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Microsoft's Windows 8: Why I Changed My Mind

Stocks in this article: MSFT AAPL GOOG

Still, using Windows 8 on a purpose-built touch screen is not necessarily enough to make the operating system a success. Even if that 1% touch-screen experience is as smooth as can be, it comes with a learning curve. The absence of a start button in particular means that you have to figure out basic menu navigation. Learning this may take some people five minutes or less, but for others it could require up to 25 minutes.

Either way, you will be a completely lost and unhappy customer if you don't have someone show you these basic commands.

There is good news and bad news in this. First, the good news:

Once you have taken the time to learn these basic commands and gestures, I think almost all customers will find that Windows 8 works very well and is a solid improvement over Windows 7. In other words, the learning curve may be steep, but at least it's measured in minutes, not hours.

The bad news: I can see many people buying Windows 8, not investing a few minutes in having someone in the store showing these new basic interface concepts, and then trying to use it "cold" at home. In that case, initial user reaction may be very negative, causing a major black eye for Microsoft, as well as returned equipment to stores. If this becomes "the story," then Microsoft may be doomed. This was my fear before Oct. 25.

To wit, the all-too-few Microsoft stores are selling only touch-screen PCs now. However, when I walked into Best Buy (BBY), Fry's and the Sony (SNE) Store, there were many non-touch-screen Windows 8 PCs. Microsoft has it right, and the people who buy non-touch-screen PCs from these other retailers may cause Microsoft a fatal problem.

There is other good news with Windows 8: It's not all about the interface and the touch screen. It's also about security and manageability. Antivirus software is now built in, and wiping/restoring your PC now takes a few minutes instead of perhaps hours. The synchronization across devices and SkyDrive are now as "normal/integrated" as they are for the Google (GOOG) and Apple ecosystems.

But this is for "regular" Windows 8. not Windows 8 RT.

At least in the near term, Windows 8 RT, including Microsoft's own hardware (the Surface tablet) is a relative sideshow as far as I am concerned. Windows RT cannot run Microsoft Outlook or any traditional PC software such as the Chrome browser or iTunes. This can change over time, but the situation for a buyer today -- and perhaps for many months to come -- is bleak.

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