Windows 8 officially hit the market on Oct. 26. I haven't waivered in my recommendation that you use caution when considering an upgrade to such a drastically different operating system, but if you're eager to join the ranks of early adopters, here are some tips to smooth your transition to the next generation of Windows.
First, make sure your computer is compatible with and able to support Windows 8. It actually doesn't require many resources to run -- its streamlined nature helps it to boot up and run fast -- so if your system was built in the last six years or so you're probably good to go. The minimum requirements are: 1 GHz or faster processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of hard disk space, and a graphics card with Microsoft DirectX 9 and Windows Display Driver Model.
To check your computer's specifications, right-click on the My Computer icon and select Properties, or if you're running Windows 7, select Start, right-click Computer and select Properties. For information about additional requirements to support certain features, see Microsoft's Windows 8 system requirement page: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/system-requirements.
Next, head over to Microsoft's Compatibility Center (www.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/compatibility/win8) to confirm that your peripheral devices -- such as printers, monitor, mouse, cellphone, camera, etc. -- are compatible. Most devices that work with Windows 7 will work with Windows 8, but it's best to make sure before you upgrade.
Once you've determined that your system is ready for Windows 8, watch a few online walk-through videos to see the software in action. I'm not referring to the glossy, commercial-style videos produced by Windows and designed to sell you the product. I'm talking about videos like those posted on CNN's technology page or even those on YouTube (search "Windows 8 walkthrough") -- just prepare to weed through some atrocious amateur contributions.
This is the best way to get an idea of how drastically different Windows 8 will be. Keep in mind that it's designed to be used with a touch-screen device, so if you're planning to install it on a standard PC with a mouse and keyboard, make sure you peruse some video coverage of how it runs without touch capability.
Now it's time to hunt and gather all the installation disks, codes and/or drivers for your software and peripheral devices. Without a way to reinstall the software that supports your system's hardware and peripherals, you could be left without a working display or way to input commands should Windows 8 fail to recognize the drivers for your monitor or keyboard. Be prepared to reconfigure your modem and/or router to get back online.
If you don't have a handy keepsake box full of installation CDs (doesn't everyone?), look up your devices online and download a backup copy of the drivers before you upgrade, lest you be left without Internet access after installing Windows 8.
Are you still on board? Now do a complete backup of your data to another computer, an external hard disk or cloud-based storage account. While upgrading to Windows 8 shouldn't affect the programs and data stored on your system, performing such a major change always warrants backing up first.
Finally, prepare for the worst and make sure you're prepared to do a re-format of your hard disk in order to reinstall Windows 7. This will require a valid product ID (it can be found on the page where you found your system specifications) or Windows activation key -- for Windows XP it's often located on a sticker on the system itself.
Good luck on your new Windows adventure.
(Andrea Eldridge is CEO of Nerds on Call, a company based in Redding, Calif., that offers on-site computer and home theater set-up and repair. Contact her at www.callnerds.com/andrea.)