Which Windows 8 Version Is For You?

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windows 8 versionsWe’ve already covered how to get Windows 8 for just $40 — or $15 if you’ve just purchased a new PC. But if you’re interested in upgrading, you’ll also need to know which Windows 8 version is right for you. The good news is that Microsoft has simplified the different editions of Windows in Windows 8 – gone are the Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate editions. The list of available Windows 8 editions is actually fairly short. If you’re new to Windows 8, don’t forget to check out our Windows 8 guide.

There are only four editions of Windows 8 – three editions for most home users. If you ignore the edition designed specifically for ARM tablets, there are only two PC editions of Windows 8 to choose from – much simpler than the confusing amount of editions offered with past versions of Windows.

Windows RT vs. Windows 8

Windows RT is the most confusing edition of Windows 8. We’ve covered this before – in short, Windows RT is a special version of Windows 8 for ARM computers, particularly tablets. Windows RT won’t run your existing software – if you buy a Windows RT tablet, you’ll have to use Metro applications. There’s a desktop, but it will only run Microsoft applications such as Microsoft Office – Microsoft won’t allow third parties to write applications for the Windows RT desktop.

Windows RT’s name is a bit odd – it isn’t even called Windows 8, it’s technically just “Windows RT.” It was named after Windows Runtime (WinRT), which is the new development platform used for Metro-style apps. However, both Windows RT and Windows 8 can run WinRT apps.

This is all quite confusing, but you don’t really have to worry about it too much. It’s impossible to buy a boxed copy of Windows RT – Windows RT is only available preinstalled on ARM tablets. If you’re buying a tablet, be sure to check whether it runs Windows 8 or Windows RT – the first version of Microsoft’s Surface tablet will run Windows RT, so you can’t use it to run your favorite Windows desktop software. Surface Pro, which will be released several months after the initial Surface tablet, will run Windows 8 Pro instead of Windows RT.

windows 8 versions

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To learn more about the difference between Windows RT for ARM computers and Windows 8 for Intel x86 computers, read this article: What’s The Difference Between Windows 8 & Windows RT? [MakeUseOf Explains]

Windows 8 Editions

With Windows RT out of the way, Windows 8’s editions are actually pretty simple. There are three primary editions:

  • Windows 8 – This is the main edition of Windows 8, which is targeted at home users. It’s most similar to the “Home Premium” edition of Windows 7. With Windows 8, you get all the features you’d expect – the Windows desktop with support for traditional Windows desktop programs, the new environment formerly known as Metro, and other features designed for home users. Most people will be happy with this edition of Windows 8.
  • Windows 8 Pro – The Pro version is targeted at businesses and enthusiasts. It includes the kind of features traditionally included in professional editions of Windows: group policy support, remote desktop server capabilities, Windows domain support, encrypting file system, virtual hard disk booting, and BitLocker. There’s one feature that might interest some of you here, though – you can only use Windows Media Center on Windows 8 Pro. It’s available as a free add-in, but only for the Pro version of Windows 8.
  • Windows 8 Enterprise – This is the traditional enterprise edition of Windows, available to organizations with volume licenses. It includes all of Windows 8 Pro’s features (aside from support for Windows Media Center) and a few other ones, such as Windows To Go, which can install Windows 8 on a USB stick. The USB stick can be connected to any computer and Windows 8 can be run directly from the USB stick.

windows 8 versions list

There are also some N editions (such as “Windows 8 N Edition”). These versions ship without Windows Media Player and are designed for the European market, where Microsoft was forced to offer them by the European Commission.

If you buy the basic edition of Windows 8 (which most computers will come with) and decide you want the Pro edition later, no problem – you can use the Add Features to Windows 8 control panel (known as “Windows Anytime Upgrade” in previous versions of Windows) to purchase the Windows 8 Pro Pack, which upgrades your Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro.

The Short Version

Here’s all you really need to know:

  • If you’re buying a boxed copy (or digital download) of Windows 8, there are only two versions you need to worry about – Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Windows 8 is designed for home users, while Pro offers features more useful for businesses and enthusiasts. However, if you want Windows Media Center, you’ll need the Pro version.
  • If you’re buying a tablet with Windows 8 preinstalled, check its edition – if it contains Windows RT, you won’t be able to run Windows desktop apps (aside from Microsoft Office and other Microsoft apps). In the future, some laptops and other types of computers may also use the ARM architecture and may ship with Windows RT, without support for Windows desktop apps.

windows 8 versions

There’s some other good news if you’re building your own computer – Microsoft has removed the (generally ignored) restriction on using OEM versions of Windows for your own computer. Previously, although many stores sold OEM versions, you weren’t supposed to install them on your own computer, even if you built the computer yourself. The license stated that a computer with an OEM version installed must be sold to someone else or you were running a “non-genuine” Windows 8 version and might as well have pirated your copy of Windows. This restriction has now been removed, so feel free to buy an OEM version if you’re building your own computer. However, OEM versions are still tied to a single computer – if you build a new computer, you’ll need a new OEM copy of Windows 8 for it.

Which version of Windows 8 are you planning on purchasing? Leave a comment and let us know!

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