Windows 8 will ship in two fewer versions than Windows 7 did, as Microsoft looks to streamline its OS offerings.
Microsoft has for the first time revealed specifics about Windows 8 versions and features, confirming that the operating system will come in three, traditional desktop editions and a version built specifically for tablets that run chips based on ARM's reference design.
"We have talked about Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, from the chipset to the user experience," said Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc, in a blog post Monday. "This also applies to the editions available."
The Windows 8 lineup is more streamlined than Microsoft's Windows 7 offerings, given the four editions--Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise, and Windows 8 RT. The latter is Microsoft's official name for Windows On ARM, which will run on tablet chips manufactured by Qualcomm, Motorola, and Nvidia.
By comparison, Windows 7 was available in six editions, including Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise. "We have 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," said LeBlanc.
"For many consumers, Windows 8 will be the right choice," LeBlanc wrote. Among other things, Windows 8 will include "an updated Windows Explorer, Task Manager, better multi-monitor support, and the ability to switch languages on the fly," LeBlanc said.
[ Get expert guidance on Microsoft Windows 8. InformationWeek's Windows 8 Super Guide rounds up the key news, analysis, and reviews that you need. ]
By contrast, "Windows 8 Pro is designed to help tech enthusiasts and business/technical professionals obtain a broader set of Windows 8 technologies. It includes all the features in Windows 8 plus features for encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity," said LeBlanc, adding that Windows Media Center will be available as "an economical 'media pack' add-on to Windows 8 Pro."
Windows 8 Enterprise, meanwhile, "includes all the features of Windows 8 Pro plus features for IT organizations that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more," LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc noted that Windows 8 RT will only be available as a preinstalled OS on tablets and other mobile devices. "Windows RT will include touch-optimized desktop versions of the new Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote," LeBlanc said.
That suggests that Windows 8 ARM tablets may not be available until after the crucial holiday shopping season. A Dutch developer recently posted an internal Microsoft document that appears to show that the new version of Office, Office 15, won't be available until early 2013.
Microsoft has confirmed the document's authenticity, but cautioned that the dates it shows are subject to change.
In terms of upgrades, users of Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic, and Home Premium will be eligible to upgrade to Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro. Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate users will only be eligible to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro.
Windows 8 is Microsoft's most radical redesign of its operating system since the introduction of Windows 95. It gives users the option to replace the familiar Explorer desktop with a new Metro interface that 's centered around touch-activated Live Tiles. Microsoft has not revealed pricing details or a ship date for Windows 8, but many observers believe it will be available later this year.
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