Windows 8: Confusion everywhere—three main variants

Boy oh boy. Microsoft have certainly confused everyone with Windows 8. I feel sorry for regular folk. I am marginally confused myself and I listen to TWiT, regularly read the Windows Super Site, and I am in the computer business—albeit from the large corporate side; and they don’t care anything about Windows 8 at this point in time.

Basically there are three main variants of Windows 8 and you need to be pretty clear which variant you want first and then work out which platform you want it on. The platform is important, because unlike Windows 7, with Windows 8 certain versions only run on certain types of platforms (i.e., tablets, slates, ultrabooks, notebooks, and desktops).

The three main variants of Windows 8 are:

  • Win8DesktopWindows 8 RT: This is the Metro-style apps only version of Windows 8. With this version of Windows 8 you can only load and run the Metro-style apps. You cannot load and run regular Windows applications such as Photoshop, Corel Draw, DVDFab, Google Earth, ImgBurn, AutoCAD, Vuze, HDR Express, Adobe Acrobat, Office 2010, etc. To run a Windows 8 RT app you need to be able to load it from the Microsoft on-line apps library.

    One of Windows 8 RT’s key tricks is that it will install and run on both AMD and Intel computers. This means Windows 8 RT can be used on AMD-based tablet devices as well as Intel-based devices. Both Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro below will only install and run on Intel-based computers. But remember, you can’t run regular Windows applications with Windows 8 RT.

    Windows 8 RT looks like the picture shown above.

  • Win8DesktopWindows 8: Windows 8 (which sometimes seems to be called Windows 8 Core) will run Metro-style apps but it will also run regular Windows applications such as those you might be using with Windows XP or Windows 7.

    Windows 8 can be installed as 32-bit or 64-bit.

    Just so you can see the difference, Windows 8 looks like the picture shown.

  • Win8DesktopWindows 8 Pro: Windows 8 Pro is similar to Windows 8 but it has some additional things it will do. Windows 8 Pro provides enhanced protection for you data in case your notebook/ultrabook/slate is stolen. It can also be a Remote Desktop target, which Windows 8 cannot be. So if you want to connect to your Windows 8 PC from some other location in the office, the city, the state, or the world, then you need that PC to be running Windows 8 Pro. Finally, Windows 8 Pro can join a domain and this is important if you will be using the computer in an environment where it is necessary to join a domain in order to use shared network resources (e.g., network file shares or network printers).

    Again, the picture shows how Windows 8 Pro looks.

So hopefully by now you have noticed that Windows 8 RT, Windows 8 (sometimes referred to as Windows 8 Core), and Windows 8 Pro all look exactly the same. This is because they all boot up into the same Metro-style Windows 8 RT desktop (and I hope Paul Thurrott at the WinSuperSite—see my sidebar for a link to the Super Site—will forgive for pinching that desktop image from his site).

To make it a little trickier Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro only run on Intel-based computers however Windows 8 will run on the new Clover Trail Intel-based tablets and ultrabooks. Clover Trail is a new family of Intel processors that are low-power lower-specification developed mainly for use in for tablets and ultrabooks. So with Windows 8 on a Clover Trail ultrabook you get all the capabilities of Windows on a tablet or ultrabook with the much longer battery life.

However, on a Clover Trail-based computer you can only ever have a maximum of 2GB of memory (Clover Trail just does not allow any more memory), it only supports 32-bit code (so you have to install 32-bit Windows 8), and it can only run USB2. This might cramp your style a bit if you were planning to use Photoshop on it. Photoshop will work but with just 2GB of memory you would not want to be running anything else or you might find Photoshop runs a little tardy.

There are other little tricks and gotchas here and there, but hopefully I have given you the basics of the differences. If you need to find out more then I would recommend you read some of the many articles at Paul Thurrott’s WinSuperSite (see link in sidebar) or do your best to find the information you need on the Microsoft site (and good luck with that).

If you have a specific question and you can’t find the answer then leave a comment or send me an e-mail (you can work out my e-mail address from the “About Me” page) and I will try and answer it for you.