it runs).

And just to stress this point again. As with all things in technology, if you wait for next generation of computers designed for Windows 8 to come out they’ll probably run Windows 8 better than the PC you buy today– if you do need a new computer right now you don’t need to worry that it will be completely out of date and not be able to run this new Windows whenever Microsoft finally releases it.

Wrap Up

windows 8 photo viewer

The new touch friendly Windows 8 photo gallery

So, that’s pretty much it. Microsoft sadly didn’t go into greater detail on their new OS or share info about when it will come out– only promising that it won’t be this fall. Hopefully all these details will be revealed at Microsoft’s developer event in September (and don’t worry, we’ll have all  the info you’re gonna want to know right here).

We’ll of course keep you up to date on whatever new news Microsoft announces regarding Windows 8 in the meantime, but what do you think so far: you liking this new Windows 8 or is too much like the Windows’ of the past? If you’re looking for a new computer for back to school are you gonna go with a Windows 7 PC (and free Xbox 360), Mac with OS X Lion, or are you gonna try to make do with your current computer and wait it out for Windows 8? Let us know in the comments.