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Microsoft Names Windows 8 Editions, Unveils ARM-Based 'Windows RT'

Microsoft revealed the upcoming editions of Windows 8, both for x86/x64 machines and ARM devices, on Monday.

Microsoft also disclosed the one secret that no one has been asking about: the official name of Windows 8, which until now has just been a code name. Not surprisingly, Microsoft's newest flagship OS will still be known as Windows 8 when it is released.

Windows RT
Future Windows on ARM (WOA) users will have the simplest product choice. They will have just one edition called "Windows RT." It's named after the Windows Runtime (WinRT) in Windows 8, which has two user interfaces: a classic "desktop" and a "Metro-style" user interface optimized for touch. Those two interfaces also are seen on x86/x64 devices running Windows 8, which similarly has WinRT as its underlying framework.

The announcement of a single Windows RT edition is a little surprising because it was thought that WOA would be limited to specific hardware issued by chipmakers such as Nvidia, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments. Possibly, there may be performance differences between WOA machines because the WOA OS is specific to the hardware and different form factors. However, those buying Windows RT-based devices can only get the Windows 8 OS with the device, as boxed editions of the Windows RT OS won't be available. It's not clear if those WOA devices could be upgraded to the next Windows or whether Microsoft is expecting WOA users to buy a new device each time, like the cell phone model.

Microsoft sweetened the Windows 8 RT offerings by including a Metro-style Microsoft Office suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). The Office suite is provided to WOA users at no extra charge, according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Apparently, this version of Office will not be limited in any way. For instance, it won't be another instance of today's Office Web Apps, which lack a lot of the suite's features and functionality.

Windows 8, Pro and Enterprise Editions
For x86/x64-based devices, Windows 8 will be available in three editions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and an Enterprise edition. Businesses may be more likely to use the Pro version. It includes features such as Hyper-V on the client, BitLocker drive encryption, file system encryption, the ability to boot from a virtual hard disk, Remote Desktop, domain joins and Group Policy. Those features are all lacking in the basic Windows 8 edition. The Enterprise edition includes the same features as the Windows 8 Pro version but it requires establishing a Software Assurance licensing with Microsoft.

"Windows 8 Enterprise includes all the features of Windows 8 Pro plus features for IT organization that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more," according to Microsoft's announcement, which provides a table outlining all of the Windows 8 features and editions.

Users of x86/x64 systems and Windows 7 can upgrade to Windows 8. However, only Windows 7 Professional and Windows 7 Ultimate licensees can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro. There's no upgrade option to Windows RT, which is the first of its kind on ARM hardware.

Windows 8 RT lacks all of the advanced Windows 8 Pro features described above that businesses may want. Also lacking in Windows 8 RT is "storage spaces," a feature that helps extend drive space and broaden storage options. Windows 8 RT doesn't have Windows Media Player, for some reason. Users of Windows 8 RT also cannot install x86/x64 software on their devices. If support of legacy software is important, the better choice is to use Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro on x86/x64 hardware, as explained in February by Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows and Windows Live Division.  

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About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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