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Microsoft reveals three versions of Windows 8, including ARM-based Windows RT

Microsoft announced  the name of it’s latest operating system yesterday and it’s officially called, “Windows 8.” No surprise there. But what is a bit of a shocker: Microsoft is offering three versions of the upcoming OS.

The first is simply called “Windows 8,” which will suit the common consumer, while “Windows 8 Pro” is aimed at the business market. Its third, ARM-friendly version, officially named “Windows RT,” will come exclusively pre-installed in Windows on ARM devices (or WOA for short).

For users who are looking toward upgrading to the latest OS for personal use, Windows 8 will be the OS of choice. Included in the package will be Internet Explorer 10, picture password (only for touchscreen devices), an updated Windows Explorer, and a slew of other features. According to the official announcement, Microsoft is particularly proud of its updated interface for swapping between foreign languages. Such updates easily suit Microsoft’s Metro philosophy, which advocates for an intuitive user interface.

At the next level up, Microsoft’s Windows 8 Pro will encapsulate all of Windows 8’s features plus business-specific features that includes a file encryption system, group policy, remote desktop (host), BitLocker and others.

Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro will be made available for both 32 and 64 bit devices. 

Windows RT is the official namesake for Windows on ARM devices (WOA), which will only be found on touchscreen devices, including tablets and some PCs. The reaction to the announcement of the official name for its ARM-specific operating system has been overwhelmingly negative, and fueled by the confusion surrounding the acronym, “RT.” Although Microsoft has sought to simplify its branding strategy with appropriate names, we’ve arguably found “RT” to be an outlier. On the other hand, Microsoft’s strategy is understandable, given that the acronym is purported to stand for “Run Time,” and Windows RT is Microsoft’s Windows 8 cousin for touchscreen devices. In fact, the Windows RT operating system, despite it sporting similar features, is not a copy of Windows 8. It shares much of its code and features, but is actually a separate operating system altogether that will allow ARM-based devices to conserve battery power.

Windows RT will not be sold as an upgrade or software, but instead will come factory installed in devices with ARM processors designed by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and Nvidia. Included in the pre-installed package will be a touchscreen optimized version of Microsoft Office, which includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. Microsoft has not confirmed on what version of Office RT users can expect.

Microsoft’s hardware and software strategy is quite reminiscent of Apple’s claim to fame: control. For example, the RT operating system will be strictly limited to WOA PCs built exclusively for Microsoft, and Windows apps will only be made available only through its Windows Store. But more importantly, Microsoft has created a cross-platform user experience that translates seamlessly from one Windows 8 machine to another (and maybe even better than Apple’s own operating systems). As Steve Sinofsky of Microsoft explained in a blog post back in Feburary, “Using WOA ‘out of the box’ will feel just like using Windows 8 on x86/64. It will have the same fast and fluid experience. In other words, we’ve designed WOA to look and feel just like you would expect.”

Let us know about your thoughts on Microsoft’s Windows 8 and RT below.

Feature name

Windows 8 Windows 8 Pro Windows RT
Upgrades from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium x x  
Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate   x  
Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles x x x
Windows Store x x x
Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, Video) x x x
Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)     x
Internet Explorer 10 x x x
Device encryption     x
Connected standby x x x
Microsoft account x x x
Desktop x x x
Installation of x86/64 and desktop software x x  
Updated Windows Explorer x x x
Windows Defender x x x
SmartScreen x x x
Windows Update x x x
Enhanced Task Manager x x x
Switch languages on the fly (Language Packs) x x x
Better multiple monitor support x x x
Storage Spaces x x  
Windows Media Player x x  
Exchange ActiveSync x x x
File history x x x
ISO / VHD mount x x x
Mobile broadband features x x x
Picture password x x x
Play To x x x
Remote Desktop (client) x x x
Reset and refresh your PC x x x
Snap x x x
Touch and Thumb keyboard x x x
Trusted boot x x x
VPN client x x x
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go   x  
Boot from VHD   x  
Client Hyper-V   x  
Domain Join   x  
Encrypting File System   x  
Group Policy   x  
Remote Desktop (host)   x