More Windows, less confusion... on Technorati.
On Monday (April 16th) Microsoft announced the final Windows 8 lineup on the official Microsoft Blog. Unlike its Windows 7 predecessor with a dizzying array of variations Windows 8 has only 3. Windows 8 will offer 2 versions for the x86/64 platform (Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro) and one for the ARM platform (Windows RT.)
Let's start with the cheap seats aka "Windows 8." Note the lack of adjectives in this version. It's designed to fill the role of Windows 7's Starter (whatever that is), Home Basic and Home Deluxe versions on both 32 and 64 bit PC hardware platforms. Now you can rest easy knowing that even the most basic version of Windows includes support for 64 Bit processors.
Next up is the version most likely to show up on your work PC in the next few years, "Windows 8 Pro." This one's pretty simple since it equates to Windows 7 Professional and the rarely seen Windows 7 Enterprise - N.
If you've never seen Enterprise-N it's most likely because this version is only available via Microsoft's Volume licensing. it's basically Windows 7 Pro without any fun stuff like media player. The professional versions are meant for enterprise networks and the only versions of Windows 7 other than "Ultimate and Pro" that can join a Windows domain.
Finally we get to the questionably acronymed WOA (Windows on ARM) version of Windows 8 called "Windows RT" This version of windows is meant for tablet devices and ARM PC's. Don't go looking to pick it up for your $99 closeout tablet though as its only available pre-installed on a new device. If you haven't guessed already, this version of Windows is aimed squarely at Apple's IOS and the IPAD.
There really isn't any version of Windows 7 that equates with RT. Windows Phone 7 may be close but is more of an interface than an OS. Windows 8 tile interface is a direct descendant of Windows phone but that's where the similarity ends. A Specialized version of Microsoft Office optimized for touch will be included with this release.
Windows doesn't have a good track record with tablets. Most remember the troublesome Windows XP Tablet edition with pain and loathing. Windows Vista and 7 didn't exactly raise the bar either. So here comes Windows 8 with its Metro Tile interface. It's the first version of Windows designed from the outset for touch devices like tablets. Some would say largely to the exclusion of standard PC users.
Whatever version you choose it will likely depend on where you use it. On an ARM based tablet? It'll be Windows RT, On your Work PC it'll likely be Windows 8 Pro and If you're buying a home PC it'll likely have Windows 8 (no adjectives here)
It seems that Windows 8 is meant to be all things to all platforms with only minor variations.
What about virtualization? Well, only Windows 8 Pro will cater to your hyper-V cravings. Of course it's at the top of the food chain so it's going to be the most expensive option roughly equivalent to Windows 7 Ultimate.
So if you just need virtualization and Domain capability your only option is going to be the most expensive version of Windows 8. That means having to pay for extra bells and whistles you may not need if all you want to do is connect to a Windows Domain.
The other big question is what happens with the Home theater focused Windows Media Center? The Consumer Preview and Beta Versions of Windows 8 currently include a version of Windows Media Center but it appears largely untouched since its humble Windows XP beginnings. Deprecating Media Center may signal that Microsoft sees mobile devices and HTML5 as the new content platform of choice leaving the HTPC market without a product targeted at multimedia PC's.
On a personal note, I'm hopeful that we finally see the end of the default OS on business class hardware being a consumer version. It would go a long way toward minimizing the time wasted by IT departments saddled with having to deal with the consequences of the wrong preinstalled OS.