I totally agree. It borders on criminal to purposely install Windows XP on any computer currently. Any IT person making that recommendation should be immediately fired.
I personally would not recommend Windows 7. Despite any misgivings you may have with Windows 8, it is superior to Windows 7 in every respect, and even though you may or may not initially like the interface, I recommend sticking with it, as it will grow on you.
If you can actually immerse yourself in Windows 8, especially with its OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) features, you will eventually feel the vast integration and master plan that all the other operating systems lack. This becomes even more pronounced if you have more than one Windows 8 computer and/or tablet. And upgrading to a new computer becomes almost too easy.