How-to: Understand Windows 8 Editions

New Windows 8 logo imageI’ve left the dust to settle a while before runnning through this: the Windows 8 Editions (SKUs) have been officially announced by Microsoft. These are the editions of Windows 8 that will be available for purchase, along with the upgrade paths from Windows 7.

As usual, Microsoft’s behavioural disorder shows through in the packaging and naming; it’s a marketing-led company that doesn’t seem to understand marketing; Microsoft’s engineers think it’s an engineering-led company so they don’t listen to anything the marketing people say; the Board think it’s a cash-cow, so the entire sales strategy is determined by the amount of money that Microsoft thinks it can screw out of customers by twisting the editions regardless of the fact that it makes no sense to the customers. Business as usual, then…

Not surprisingly, Windows 8 is the official product name for the next x86/64 editions of Windows.

Windows Consumer Preview 8 Metro UI start screenFor PCs and tablets powered by Intel (x86) processors, there are two editions: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro. Windows 8 features include everything in Windows 8 Consumer Preview; the Metro interface with Live Tiles, updated Windows Explorer, Task Manager, better multi-monitor support and the ability to switch languages on the fly.

Windows 8 (people are going to call it basic or home, whatever) includes support for existing x86 and x64 applications, Storage Spaces and Windows Media Player.

Windows 8 Pro is aimed at tech enthusiasts and business/technical professionals. Windows 8 Pro gets BitLocker encryption, domain membership, Hyper-V virtualization, Group Policy support, PC management and domain management. Controversially, no edition of Windows 8 will ship with Windows Media Center; it will be only available as an “economical” media pack add-on to Windows 8 Pro.

I’m not going to going to go into detail about the edition of Windows RT, previously nick-named WOA, which is Windows on ARM – the processor platform for non-x86 tablets. If you don’t understand that, or know what that means, you probably don’t need to. Windows RT edition will only be available pre-installed on PCs and tablets powered by ARM processors and not as a retail edition. Crucially, however, Windows on ARM processors won’t support existing x86 and x64 software and it’s unlikely that badging “Windows RT” is going to explain that to customers.

Otherwise, Windows 8 and Windows RT are broadly the same in terms of features and, as previously announced, Windows RT will get ARM-compiled versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. RT will also get full-device encryption for your precious tablet, which Windows 8 lacks.

No surprise, either that there’s a chart which breaks down lists key features by edition. It’s about fifty lines long but “this list should not be considered an exhaustive list of features.” Good luck with that.

There will also be the corporate edition of Windows 8 specifically for those enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements, under which we expect Microsoft will do the usual thing of bundling whatever the volume customers are prepared to haggle over. Called Windows 8 Enterprise, it is listed as including all the features of Windows 8 Pro plus the IT support and administration tools to support PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, mobile solutions, and anything else they’ve forgotten.

What the heck does this all mean?
Microsoft headlines this as four editions simplified down to two:

  • Windows 8 is the replacement for Windows 7 Basic and Home Premium.
  • Windows 8 Pro replacement for Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate.

Tellingly, Media Center has been down-graded and made more expensive. If you want to build a home-entertainment PC, you’ll have to pay for Win8 Pro (which features you probably don’t want) and the Media Center add-on. This one makes no sense at all. It’s on previous Home versions of Windows where Media Center is used the most. Perhaps this is to cover the cost of additional tech support, but it will annoy those 6% of Microsoft customers anyway. The answer is probably in the pre-requisite code for running Media Center applications – a web-server and SQL database, I’m guessing, that don’t exist in the base Windows 8 but are in Pro. Once again, engineering and marketing clash horribly.

On paper, the new line-up is simpler than any Windows 7 in years: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows 8 Enterprise and the largely hidden Windows 8 RT. You can buy Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro …and language-only versions. Large businesses will be forced to Windows 8 Enterprise. We may have finally ended the complete nonsense of Home Basic/Premium/Ultimate/Professional/Enterprise/blah, blah, blah and endless marketing brochures of empty boxes that look like washing powder.

In the wider context, the branding mess means the consumer still has to figure out what all of these things really mean:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • Windows 8 Enterprise
  • Windows 8 emerging market editions / language editions
  • Windows 8 RT
  • Windows Phone 8
  • Metro Apps
  • Media Center Add-on Pack

Now imagine walking into your local retail shed: ‘here are the android tablets, the iPad and here are the Windows 8 and Windows 8 RT devices… What?’ Now you have to have the conversation about Intel versus ARM and the whole lack of applications support between the two. More on this madness in another post.

One for the Money
A comment on a Microsoft blog post reads:
“Maybe they’ll take a page from the Apple Lion OSX upgrade and only charge something like $30 for the upgrade.”

Ha ha ha ha ha.


You just know it. Apple sells operating systems at nominal cost as a sweetener for it’s hardware customers. For Microsoft, operating systems /software/ is the business. you can guarantee the company will do everything it can to segment markets and price according to what it thinks will be most profitable – that doesn’t mean selling the most units either. AJS

5 thoughts on “How-to: Understand Windows 8 Editions

  1. Helgeson says:

    I still don’t understand it. Not the ‘what’ but the ‘why’; these editions don’t make any more sense than Vista.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s