Windows 8's Four Flavors: 10 Things You Should Know

NEWS ANALYSIS: Microsoft has announced all the versions of Windows 8. But what do would-be owners need to know about the platform? This time Microsoft will be offering four different versions of Windows 8 to serve consumers, small businesses, enterprises and users of devices running ARM processors.

Slowly but surely, Microsoft is releasing details on its upcoming operating system launch, Windows 8. The company has already announced that the OS will support ARM processors, come with a new design, and play a key role in both tablets and touch-enabled laptops. Furthermore, Microsoft says Windows 8 will be launching sometime this year, though the exact release date (and price) has yet to be announced.

Then on April 16, the software giant offered up a new piece of information:the many different versions of Windows 8 that will be launching later this year. As expected, Microsoft will be delivering two versions of Windows 8 for consumers and tech enthusiasts as well as an ARM-based option, called Windows 8 RT. An enterprise-only solution comes with the appropriate Windows 8 Enterprise moniker.

But the branding is just one small piece of the puzzle. Now that the various Windows 8 versions have been announced, both consumers and enterprise users want to know what they'll find in each offering to determine which will best suit their needs.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about Windows 8's four versions:

1. Windows 8 is all consumers really need

Based on the sheer number of features available in Windows 8, it doesn't appear that consumers will need the Pro version of the software. The platform comes with the standard features one would expect to find in Windows 8, plus Windows Media Player, Internet Explorer 10, Windows Store, among other options.

2. Windows 8 Pro is a must-have for smaller businesses

Those operating smaller businesses shouldn't even waste their time with the entry-level Windows 8. Instead, those companies should buy Windows 8 Pro, a version that comes with all the features found in the standard operating system offering but also with key features such as BitLocker, Client Hyper-V and Encrypting File System.

3. Windows 8 RT lacks key features

Windows 8 RT is the version based on ARM€”a key addition to the Windows ecosystem. However, a look at the features included in the RT option might turn some customers off. For one thing, it doesn't come with Windows Media Player. In addition, Microsoft's Storage Space, which provides storage management via a virtualized layer, won't be coming to the RT option. But perhaps the biggest issue with Windows RT is that it won't allow for the installation of x86/64 and desktop software. The other options, of course, will.

4. Windows 8 Enterprise is the go-to for larger corporations

Although Microsoft didn't fully detail what will be coming in the Windows 8 Enterprise version, chances are it will deliver every single feature available to customers. And as the company points out, that should make it the only suitable option for enterprises that have Software Assurance agreements. Windows 8 Enterprise will basically be Windows 8 Pro with additional features, like PC management and deployment and virtualization.

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger

Don Reisinger is a longtime freelance contributor to several technology and business publications. Over his career, Don has written about everything from geek-friendly gadgetry to issues of privacy...