Opinion: Windows 8 - Which version should you choose?

Microsoft has officially unveiled the versions of Windows 8 that will be available. Compare them to figure out which is right for you.

Microsoft revealed in a blog post what the different versions of Windows 8 will be when the OS officially launches. The news from Microsoft clears some things up, but it also raises some additional questions and may still leave some wondering which version of Windows 8 is the "right" one.

One thing is clear, the next version of Windows will be called Windows 8. That is unless it's running on ARM hardware, in which case it's Windows RT.

But, the Microsoft blog post does clarify that there will be three versions of Windows 8...or is it four? Brandon LeBlanc defines three versions: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. But, the end of the blog post tosses in a mystery fourth version for customers on Software Assurance licensing agreements--Windows 8 Enterprise.

So, which version should you use?

Microsoft has made things simpler for Windows 8. With Windows 7, customers had to wade through the features and capabilities of seven different versions to choose the Windows 7 to meet their needs. With Windows 8, Microsoft has essentially narrowed the options down to consumer and business. There's Windows 8 for consumers, and Windows 8 Pro for business use. Period.

Yes, there are also Windows RT and Windows 8 Enterprise, but those are special cases for niche scenarios. Windows RT can't actually be purchased--it will simply come pre-installed on ARM-based tablets or PCs. It can't join a Microsoft network domain, or run traditional Windows software. It seems like Windows RT is about as close to Windows 8 as Windows Phone or the Xbox 360, so it barely even counts in this decision process.

Windows 8 Enterprise is a wild card. The Microsoft blog post explains, "Windows 8 Enterprise 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."

I tried to get some clarification on the specific differences between Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise, but a Microsoft spokesperson informed me that there are no additional details available at this time. Depending on the features included with Windows 8 Enterprise, it might make a compelling case for some businesses to switch to Software Assurance licensing to be able to take advantage of them.

Given the two options on the table, though, the decision is easy. Get Windows 8 Pro.

Harry McCracken stated in his Time Techland article, "I'm sure that some will insist that Microsoft should simply sell the best version, as Apple does with OS X - but I'm not that curmudgeonly."

I am.

I always maintained with Windows 7 that Microsoft should cut through all the crap and just sell Windows 7 Ultimate. My feelings haven't changed with the Windows 8 versions.

Your grandmother, or your cousin may not need some Windows 8 Pro features like the ability to join a network domain or use Group Policy. However, Microsoft has a habit of leaving crucial capabilities out of the consumer version - especially security features.

With Windows 8 Pro, you get BitLocker and BitLocker-to-Go encryption, and Encrypted File System (EFS) to be able to encrypt and protect your data from unauthorized access. Windows 8 Pro also enables you to boot straight from a VHD which could come in handy.

Will everyone need these features? No, but enough will. It just makes sense to get the version that at least gives you the option if you need it rather than choosing the stripped down version lacking key features.

Oh, and if you already have Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 7 Professional the decision has been made for you. The only upgrade path is to Windows 8 Pro.

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