Microsoft Reveals Its Windows 8 Hand: Four Of A Kind

Microsoft will offer Windows 8 in four editions with versions tailored for consumers, business professionals and enterprises, and an edition for tablets and PCs running ARM processors.

The relatively limited number of editions is in contrast to earlier Windows releases: Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 were offered in six editions when they debuted.

"We have worked to make it easier for customers to know what edition will work best for them when they purchase a new Windows 8 PC or upgrade their existing PC," wrote Brandon LeBlanc, a Microsoft communications manager who runs the company's Windows blog, in a posting late Monday. "All editions of Windows 8 offer a no-compromise experience."

Related: Windows 8 Beta: The Good, The Bad, And The Confusing

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Windows 8 is widely expected to be available by the end of this year, possibly as early as October, although Microsoft has not disclosed a target date for its release.

The Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro editions are built for PCs and tablets based on x86 (32- and 64-bit) processors, LeBlanc said. Both will offer a long list of features and applications including the upcoming Internet Explorer 10, Windows Media Player, Windows Defender, SmartScreen, enhanced Task Manager, updated Windows Explorer, Storage Spaces, mobile broadband features, Exchange ActiveSync and the ability the switch languages on the fly.

Windows 8 will be geared toward consumers while Windows 8 Pro is designed for business and technical professionals and "tech enthusiasts," LeBlanc said. The Pro edition includes some features not offered in the base Windows 8 edition including BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, the Client Hyper-V, an encrypting file system and remote desktop hosting capability.

Microsoft also will offer Windows 8 Enterprise, an edition of the software for customers with Software Assurance agreements. The Enterprise edition consists of Windows 8 Pro packaged with tools for PC management and deployment, advanced security technology, virtualization capabilities and additional mobility scenarios, among others.

Windows RT, which Microsoft has referred to until now as "Windows on ARM" or WOA, is the edition being developed specifically to run on tablets and PCs built on the power-efficient ARM microprocessor architecture. Microsoft is known to be working with Texas Instruments, Nvidia and Qualcomm to support their ARM processors.

A key element of Windows RT is its WinRT (for runtime) programming model for developing applications that work with Windows 8's Metro-style user interface.

While there is a great deal of overlap between the features and capabilities of Windows 8/Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT, there are some significant differences. As previously announced, the ARM edition of Windows will come bundled with a copy of Windows Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote). Also exclusive to Windows RT will be device encryption capabilities.

But Windows RT won't offer Windows Media Player or Storage Spaces. And like Windows 8, it won't have some of the technologies such as Client Hyper-V and BitLocker included in Windows 8 Pro.

NEXT: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down On Editions

Comments on the Windows blog about Microsoft's plans were mixed. Some praised the relatively few numbers of editions.

"This is great- it's [operating] off a previous strategy that worked for Windows XP with two versions (ignoring the tablet specialized version) and it'll avoid fragmentation. If metro is polished well, this'll be a huge release and a step in the more mobile, connected direction," wrote Joel Braun.

"I love the new naming conventions and new strategy with Windows. Having 2 versions is a great step in the right direction Microsoft. I don't really like Metro in Windows 8, but I'm still excited that you've changed it from Home Basic, Premium, Pro, Ultimate," said cjschris.

"I'm just thrilled to death to know that you've finally ended the complete NONSENSE of Home/Basic/Premium/Ultimate/Professional/Enterprise/Blah/Yakety/Schmackety/etc. Thank you, thank you, thank you!," said GoodThings2L.

But a number of commenters weren't thrilled with the Windows RT name.

"Windows RT should be renamed 'Windows 8 for Tablets' or something similar. Windows RT is not consumer friendly. Non-tech savvy consumers will be confused by this," wrote mnl1121.

"Windows 8 RT? I can imagine walking into Best Buy or other places, here are the Android tablets, here is the iPad and here are the Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT devices....HUH? Whats the difference John Q Public will say...," said a post from Darrenwbaker.

Others zeroed in on the features in each edition.

"What, no Windows Media Player on Windows RT?? Having a desktop media player is not important?? Deal breaker," wrote xpclient.