Introducing the Windows 8 Product Editions



Internally, the entry level Windows 8 version is actually called Windows 8 Core. This name makes a lot of sense to us, and is how Microsoft should market it, we think.


With Windows 8, Microsoft is offering just three mainstream product editions, though choosing among them is easier than it’s been since 2001. Two of the three versions, called Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, run on traditional PCs that utilize the same Intel/Intel‑compatible x86/x64 processor architecture that has provided the backbone of our PCs for decades. The third, called Windows RT, is being made available only with new PCs and tablets that run on the ARM processor architecture.

Aside from the underlying architecture, Windows 8 and Windows RT are roughly comparable, with some key differences we’ll note in a bit. That is, the feature sets are very similar. Windows 8 Pro is a superset of Windows 8, offering every single feature in Windows 8 plus several unique features.

And roughly speaking, Windows 8 is aimed at consumers–much like Windows XP Home was–and Windows 8 Pro is aimed at businesses and enthusiasts just like XP Professional was.

This makes picking a product somewhat easy, assuming you understand the differences between Intel‑compatible PCs and ARM‑based devices. (To more easily differentiate these platforms, we tend to refer to Intel‑compatible machines as PCs and ARM‑based machines as devices , though to be fair the differences are getting somewhat subtle. So your first choice is to pick a PC or a device.

If you’re upgrading or clean installing Windows 8 on an existing PC, you will be choosing between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. It’s that simple.

If you’re buying a new PC, that also means, generally, that you will choose between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. But if you’re buying a new tablet, you’ll need to choose among all three: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. And your choice will be limited by device type: Some models will only be available with an Intel‑compatible chipset–where you can choose between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro–and some will come only with an ARM chipset, where your only choice is Windows RT.

We’ll discuss some of these differences later in the chapter, but the big picture goes like this: Windows RT is a new, unproven product. It runs only on ARM‑based platforms that could enable thinner and lighter iPad‑like tablets that may get better battery life than Intel‑compatible products. (That tale has yet to be told.) Windows RT is roughly comparable to the base version of Windows 8, but is lacking one very critical feature: It is not compatible with any existing Windows applications or utilities. And it’s missing two interesting and potentially useful features, Windows Media Player and Storage Spaces. On the flip side, Windows RT offers a few unique features of its own: device encryption, and free, bundled versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These applications are based on Office 2013 and, like Windows RT, are branded with the RT name (for example, Word RT).

We mentioned that there were three mainstream Windows 8 editions. As it turns out, there are others. Microsoft is selling a version called, yep, Windows 8 Starter, in emerging markets only, so we can safely ignore that release. And a Windows 8 Enterprise edition is provided only to Microsoft’s corporate customers that sign up for a volume licensing program called Software Assurance. This version of Windows 8 is in fact quite interesting as it offers some additional and useful features that are now available in Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. But since you can’t actually acquire it normally, it’s also something we won’t be focusing on too much here.

To make the right choice, then, you’ll need to understand the individual differences between each mainstream Windows 8 version. And you’ll need to understand the pros and cons of the various hardware features you’ll find in Intel‑compatible PCs and ARM‑based devices.

First, we’ll discuss the software differences.



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