KELLNER: The last Windows operating system?

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Here’s a thought: Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system, available as a free “preview” now and due in stores this autumn, might be the last operating system to bear the Windows name.

Now, that’s total speculation on my part, but I’ve got a feeling about this. More on that in a moment.

So far, in very limited testing, Win8 works quite nicely and appears clearly designed for the tablet/smartphone generation. Indeed, Microsoft is boosting the new operating system, with its “tiled” interface, as ideal for tablet PCs that already run Windows. But there’s a lot of touchscreen desktop computers out there, and Win8 seems well suited for those machines, too.

You can look at Windows 8 - on screen, that is - in two ways. One is the traditional Windows desktop, the other those “tiles” for various icons representing services: mail, contacts, news, weather. Once you personalize these, the stylish icons are replaced with samples of the function. For news, you see headlines, and for weather you get, well, what’s happening outside. In my considered, expert opinion, it’s kind of neat.

The Win8 integrated version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Web browser, which I’m guessing is built on IE’s version 9, puts the address bar at the bottom of the screen and maximizes the viewing area of the actual website. I like that, and if this browser performs as well (and as quickly) as some others out there, such as Google Chrome, it could give the market a run for the money.

Of course, much has yet to be seen, both in my own testing and in how Win8 operates once it’s released. The challenge for every version of Windows - and this reviewer goes back to version 1.0, which I purchased in Massachusetts at the very first Staples store - is that there’s a huge variety of hardware to support. Drivers are tricky things, and while today’s Win8 won’t support your old IBM PC/XT (which is probably a doorstop or in a landfill anyway), there remains a massive number of products any version of Windows has to operate within the digital sandbox.

The same, of course, is far less true for Apple Inc.’s Macintosh platform. Those Macs built around Intel Corp. processors, by and large, are engineered so specifically that not only will they run the Mac OS perfectly, but many people - including several colleagues - just put Windows on their MacBook Air computers because they know they’ll have fewer problems than with a traditional, Windows-running PC.

Such an option may not be available to you, and as mentioned, Windows 8 will only run on tablet computers designed to run Windows, which of course cuts out the iPad. So what’s a user to do?

If you’re committed to the Windows platform, as are many users (and their enterprise IT departments), then now is the time to get ready for Windows 8. It might mean adding more RAM, cleaning up your hard drive, or even buying a new computer. Some computers on sale at the Microsoft Store in Tyson’s Corner, for example, are being offered with a $14.95 upgrade deal: Buy now and you’ll pay very little for Win8. (Most retail buyers will pay just less than $90, I believe, for the operating system.)

Again, though, this may be the “last” big Windows release. If we’re all retreating to the “cloud” for our applications and data, if we’re using tablets (and iPads) more and more, the need for a desktop/notebook operating system diminishes. It doesn’t totally go away - I can’t imagine running a nuclear power plant off a tablet computer just yet - but for many of us who call ourselves “knowledge workers,” the combo of a good tablet and a keyboard may do the trick.

And when that happens, whither the desktop operating system? Stay tuned, sports fans, stay tuned.

Mark A. Kellner can be reached at mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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