Which option is right for you? Here, we'll take a closer look at the features and functions of each edition, so you can pick up your new OS with confidence.
Windows 8: For People Who Want a PC That WorksThe basic version of the new OS is simply called Windows 8 and intended for installation by consumers on a desktop or laptop. The difference between basic Windows 8 and the other versions is what it lacks, which is most business-geared features, as well as the Windows Media Center.
With this version of Windows 8, you get a Windows 7-esque interface with extra features that include Live Tiles, easy access to your SkyDrive account (handy if you're getting the upcoming version of Office, which saves to SkyDrive by default) and access to the Windows Store.
A new feature included with Windows 8 in the basic consumer version is File History. You may be somewhat familiar with its functionality if you've ever used an Apple product with Time Machine, or if you were able to find the hidden feature of Windows 7, known as Previous Versions. While File History doesn't feature the space-themed animations of Time Machine, it effectively does the same thing: saves backups of your files. The default settings will back up your desktop, libraries, contacts and favorites, and you can expand the settings to cover more ground.
However, keep in mind that File History, although easier to find than Previous Versions, is not enabled by default, so you'll have to turn it on.
You can upgrade to basic Windows 8 if you're currently running Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic or Home Premium. If you're still on Vista or XP and you really want Windows 8, you'll have to buy the full version.
Windows 8 Pro: For BusineSs Pros and People Who Want Bells and WhistlesBusiness users and Windows enthusiasts should pick up Windows 8 Pro, which includes everything in the basic version plus cool tools, like BitLocker encryption, domain connectivity, PC virtualization and a remote desktop functionality.
BitLocker is a full-drive encryption service, which was previously available only with the Ultimate and Enterprise editions of Windows. Full-drive encryption is considered one of the best virtual security measures available, so if your laptop is stolen, your data will be safe if you're running Windows 8 Pro.
The Remote Desktop feature lets you access other Windows-based PCs over the same network, or through the Internet. In a business environment, this allows you to log on your work computer from any machine in the office. It's also the perfect tool for workaholics who want to get caught up or work ahead from home.
Windows 8 Pro's PC virtualization feature is called Client Hyper-V. With this, you can forgo using programs like VirtualBox or VMware, because you’ll be able to create and manage multiple virtual machines from your PC, even if they're using different operating systems.
Like the basic version, Pro doesn't come installed with Windows Media Center. However, unlike basic, you can purchase and install the media center add-on if you want to. The basic version no longer supports this program.
Upgrades to Windows 8 Pro are available for those running Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate. All others must pay full price.
Windows RT: For People With All the Latest GadgetsThe most talked-about features for Windows 8 come with this version, which is the environment for touchscreens and mobile apps. RT also comes bundled with special touch-oriented versions of some of Microsoft's most popular Office programs, such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. The system also has device-level encryption for additional security.
So how do you buy Windows RT? You don't. This version will only be available as a preinstalled OS on new Windows-powered smartphones, ARM-powered PCs and the new Windows tablet, the Surface. Also, note that RT won't run traditional X86/64 desktop software - It's apps and touch versions only.
Windows 8 Enterprise: For CorporationsMost consumers can't get Windows 8 Enterprise, nor would they want it, since it's really expensive and comes with features that everyday end users would never need. This version is for big companies with software assurance agreements.
For corporations, Windows 8 Enterprise is updated to deliver the security, virtualization, and mobile productivity required in today's increasingly digital business world. Some features exclusive to this version include Windows to Go, Direct Access, App Locker and App Deployment. Windows to Go gives you a corporate Windows 8 desktop on a bootable external USB stick. It's designed to give mobile workers access to the system in a secure manner. Direct Access is also for remote users, letting external employees log on from their home or other alternatively located PCs.
App Deployment giveth, and AppLocker taketh away. While App Deployment side-loads new Windows 8 apps onto all domain-joined PCs and tablets, AppLocker restricts access to apps to increase security and decreased unauthorized access (and playing games on the clock).