For those of you who don't know--or really don't want to know--your operating system (also called OS) is what is installed onto your computer so you run your programs. Every so often, the companies that make operating systems (Microsoft, Apple, Linux, etc.) release updates for their operating systems, and after a long enough while, they'll release a new one.
Now, thanks to this chart I found using Google, about 85% of the operating systems on computers, laptops, phones, and tablets, are using a Microsoft OS. If you just bought a laptop, you're probably using Windows 7. If you aren't really tech savvy and/or have had your computer for a while, you might be using Windows XP. If you're weird, you're probably using Vista. The last two operating systems, while still perfectly workable on your computers, is considered outdated, as such is the world of technology.
If you're going to buy a laptop or computer in the future, or feel the need to upgrade, Windows 8 is coming in October. Windows also just released a consumer preview if you want to try it out, before upgrading. However, many people won't want to risk their current OS on a consumer preview, and won't try it, so how will you know if it'll be worth it? Well, that's what the internet is for!
The Skinny On Windows 8
Microsoft has said that they "reimagined [Windows 8] from the chipset to the user expirence", as opposed to Windows 7, which some have seen as a mild improvement from Vista. The biggest change came in user interface design (also called UI), which has been dubbed as Metro UI, after the Windows Phone OS. Windows 8 allows for touchscreen capabilities, which is nice if you have one of those awesome all-in-one computers. (Seriously, go to the computer/laptop section in Best Buy and find the all-in-ones. They are so much fun to mess around with.)
Another big thing that's different is the Start Menu. You don't get a dedicated start menu button, as shown on my desktop, but rolling your mouse all of the way down to the lower left corner gives you the start button option. The start menu itself is very much designed after the Windows Phone UI design, optomized for touch screen capabilities.
Apps have been a mainstay on smartphones, and they make their way onto the computer/laptop world, for better or for worse. Don't worry: Microsoft has a Windows Store app, much like Apple's iTunes/App Store on their mobile devices. This will allow you to download free or paid apps. The general thought around the internet is that Windows will use actual dollar amounts as opposed to the archaic and confusing Microsoft Points system.
Windows 8 also has Snap, which is a way to click and drag apps in order to multitask. It's a great feature for those of you who have about 18 programs open at any one time (you know who you are).
Will My Computer Run Windows 8?
Chances are if you are running Windows 7 right now, you can run 8 with little to no problem. The part that would give you any type of problems is what kind of processor your computer has. In fact, Windows 8 has the same system requirements as Windows 7, so no worries!
*As with any upgrade, make sure your computer, laptop, or device meets the system requirements of the operating system before you choose to upgrade. If you do upgrade, make sure you have your old operating system backed up somehow in case your computer can't work the upgrade.
Will the Upgrade Be Worth It?
Many sources have tabbed that Windows 8 will cost around $40 in an attempt to compete with Mac OS X's Mountain Lion, priced at $20. That may seem like a good amount of money, but upgrading to Windows 7 costs $79 online, and buying a copy in a store like Best Buy or Staples will run up to $200, so this upgrade is in fact cost effective. If the past is any indicator, this upgrade should last you 3 to 4 years, so $40 over about 4 years is a good price spread.
All in all, I have used Windows 8 Consumer Preview for about a month now (including when I typed this!), and I am looking forward to October. Well, October besides the candy getting part and the weather cooling off part. It seems right now that Windows made a full-fledged OS worth cost to upgrade.