New Pro version merges two premium editions of Windows 7, RT version will be dedicated to ARM support

Windows XP launched in 2001 with two primary editions -- Home and Professional.  Later Media Center and a handful of regional-targeted versions would be tacked on.  In 2006 Windows Vista -- an operating system that fairly or unfairly would come to be quite loathed and derided -- launched with a dizzying six editions including Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate.  Windows 7 trimmed much bloat from Vista when it launched in 2009, but stuck with the packed six-edition lineup (which included both 32-bit and 64-bit variants, to boot).

Windows 8 has tall boots to fill as the follow-up to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows 7 -- the world's fastest selling operating system in history.  Launching this fall, the operating system changes much.  Among the most recent changes to be announced is a trimming of the operating system SKUs.

Microsoft late Monday announced that Windows 8 would come in only three versions -- Windows 8 (self-titled), Windows Professional, and Windows RT.  In many ways the latter two echo the simplistic marketing of Windows XP.

The final edition -- Windows RT -- is the special new version of Windows that will be compatible with ARM processors for the first time.  ARM Holdings plc's (LON:ARM) licensed designs have dominated the smartphone and tablet space -- now they aim to do the same in the PC space, challenging veteran x86 manufacturer Intel Corp. (INTC).

Windows RT is missing a couple of features found in the x86 editions -- notably Windows Media Player and Storage Spaces.  But it comes with Microsoft's ubiquitous Office suite for free -- something the self-titled basic and Professional editions can't boast.  It also comes with specialized device encryption.

Microsoft Office
Window 8 RT -- the ARM variant -- comes with a free edition of Office, a nice perk.
[Image Source: Microsoft]

Windows 8 Professional packs some different perks -- many of which were introduced in Windows 7, such as HyperV virtualization, virtual hard drive (VHD) boot, remote desktop, and Bitlocker encryption.

The veteran operating system maker stopped shy of forcing x86 customers to have a 64-bit central processing unit to upgrade.  When exactly 64-bit will become the mandatory standard has been a topic of much speculation over the years.  

The company plugs its reduced lineup as being its most diverse operating system yet, stating, "Windows 8 has the flexibility you need - whether you’re on an x86/64 or a WOA PC. You can use a touch screen or a keyboard and mouse – and switch anytime. It’s beautiful, fast, and fluid design is perfect for a wide range of hardware. And you’ll love browsing through the Windows Store and downloading all the apps you want. And those apps can work together too so you can share photos, maps, contacts, links and whatever else you want faster and easier. All editions of Windows 8 offer a no-compromise experience."

Windows 8 looks to be a relatively bold rewrite of the traditional Windows OS.  It moves closer to a smartphone-esque software model, switching to a primarily online sales distribution model and streamlined upgrade process for the initial installation.  Microsoft is also pushing its new Windows Store for apps, hoping to lure developers with an industry-best 20-80 Microsoft-developer split for high-grossing apps.  Microsoft is also mandating that all new Windows 8 PCs have 5-finger touch and spreading its new Metro UI across the operating system.

But Microsoft is not turning its back on its respected tradition -- it's also shoring up the key components of Windows.  Windows 8 has already been shown to beat Windows 7 in performance benchmarks.  It features better multi-monitor support, less painful Windows Update processfaster bootsdecreased OS resource consumptionimproved file transfers (complete with an improved Windows Explorer), and a refined Task Manager.

While the overhaul of the base and mobile-trending feature set are key storylines, arguably the biggest story is the arrival of WOA -- Windows on ARM.  Windows 8 RT should be prominently featured in numerous tablets.  Sentiments are mixed on these devices -- some bemoan the lack of legacy software support (given the new architecture) -- others point out that hasn't been a hindrance to mobile operating systems.

Source: Windows Team

"When an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." -- Sony BMG attorney Jennifer Pariser

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