The Different Versions of Windows 8
Microsoft aims for a simpler approach to computing with Windows 8, and that simpler approach applies to the versions of Windows 8 you’ll see released later this year. When buying a new computer or upgrading, you’ll choose between four versions of Windows 8.
If you’re buying a new computer or tablet for your home, you’ll probably be choosing between the first two: Windows RT or Windows 8.
Designed to compete with the iPad and other popular tablets, Windows RT relies on the Start screen and its family of apps. Windows RT comes pre-installed on tablets or laptops; you can’t buy it separately, and you can’t move it from one device to another. Microsoft’s new Surface tablet will run Windows RT when released earlier this year.
You add new apps to Windows RT by downloading them from the Windows Store app, which serves as Microsoft’s storefront for distributing both free and paid apps.
Like all versions of Windows 8, Windows RT includes a desktop, but that desktop can only run what’s bundled with Windows RT: Windows File Manager, the Control Panel, and a few other Windows utilities. You can’t install traditional programs on the Windows RT desktop; instead, you’re relying solely on apps.
To make Windows RT more attractive, Microsoft tosses in a big perk: free app versions of its popular Microsoft Office suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
Although Windows RT lacks the power to run the full desktop, that lack of power brings the longest battery life of any version of Windows 8.
Since the Windows 8 Start screen works best with touchscreens, expect to see Windows RT bundled mostly on touchscreen tablets and touchscreen laptops.
Some tablets and desktop computers aimed at home shoppers will come with Windows 8. More powerful than Windows RT, Windows 8 includes the Start screen and its apps, as well as a fully-functional desktop. It doesn’t include the Microsoft Office apps tossed in with Windows RT; you can either buy the Office apps separately, or buy the full version of Microsoft Office to run on the desktop.
Microsoft is pitching Windows 8 on a tablet as providing the best of both worlds: You can run the Start screen and its apps while away from your desk; when work calls, you can load the desktop and its traditional Windows programs.
The tradeoff? The power required by the desktop means the batteries won’t last as long as they would on a Windows RT computer.
Windows 8 Pro
Aimed at small businesses and home enthusiasts who want everything, Windows 8 Pro includes everything found in Windows 8, as well as advanced features like the Remote Desktop, encryption, virtual hard drives, and other feature rarely used by home users. (Microsoft’s second version of its Surface tablet, expected in 2013, will run Windows 8 Pro.)
No version of Windows 8 can play DVDs. Because DVD drives are disappearing from tablets and many ultra-thin laptops, that’s little surprise. Owners of Windows RT and Windows 8 can buy apps that offer DVD playback, however, should they need it.
Microsoft gives another DVD option to Windows 8 Pro owners: They can upgrade to a Media Pack. Rumored to cost $15, the Media Pack adds DVD playback, as well as a copy of Media Center: a Windows XP-era program that can record and playback TV shows when hooked up to a TV tuner.
Windows 8 Enterprise
Sold only by license to large businesses, Windows 8 Enterprise offers extra networking features to help technicians run large networks. Windows 8 Enterprise is mostly Windows 8 Pro with a few technical programs, but Microsoft’s licensing program gives businesses a bulk buy discount.
Note: At the time of this writing, Microsoft hadn’t yet completed Windows 8. Some of these details could change when Microsoft releases Windows 8 later this year.