The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (beta) has been out for a couple days now, and speculation is running rampant as to whether or not consumers will consider Windows 8 a success, or just a second coming of the PR failure that was Windows Vista.

Personally, I’m a long-time Windows user with a long history of early adoptions, disappointments, and through all of this have remained an optimist. With Windows 8, I’m still on the fence. While the beta gives us a good idea of what the final product might look like, one can only hope a lot changes take place between now and then.

The biggest question facing Microsoft and its users is whether or not Windows 8 will be something consumers will accept. That’s the most important factor to consider, after all. If only a few people upgrade to Windows 8, developers will have little reason to build apps for the Metro UI. Computer manufacturers may, as with Windows Vista, continue to request licenses for Windows 7. However, if Windows 8 is a smashing success, it could have major implications for the world of technology as a whole. For the first time, a desktop interface would be consistent across desktops, tablets (modern definition), and even smartphones.

The Consumer Preview

The app previews, including the Mail app, are buggy at best. It takes some getting used to going to the right of the screen instead of the top to access a menu. This change in processes is jarring for me, and would undoubtedly be the same for “normal” users that have enough trouble operating within the current Windows environment.

Windows 8 features a lot of changes. If there is one thing the general consumer market responds unpredictably to it’s change. Either they embrace it as a revolutionary new way of doing things or see it as a disappointing disgrace. The question facing Microsoft (and any software development house working on their next big release) is how to accurately gauge the potential popularity of these changes.

Contrary to the very nature of a beta preview, many early adopters are forming their opinions of Windows 8 based on the performance and details present in the consumer preview. For some, that means expressing your likes, dislikes, and moving back to whatever platform it is you used originally.

While it may not be advisable to base your entire opinion of an operating system that may not be ready for prime time for months, or even a year from now, people can and will do so. Right now, there are conversations taking place in IT departments, on blogs, and in social forums right now as to whether or not Windows 8 will be a flop. This very article is an example of that, and the public consensus is being built as we speak.

Whether consumers will or will not flock to Windows 8 depends greatly on this public perception. After all, if you hear from someone that heard from someone that read on a blog somewhere that an OS you’ve never used yourself was bad, you might begin to believe it. I know I heard more than a few people scream about what a miserable failure Windows Vista was before they even used it. Granted, it wasn’t Microsoft’s best work, obviously.

What about Windows Phone 7? That’s a fairly good mobile OS, but it will never compete with iOS or Android on the level it could if the public perception of the Microsoft brand wasn’t tainted by bad publicity. This publicity that itself is a double-edged sword. This is one reason why Windows 7 was considered a success. The public beta presented a completed OS that had very few tweaks needed prior to going live. Windows 8 depends on third-party apps to fill its new store model, and those just aren’t coming as fast as beta users would hope. Don’t worry, they’ll be there soon enough.

Windows 7 Was Good, So Windows 8 Must be Bad

John C. Dvorak of recently published his take on the situation, citing that the public perception that every other version of Windows is terrible may hinder the acceptance of the update. This perception is becoming a meme in its own sorts, with countless mockups of various Windows releases set against rotating good and bad labels. But is this the truth?

But is this the truth? Windows 2000 was no slouch, and while Windows ME was seen as a widespread goof, the two were released within months of each other. One, based on NT while the other relied on the older DOS platform. In a sense, they were very different.

Windows 2000 paved the way to Windows XP, which was also considered to be a major success for Microsoft.

What does Windows ME, Vista, and other side projects including Microsoft Bob have in common? They were all introduced with major changes to the user experience. Vista took high points of the aging Windows XP interface and added a wide range of tools, not all of which were compatible to older hardware and software. This created a jarring experience for the user, and a frustrating one for anyone that relied on older technology to get work done.

Windows 7 was considered a good release by many due to its smaller resource footprint, smoother interface, and more minimalistic approach to getting things done. Where Vista overcomplicated things, Windows 7 simplified them. It also didn’t hurt that Microsoft offered an open beta that allowed anyone and everyone the opportunity to run it for free for a year prior to the release. Things like that matter, and that was arguably one of the biggest advantages Windows 7 had out of the gate.

Can Windows 8 Exceed Expectations?

The Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been out for a few days, and the new factor is wearing off for some (including myself). The hard truth facing consumers moving forward is that we don’t know exactly what the release candidates, or gold master will be like. We can only guess based on what’s presently been released. So far, the reviews are mixed.

There are points about Windows 8 that I absolutely love, and points that I can’t stand. Major changes such as putting the menus on the right side of the screen rather than on top will be a jarring change for many home users, and one can only hope that Microsoft finds a way to mitigate this difference.

Perhaps having two versions of Windows 8 available. One provides a user experience that largely resembles the Windows we know and love, with the Start page appearing only when specifically called. The other, perhaps more geared towards touch interfaces and tablets, would offer the full potential of the Metro UI. For now, we can only hope that Microsoft responds to the feedback given through the beta test. For better or for worse, change is coming to the Windows platform.

If Microsoft pays attention to users of the Consumer Preview, and makes public acknowledgements of this feedback, it has a chance. In the end, the business of technology is greatly dependent on good marketing and great word-of-mouth. If Windows 8 is to change its stars, it needs a lot of both.

Perhaps John C. Dvorak is absolutely right when he said, “It’s inevitable since Windows 7 was considered a decent operating system–Windows 8 is going to be called crap, whether it is or not.”

What do you think? Will Windows 8 be a flop or a success based on information currently available?