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Can Windows 8 really be something for everybody?

Windows 8 hopes to bridge the gap between mouse and touch in Microsoft's latest endeavour.

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Microsoft learned a hard lesson with Windows Vista: People won’t upgrade their machines just to properly run your operating system. A notorious system hog, Windows Vista flopped and pushed Microsoft to release Windows 7 less than three years after its predecessor. Indeed, Criticism of Windows Vista is its own, rather sizable Wikipedia page, and the OS ranks well behind XP and 7 on usage share.

In short, it’s not an experience Microsoft wants to relive, and following Wednesday’s first public glimpse of Microsoft’s next OS—codenamed “Windows 8”—company spokespeople are already making it known that their latest won’t be another system vampire. “We’ve extended the trend we started with Windows 7, of keeping our system requirements either flat or reducing them over time,” said Michael Angiulo, a company executive, on Thursday during a press event. “Windows 8 will be able to run on a wide range of machines because it will have the same system requirements or lower.”

So, speed won’t be an issue—or at least that seems to be the plan—but is Windows 8 really hardware-friendly? That depends, in part, on whether or not you want the full Windows 8 experience.

As you’ll see in the video below, the new OS looks nothing like any of its predecessors—and if you want to experience it that way, there are hardware requirements that go beyond system speed. The most obvious being touchscreen capabilities, though the new user interface can be operated with a mouse and keyboard. Angiulo also said that, optimally, Windows 8 should run on a 16:9 ratio screen with a minimum resolution of 1366×768. The ever-popular 1024×768 will still work with the new look, but low resolution screens, like those on netbooks, will only display standard desktop mode—basically a Windows 7-lookalike.

Which raises the question: Are people going to drop hard-earned cash on an OS if they can’t experience its most prominent bells and whistles? And can an OS really make equal sense for both mouse and touch? Apple may not have thought so; the iPad and Apple’s traditional computers employ very different operating systems.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t the possibility of a bridge-gapping OS. After all, Microsoft’s tile-based touchscreen style is its own beast, and it may translate across more media more effectively than anything Apple’s put out. In the end, Windows 8 could be a winner in a war of convergence. Or it could fail to bridge the gap, leaving one or both sides underwhelmed.