At the end of this week Windows 8 will be released. You will be able to purchase the new OS to install on your existing PC or will be able to buy a new Windows device with the new OS pre-installed. Windows 8 comes in several flavors and if you are planning on an update, whether that is software only or hardware + software, you need to make choose what you will be purchasing.
If you are shopping on a tight budget, you don’t need to spend all your money on the newer hardware; you can still purchase a Windows 7 PC until the end of 2012 and upgrade to Windows 8 for just $15 by using their promotion.
Back to your choice; Windows 8 is divided into 2 versions: Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 RT. These two lines are almost exactly the same to the untrained eye. They behave the same but their feature set is somewhat different. Regardless of the version and hardware you choose to run Windows 8, this OS is extremely fluid and is so light that it requires less hardware to run than Windows 7 requires.
Some very interesting features offered with Windows 8 are Xbox Smartglass and Xbox Music which enables your devices (Windows Phone 8, Windows 8 and Xbox) to interact with each other. The new Xbox Music service for example works in a similar way to Pandora, Spotify for free (ad supported) but it additionally offers a subscription model where you are allowed to download all the songs you want from the service into all your devices as long as you are a subscriber.
Windows 8 RT is a smaller and more compact version of Windows 8. It typically runs on smaller hardware, meaning that it may be less powerful but with the added benefit of much better battery life. Windows 8 RT also comes bundled with Microsoft Office 2013 (it actually comes with a preview version and a free upgrade/download when the final version is out). You get the chance to use MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint and MS OneNote. All the typical Windows applications are still included with Windows 8 RT and then some. You get Windows Mail, People (Contacts) and all your basic productivity apps. The down side of Windows 8 RT is that you will not be able to install your existing Windows legacy apps. This implies that you will only be able to purchase or download for free apps from the Windows App Store which will have less than 10,000 apps at the time of launch. In any case, I consider the need for apps a superfluous and over-hyped requirement: The main need for apps in other platforms has always been there to cover for a crippled browser. In this case, we are still talking about Windows, where you will have IE 10 in two revisions (desktop and metro; both with Flash compatibility) in addition to the freely available Chrome and Firefox (to say the least). This will guarantee that even if you don’t like third part apps to connect to Twitter (for example), you will not be left waiting for the official Twitter app… you simply need to go with your browser to Twitter’s website for accessing the full functionality. In the long run, you install less apps, because you have a better browser experience. This version of the OS is prepared to run in ARM CPUs, which are not compatible with the x86 platform that Intel and AMD use for PCs. This means that Windows 8 RT is not backward compatible with your existing software or hardware; it is a “forward-looking-only version” of the OS. Therefore, you can only purchase this version of the OS with the purchase of new hardware. One example is the Microsoft Surface RT; a tablet available starting at $499 from the Microsoft Store. Other OEMs have announced their own devices running Windows 8 RT such as ASUS, Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, etc. They are all priced at a lower range than Ultrabooks or between $350 and $800. Windows 8 RT devices cannot be added to a Windows Domain (which is mostly used in your work environment as opposed to your home, where you have a Workgroup or Home Network. One way you will be able to “cheat” Windows Legacy functionality out of these devices will be to use RDP (or Remote Desktop) where you will be able to run a remote session to other devices who happen to be running other versions of Windows (even older versions).
Windows 8 Pro is the full version of the OS. Windows 8 allows you to run Windows legacy apps and is fully backwards compatible with your existing hardware and currently installed software. You can purchase it with new hardware and by itself so you upgrade or install from scratch your own Windows device. This version has many more features, it runs in more powerful hardware but can also be used for tablets, ultrabooks, laptops, desktops and all-in-one computers. Tablets based on the new line of Atom dual code processors offer the features of Windows 8 Pro with the power and price savings benefits fo the ARM processors while still being backward-compatible. If you are concerned about your Windows Legacy software and still want to use a lightweight tablet, you will certainly be better off with these devices. Almost all new hardware (even for non-tablets) will start being rolled out with touch-screens given that the Windows 8 UI greatly benefits from the touch-interface. This is not to say that we have gotten rid of track-pads and mice; on the contrary, you can still use them if that is your preferred controlling method for your device. All the apps listed in the Windows App Store will be 100% compatible with both Windows 8 RT and Windows 8 Pro, so you will also benefit from the newer apps as they are released to the new OS while at the same time you will be able to run your legacy applications. In corporate environments, it will be typical to see a transition into Windows 8 Pro as it will be the best way to leverage existing corporate apps developed for internal use and as part of a Windows Domain. IT departments have already expressed a certain interest in rolling out Windows RT only as a replacement fr those who use other OEMs’ tablets and are used to running devices that sit outside of the Windows Domain while at the same time they have expressed a strong interest in rolling out Windows 8 Pro into their existing devices by means of an upgrade to their aging hardware (since Windows 8 is less resource intensive than previous versions). Windows 8 Pro comes packed with features such as RDP, Active Directory Domain support, Encryption File System, Hyper-V, BitLocker, etc. Windows 8 Pro also exists as Windows 8 Core which is a bit less feature-rich; for example lacking the Media Center app from the bundled apps.
I am sure there will be a few disappointed users. There will almost surely be some buyers’ remorse for whoever buys one type of OS and realize they really needed the other, but arming yourself with this information is the smartest way you can go about deciding which is going to be your platform going forward. Walk around, try out different devices, go to a Microsoft Store where they have a huge selection of Windows devices in a single place and spend some time testing all form factors they have… then make your purchase. This way you will not regret your decision.