Regardless of any other streamlining it might offer, Microsoft has already taken a big step toward simplifying Windows 8. On Monday, the software giant announced that there will only be three editions of 8 for x86 computers, plus one for ARM devices.
On the Windows official blog, Communications Manager Brandon LeBlanc wrote that the company's efforts to re-imagine Windows now includes reconceiving how many editions are enough. For x86, the editions are called Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows 8 Enterprise, plus there's Windows RT for ARM devices. This is major shrinkage on the edition front, considering that Windows 7, continuing a Microsoft tradition, had six full editions -- Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate.
Easier to Pick the Right Edition
LeBlanc wrote that Microsoft has worked to make it easier for customers to know "what edition will work best for them when they purchase a new Windows PC or upgrade their existing PC."
The new features in the x86 versions, available in 32- and 64-bit versions, include an updated Windows Explorer, Task Manager, better multi-monitor support, and the ability to switch languages on the fly, all of which were only available previously in the Enterprise/Ultimate editions.
Windows 8 Pro is intended for tech enthusiasts and business/technical professionals. It includes the Windows 8 features, plus encryption, virtualization, PC management, and domain connectivity, as well as a media pack add-on with Windows Media Center.
Windows RT will only be available pre-installed on devices using ARM processors, and LeBlanc said it's designed to support lightweight form factors with "impressive battery life." RT will include touch-optimized versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote applications.
Microsoft 'Improving with Age'
Windows 8, Pro, and RT also all offer connected standby, Windows Defender, Exchange ActiveSync, picture password, a Remote Desktop client, and a VPN client. All the versions also have a start screen, semantic zoom, live tiles, access to Windows Store, IE 10, and such apps as Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Music, Video, and Reader. RT also has device encryption.
Windows 8 Enterprise has everything in Pro, plus PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, and other features designed for IT organizations.
For upgrades, Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium upgrade to 8 or Pro, and Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate upgrade to Pro.
Some observers have noted that the previous Consumer Preview of Windows 8 had included 9 SKUs in the registry files, suggesting that the company had been intending to release a whopping nine editions.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said that "Microsoft is improving with age." She noted that the reduced number of editions "signals that they realize it has to be streamlined and simple," adding that customers want a clear answer to the question of "which edition is right for me?"