My Take on Windows 8 ~ The Various Versions of Windows 8

The following is the article I wrote for the Dec, 2013 edition of the San Carlos Wireless (more info at SanCarlos.tv). I hope people find it helpful. and informative. Please leave comments and questions.

Thanks,
Scott, headNerd at international computer solutions

The Various Versions of Windows 8

Hi everybody. My name is Scott Stimson and I am the director of International Computer Solutions (internationalcsi.com) in San Carlos and also a main speaker at The San Carlos Computer Club (http://sccClub.org.)

Recently, Microsoft has released a new version of the Windows operating system (OS) named Windows 8.1 (Win8.1.) This is a major release and upgrade to the one year old Windows 8 (Win8) OS. Looking around the Win8/8.1 community you will  find complaints and a learning curve, however there are some nice new features. We have dedicated a lot time in the computer club to the subjects of Win8/8.1 and I thought other people would find this information helpful. If  you have upgraded from an older Windows computer or will soon be buying a new Windows computer, then you will want to know what to expect from Win8/8.1.

Over the next few issues I will try to eliminate some of the confusion about the Win 8/8.1 operating system. I will address some of the complaints people are having, and help you determine the features you want from a new PC. However, for today, I thought we would discuss the different versions of Win8 and how each version affects the computer hardware and software that you will use.

The Three Versions (actually four…well…actually five) of Windows 8/8.1

There are four different versions of Win8/8.1…Well…There are actually five version if we include Windows Phone 8 (WP8), however WP8 is not a major part of this article. WP8 will be important as Microsoft moves forward with Windows development, but at this moment it’s not relevant for our PC/laptop/tablet discussion.

The first three versions of Win 8/8.1 are intended for what you think of as the traditional PC/Laptop experience. These versions are: 1) Windows 8/8.1 (sometimes called core), 2) Windows 8 Pro, and  3) Windows 8 Enterprise (only available through corporate volume license.) The computers that run these three versions are based on Intel’s x86/x64 architectures. That means they run legacy software (i.e., programs that may have run in Windows 7, Vista, and XP.) Some examples of legacy software are old versions of Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Intuit’s Quickbooks, and Apple’s iTunes. (Yes! iTunes. If you need iTunes, then you need one of these versions of Windows.) Because legacy software is supported on these computers, then you are allowed to install your software from a variety of different sources. For example, you can download installers from any website, use purchased boxed software CDs/DVDs, and you can also download applications from an online marketplace.

You could say that these three versions of Win8 are actually a Windows 7 version that includes the new Win8 features. The hardware for computers running these versions can be very powerful. They are based on the traditional multi-core CPU technology that has grown-up throughout the different version of windows. These computers are expected to be able to run other operating systems such as linux and Windows Server 2012. They can be assembled using third party motherboards, video cards, and components. These computers are used by gamers and software developers. They are also found in corporations and office environments. These three versions are the best of both worlds; They transition between what Windows was to what Windows will be.

What is Windows RT?

The fourth version of Win8/8.1 is called Windows 8 RT (WinRT), and is only available preloaded/embedded on a new style of  PC (more commonly found as a tablet or netbook.) These devices use a mobile chip (aka, an arm processor.) This processor is the mobile CPU used in many smartphones, iPads, and android tablets. This is a fundamental change and has set the Windows world into a whole different direction. These devices are geared towards consumption of content and services. They compete directly with iPad and Android tablets. They are intended to have great battery life, easy touch controls, beautiful displays, fast on/off, and other characteristics that we associate with mobile devices.

WinRT is Win8 built to run on arm processors. The software you use must also be built for arm processors. This means you will not be able to use any of your old software CDs/DVDs. You can not install iTunes, Photoshop, or Quickbooks. Legacy softwares, such as those, will never be installable on WinRT devices. You will need new versions of your softwares built for WinRT on arm processors (ie, Win8 Apps.) These apps will be available only after developers adopt the new Win8/8.1 platform and rebuild their software for arm processors.  Microsoft must approve all Win8 Apps and the apps are only available to you through the Microsoft Store using a Microsoft Services account (a marketplace model similar to Apple’s App Store.) At this moment a WinRT device doesn’t have the same amount of software available, that software must be built for Win8 running on arm processors, and it is only available through the Microsoft Store.

and Then There is Windows Phone 8

There is also a smartphone Windows OS (the fifth version of Win8) that I had mentioned earlier called Windows Phone 8 (WP8.) This Windows OS, unlike the first four versions, has a different foundational core (kernel), however it also runs on arm processors like devices that run WinRT. It is becoming clear that Microsoft sees a future where WinRT and WP8 will merge into the same software and be offered on tablets, netbooks, and smartphones. This would result in two fundamental branches of Windows based on either the Intel x86 x64 CPUs (ie, Pentium, Atom, AMD), or the arm processors.

Why the Distinct different Windows 8 Versions?

In the industry we talk about devices being either a production device or a consumption device. Either the device is good for producing content and services, or it’s a better device for the consumption of content and services. At the moment we believe production devices to be powerful systems that can run legacy software and have the most options of compatibility. Production devices are for creating data, documents, videos, darkroom work, and accounting. On the other hand, consumption devices act more like portals to information and functions. Consumption devices are ideal for reading ebooks and web pages, listening to music, watching videos, and doing email.

In the Win8/8.1 world, this distinction is very clear. The first three versions of Win8/8.1 (i.e., core, Pro, and Enterprise) are run on production devices while WinRT is run on consumption devices. Now the question for you is: how do you use your computer? Are you a producer, or a consumer? Are you building video project, or watching them? Are you writing books, or reading them? Are you building websites, or surfing them? Are you photoshopping pictures, or viewing them? Are you recording music, or listening? Both styles of devices will work for either production or consumption, but when you have identified your computer needs, then you’ll know better how to select the type of device that is ideal for you. Who knows; you may want both.

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