On Oct. 26, your IT department will have its hands full. In many ways, when Windows 8 arrives, the technological transformation will be far greater than it was when smartphones became popular or when people started showing up at the office with iPads. The reason is that for most companies, Windows is the only operating system running the critical productivity applications on a significant percentage of the computers companywide.
When Microsoft ships Windows 8, the OS will be available on computers that you buy from your suppliers, whether they're desktop or laptop machines. Windows 8, or its close cousin Windows RT, will also show up on tablets, Ultrabooks and in a revised version smartphones. It will be everywhere.
While Windows 8 doesn't have anything new in the way of hardware requirements, the same isn't true about the way it works. While there are exceptions, you can install Windows 8 on anything that will run Windows 7. On older machines you may find that Windows 8 is actually faster than earlier versions of Windows. In addition, the tiled user interface formerly known as "Metro," while easy to use and intuitive isn't your only choice. There's also a traditional Windows desktop that will appear with the click of a mouse or a fast key combination that looks a lot like what you had on Windows 7.
The first step in getting ready for Windows 8 is to learn how to use it. You can do this by downloading the pre-release version from the Microsoft site or you can get the newly released Enterprise edition. Both are free. The Enterprise edition provides a 90-day evaluation period. The preview version will stop working sometime after the commercial release on Oct. 26.
You can approach your evaluation in one of a few ways. The easy way is to get a new computer that's running Windows 7 and upgrade it. The more difficult, but perhaps more relevant way is to upgrade a computer that has the necessary hardware specs, but that has been in use for a while. Either way you will need to know whether the target computer is running a 32- or 64-bit version of Windows.
When you go to the Microsoft download sites you'll be faced with the choice of which version to download. What you get is an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) image that you'll need to save to a DVD. The time necessary to download the software and create the DVD varies according to your Internet connection and the speed of your computer. For me, it was about 20 minutes.
The next thing you need to do is make sure there's enough space on the target machine's hard drive for the installation. Note that you will need a product key, which is on the same page as the download links. Once initiated, the installation is non-dramatic, and could be fast. Again, that depends on your computer.