Which Version of Windows 8/8.1 is Right for You?

Here's what you need to know about the different editions of Windows 8/8.1.

Windows 8
Microsoft

Windows 8 rolled out to the public in late 2012, but many of you out there might still be running a version of the older operating system. As with every Windows release there are several different versions of the OS to sort through. In fact, there is even a new one since Windows 8 was the first--and probably the last--PC version of Microsoft's operating system to include a version for ARM processors.

There's no doubt about it, a lot changed in Windows 8/8.1 compared to Windows 7 and previous versions of the Windows operating system. Here's a look at all the various editions in plain English. 

Windows 8/8.1 Editions

As a previous Windows user you will find that the new editions make a whole lot of sense in terms of simplifying the product offerings. Consider that Windows 7 alone had six different editions: Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Ultimate and Enterprise. Woo! What an exhausting list. Windows 8/8.1 pares down those editions to just three, plus it adds a new version for ARM processors.

Windows 8/8.1 (For the Consumer)

Plain old Windows 8/8.1 is the consumer version of the OS. It excludes a lot of the business-type features like drive encryption, group policy and virtualization. However, you will have access to the Windows Store, Live Tiles, Remote Desktop Client, VPN Client and other features.

Windows 8/8.1 Pro (For Enthusiasts,  Professionals & Businesses)

Pro is the edition of Windows 8 for the PC enthusiast, and business/technical professionals.

It includes everything found in 8 plus features like BitLocker encryption, PC virtualization, domain connectivity and PC management. It's what you'd expect from Windows if you're a heavy duty user or operating in a business environment.

Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise (For Large Scale Corporate Deployments)

This version includes everything that Windows 8 Pro has, but it is geared towards enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements.

Windows 8/8.1 RT (ARM or WOA)

Windows 8/8.1 RT (Windows Runtime AKA WinRT) is the newest addition to the list of Windows versions. It is specifically designed for ARM-based devices like tablets and ARM-powered PCs.

The operating system will be pre-loaded just like a tablet running Android or iOS ships with its operating system preinstalled and configured. It also means that you will not be able to load RT onto any tablet or other device of your choosing.

The nice thing about Windows RT is that it offers device-level encryption and the touch-enhanced Office suite as part of the operating system, so you won't have to go buy a copy of Office or worry about data exposure.

Note: ARM is a processor architecture used in devices like mobile phones, tablets and some computers. WOA refers to Windows on ARM or Windows 8 RT which runs on ARM-based devices.

The downside is that Windows RT runs a hobbled version of the desktop that can only run the Office suite and Internet Explorer. If you ask me, including the desktop is really what killed Windows RT since the appearance of the desktop set expectations in users' minds that could never be fully realized.

Can I Upgrade to Windows 8?

Windows 8/8.1 can be installed as an upgrade from Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic and Home Premium. Users wanting to upgrade to 8 Pro will need to have Windows 7 Professional or Windows 7 Ultimate.

If you are running Windows Vista or XP, chances are you probably need a new PC anyway. If your PC has the right hardware, you will have to buy the full version of Windows 8 to upgrade. Microsoft has already moved on to Windows 10, which is probably a better choice than Windows 8.1 anyway. Especially since you can upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 10 for free until at least late June 2016. If you insist on moving to Windows 8.1, however, you can pick up a copy online for about $100.

If you want to learn more about the feature breakdown between editions, make sure to head over to the Microsoft Blog for a table describing all key feature differences between editions.

Updated by Ian Paul.

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