The technorati were wide-eyed when Microsoft pulled the curtains off a preview edition of Windows 8 earlier this year. The next evolution of the legendary desktop platform, set to go on sale Friday, gives the dusty old Windows model a colorful, touch-centric facelift to unify the operating system on desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. The new user interface is highlighted by a Live Tiles option, which takes its cues from the customizable, blocky slides used on Windows Phones. But Microsoft is careful not to completely alienate Windows purists: When users launch an older app or tap on a Desktop tile, the interface switches back to something more akin to Windows 7 again, "and the desktop mode will feel a lot more familiar," says Tom Warren at The Verge

This approach is incredibly risky. If you use Windows 8 on a desktop PC with a keyboard and mouse, it can feel awkward at times, frustrating at others, and confusing. If you get past the initial training required it starts to make a lot of sense, but the risk of alienating users and creating another Vista-like perception catastrophe is great.... [On the plus side,] picking up a tablet PC with Windows 8 makes an iPad feel immediately out of date.

It's the most radically redesigned interface since Windows 95, says Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle. "In fact, it's even more of a departure, because at least Win95's desktop sought to retain many of the concepts and features found in Windows 3.1's Program Manager." You can tell Windows 8's split-personalities aren't created equal, especially when you use the OS on a slab like the Surface:

I really like this new interface, particularly on a tablet. If you can stay on this side of the Windows 8 experience, it's a pleasant place to be. It's when you switch between the new and old worlds that things begin to break down.

Indeed. For early adopters, the software is a "fresh, bold reinvention of the operating system," says Nick Wingfield at The New York Times. For detractors, however, Windows 8 is "renovation gone wrong, one that will needlessly force people to relearn how they use a device every bit as common as a microwave oven." 

Which brings us back to the central question: As a regular Windows user, should I upgrade? Well, it's relatively cheap and a lot faster than any previous version of Windows, says Vincent Chang at CNET. And when it comes down to it, "you don't really need to use the Metro-style interface in Windows 8" if you don't want to:

Windows 8 [doesn't] really require the Metro-style interface or a touch-capable computer, [but] there are benefits from embracing the change, such as the ability to sync all your settings and contacts on multiple PCs using a Microsoft account. So even if you're unsure about Windows 8, try it out and come to your own conclusion.