When you boot up Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, you might have no idea where to click first. The "Start" button is gone; in its place, dynamic multicolored tiles invite users to dive in through a number of entry points, from maps and calendars to videos and music. The desktop system was designed with touchscreen PCs and tablets in mind, so you can tap, flick, swipe and click. It's a sea change for our idea of the PC, which still works as a desktop tool, but now can do double duty as a POS terminal or presentation device.
All Work and All Play
Vizio All-In-One Touch PC ($1,539)
Sleek hardware with an expansive 27-inch multitouch display yields the most immersive Windows 8 experience imaginable, perfect for showrooms or customer interaction. With two HDMI inputs and an infrared remote control, it can also double as an HDTV. The speakers integrated into the base are a feat of engineering, but there's a catch: To skimp on heft, the power supply was built into an external subwoofer, which must remain connected in order to run the PC.
Microsoft Surface Windows RT ($699)
Designed to compete with net-books or bare-bones laptops, the Surface keeps pace on weight but adds work-minded features such as a microSDCX card slot, USB port and a kickstand to hold it upright. The 64 GB model comes with the Touch Cover, a keyboard/screen protector that adds the practicality of a laptop. Heads up: "RT" indicates a stunted version of Windows 8, meaning you can't run your old desktop software. But the device comes standard with Office 2013, which may be all you need.
Twist 'n' ShoutLenovo ThinkPad Twist Multitouch Ultrabook ($899)
At first it looks like any other laptop, but rotate the Twist's LED display and it turns into a tablet with full Windows 8 drag-and-swipe functionality. The 3.5-pound ultrabook, with its tiny TrackPoint mouse, is a perfect marriage of office workhorse and tablet fun.
Acer Aspire S7 ($1,649)
This 2.86-pound ultrabook gets the job done in high style, with key details like a self-adjusting backlit keyboard and a hinge engineered to withstand sustained touchscreen use. Expect to see creatives with S7s under their arms, since Apple hasn't yet merged the iPad's interface with a MacBook.
Windows 8: Should you upgrade?
Among the minimum requirements for running Windows 8, Microsoft lists a 1 GHz chip, 2 GB RAM, 20 GB of storage, 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, and a DirectX 9 graphics chip. But unless you have a PC that supports touchscreen input, you're going to miss out on the fun. Without it, upgrading is probably not worthwhile.