Microsoft has announced the main Windows 8 product line-up. There will be two retail editions for Intel-compatible processors (both 32- and 64-bit), Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro; a third edition for ARM processors, Windows RT; an enterprise edition, Windows 8 Enterprise, for volume license customers; and finally, some number of local-language-only versions for China and other selected emerging markets.
The blog post containing the announcement tabulates the major differences between the three main consumer editions—Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. Windows 8 is positioned as the replacement for Windows 7 Basic and Home Premium. Windows 8 Pro is viewed as the replacement for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate. Windows RT will be exclusively available as a pre-install on ARM hardware, with no direct retail availability.
Windows 8 and Windows RT have broadly matching feature-sets. As previously announced, Windows RT adds Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as built-in features and includes full-device encryption, which Windows 8 lacks. Conversely, Windows 8 includes support for existing x86 and x64 applications (naturally), Storage Spaces, and Windows Media Player.
Windows 8 Pro builds on Windows 8 to include support for BitLocker, domain membership, Hyper-V virtualization, Group Policy support, and certain other high-end features. No edition of Windows 8 will ship with Windows Media Center. It will, however, be available as an “economical” add-on to Windows 8 Pro.
Windows 8 Enterprise extends Windows 8 Pro to include various unspecified features to aid PC management, more complex security and virtualization scenarios, and “much more.”
We’ve asked Microsoft how the feature-set of the emerging market editions will compare, but the company has no comment at this time; it’s likely to serve as the replacement for Windows 7 Starter, and perhaps to a lesser extent Windows 7 Home Basic.
The new line-up is simpler than the Windows 7 line-up. While most consumers were never even offered the full range of Windows 7 options, the smaller set of SKUs should make purchasing simpler. One of the concerns often raised since the announcement of Windows on ARM processors is how Microsoft would inform consumers that this edition wouldn’t support existing x86 and x64 software. The decision to brand the ARM edition as something other than Windows 8 appears to be Microsoft’s answer to this conundrum. Whether “Windows RT” is sufficiently different from “Windows 8” in order to really set user expectations appropriately remains to be seen.