The three (four, five, six) editions of Windows 8

Listening to the spinmeisters, you'd think Microsoft finally reined in the number of Windows versions on offer. It hasn't

Microsoft's Brandon LeBlanc just announced Microsoft's official lineup of Windows 8 versions. The blogosphere dutifully lined up and saluted, with news that Microsoft had finally (finally!) brought the confusing profusion of Windows 7 versions back down to a manageable level.

Sorry, folks; it just ain't so. In fact, the number of versions that consumers have to think about has increased -- and the whole ordeal has become considerably more complicated in the process. (I'll get to the "dad test" in a moment.)

Here's how the curent lineup changes:

  • Windows 7 Starter goes away.
  • Windows 7 Home Basic is for emerging markets, as are the country-branded, local language-only versions of Windows 8. There's no official name for them yet, nor do we have a list of languages or markets, other than China.
  • Windows 7 Home Premium becomes Windows 8.
  • Windows 7 Professional becomes Windows 8 Pro -- yep, just "Pro." Win8 Pro runs Hyper-V, BitLocker, and Encrypting File System, and it can join a domain.
  • Windows 7 Enterprise becomes "Windows 8 for enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements" -- no formal name yet. According to LeBlanc, it contains everything in Win8 Pro plus "features for IT organizations that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more."
  • Windows 7 Ultimate goes away, although you have to wonder how enterprises without Software Assurance will be able to get their hands on the big "Windows 8 for enterprise" kahuna.

Here are the new versions:

  • Windows 8 Pro with an "economical" add-on for Windows Media Center. I guess you could argue that making Windows Media Center an add-on isn't the same thing as creating a new version. But that's exactly what Microsoft did several years ago with the version known as Vista Ultimate, which was Vista Enterprise with the largely nonexistent Windows Ultimate Extras.
  • Windows RT, a name that's supposed to convey to the average consumer (or the people who make spending decisions in your firm) "this isn't the Windows you were expecting because it won't run any of your old Windows programs." We've known it as Windows on ARM, or WOA. I've heard it called "WINO," Windows in name only, which is a far more accurate term. WINO, er, WinRT is available only preinstalled on new ARM-based devices.

I was expecting to see some sort of announcement about Intel system-on-a-chip (SoC) machines -- the Clover Trail Atom integrated-chip-set-based machines that Intel demoed in Beijing last week -- but there weren't any. The lack of a separate version for Intel SoCs may mean that the Clover Trail devices will run Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, or Windows 8 "enterprise." It's welcome news, if true.

I count six Windows 8 versions, compared to six for Windows 7. Your fingers may count differently, but that's how I see it. I expect there will be ways for enterprises without a formal Software Assurance to get "Windows 8 for enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements." If that happens, we'll have more versions for Win8 than for Win7.

Yes, Microsoft now calls Windows on ARM "Windows RT." I have no idea why. It's quite possibly the worst, most confusing, meaningless brand name since Live, .Net, and Windows CE -- as if there isn't enough confusion with the WinRT programming environment, which runs on both Win8 and WINO.

I can't wait for somebody to run a "dad test": "Dad, you walk into a shop that has two tablets for sale, side by side. One of them has Windows 8, the other one has Windows RT. But one of them doesn't run Windows programs. Can you guess which one?"

Don't pick the WINO, Dad.

This story, "The three (four, five, six) editions of Windows 8," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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