For Windows 8, Microsoft cuts product lineup to two editions

For Windows 8, Microsoft cuts product lineup to two editions

Summary: If you're planning to purchase Windows 8, your buying decision will be simple. Microsoft announced today that Windows 8 for x86 and x64 PCs will be available in two retail editions. A third, OEM-only edition will be available exclusively for ARM-based PCs and tablets.


If you’re planning to purchase Windows 8, your decision just got simpler.

Microsoft today revealed its lineup of SKUs for the new operating system, which is due to be released before the end of the year.

For PCs built around x86 and x64 processors, the lineup has been trimmed to two. Yes, you read that right. Windows 8 will ship in two editions:

  • Windows 8 is the default consumer edition, replacing Windows 7 Home Premium. It includes the ability to switch languages on the fly, a feature that was previously available only in the most expensive Enterprise/Ultimate editions.
  • Windows 8 Pro is a superset of Windows 8, with the addition of BitLocker encryption and support for Encrypting File System, client Hyper-V virtualization, the ability to boot from a virtual hard disk (VHD), the ability to join a Windows domain, support for group policy, and Remote Desktop host capabilities. That complete package of features is currently available only in Windows 7 Ultimate and Enterprise.

Those two editions will be available in retail packages and preinstalled on new PCs by OEMs, and there will be no additional choices available for purchase.

The lineup in retail channels might be simpler, but today's announcement included details about a handful of other special-purpose editions not aimed at the mainstream consumer PC market. If you add in those editions, it's possible to count the number of Windows 8 editions as four, five, or six.

For PCs and tablets built around low-power ARM processors, there will be a single edition, called Windows RT. Although this edition uses the Windows 8 code base and has most of its features, it doesn't include the Windows 8 brand name. In the blog post announcing the details of the Windows 8 release strategy Microsoft carefully avoided that name, noting instead that "Windows RT is the newest member of the Windows family." The product formerly known as Windows on ARM, or WOA, will be available pre-installed on devices by OEMs only. It will not be for sale as a retail product and has no upgrade path to other Windows editions.

Update: In a previous post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky made it very clear that Windows RT is not Windows 8:

Windows on ARM, or WOA, is a new member of the Windows family that builds on the foundation of Windows, has a very high degree of commonality and very significant shared code with Windows 8... [emphasis in original]

For enterprise customers with Software Assurance agreements, Microsoft will offer a separate edition (not available as a retail package and also not available preinstalled on new PCs). The Enterprise edition is a superset of Windows 8 Pro, with "features for IT organization that enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more." Microsoft did not announce additional details of features in the new Enterprise edition and declined a request for comment. Historically, the Enterprise edition is identical to the high-end retail SKU and offers separate access to the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Package (MDOP) as well as some additional licensing rights.

Windows Media Center will be available as a “media pack” add-on to Windows 8 Pro, at an “economical” price point that presumably covers the cost of licensing technology from Dolby Labs and other codec providers. (I had speculated back in September that this would be a a possibility.)

In a blog post announcing the editions, Microsoft also revealed that it plans to offer “a local language-only edition of Windows 8” for distribution in “China and a small set of select emerging markets.” This edition would presumably replace the low-cost Starter Edition, and the single-language restriction would make it more difficult to transfer these low-cost editions into higher-priced Western markets.

Microsoft did not announce any pricing information for any of the Windows 8 editions.

The decision to radically simplify the Windows 8 product lineup is a surprise, but in keeping with a long series of decisions designed to blunt longstanding criticism of Windows. Some Windows 8 rumor trackers, after poking through the Windows 8 registry, had speculated (incorrectly, as it turns out) that Microsoft could release as many as nine flavors of Windows 8.

Windows 7 currently ships in three retail editions (Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate), with a Starter edition restricted to specific hardware types and a Home Basic edition available in emerging markets.

The new two-edition lineup for Windows 8 is reminiscent of the days of Windows XP, when retail SKUs were limited to Home and Professional. Within a year of XP's launch, though, the XP lineup had sprawled to include OEM-only Tablet and Media Center editions, with a separate 64-bit edition also debuting in 2002 and a Starter edition appearing shortly thereafter.


Topics: Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

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  • Darn...

    I was hoping to try out Windows 8 Home-Basic-Starter-Ultimate-Media Center Edition. :(


    Great news to hear! It only took Microsoft a few years too long to get this, but better late than never, I suppose.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • So true

      Of course, over here in Euroland we'll get a bunch of extra versions without Media Player and whatever else the EU figures is "anti-competitive". That no OEM will ever use, but hey, they could if they really wanted.
      • European Union

        Actually it is European Union not Euroland.

        EU regulations don't have any legislation power in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland etc.
      • hillbilly talks about the European Union

        If your actually from EU I will eat my Windows Vista box!
      • Ever heard of anti-trust in the U.S.

        Yep, the ones that gave us "RJ-11" phone plugs, which in fact spawned the modem revolution which was followed by the ISP growth. Sometimes anti-trust decisions might sound stupid in the short run, but after several iterations, they can become very practical stuff, to protect customers from predatory measures.

        Take for example the browser ballot on Windows 8. This can be implemented with a rather simple Metro app that runs full screen at first boot and by a "live-tile" kind of interface, every browser can give their virtue and even allow you to select a default browser for metro and one for the desktop (via a right click).

        On the other hand, as we are reading from the post, Dolby Labs technologies won't be default on Windows 8 nor Windows RT, but you can easily choose alternatives like DTS and DCS. This also could come in a Metro app slated on the upgrade. This will also mean that we could see good native Blu Ray support on Win8, at last (after MS fiasco with HD DVD).

        As you can see, competition is good when clearly applied.
    • How's that again?

      As I read this article, MS starts out with only two versions of Window 8, only to read later " If you add in those editions, it???s possible to count the number of Windows 8 editions as four, five, or six." Follow this up with an optional "media center pack" and Microsoft truly stands triumphant in marketing simplification! :)
      • If consumers cannot buy a particular edition, it matters not.

        Enterprise buyers will buy Windows 8 Enterprise and Windows 8 Server. Separating out Media Center simplifies things for consumers while giving OEMs an ADD-ON for those who really want it.
        M Wagner
  • Not that i will ever purchase this joke of an operating system, but,

    Am I reading that right, I'd have to purchase pro in order to get the WMC add in?? Huh?
    • If you won't ever purchase it

      then why bother to comment on it?
      • because

        Just like you he has the right to say what is on his mind, not everyone thinks MS is doing a better job, just different.

        Personally who cares I like Windows 7 and have no reason yet to think Windows 8 is worth getting. Now on a tablets that is another story, I do like what it brings to tablet market.

        Lets see when it finally comes out what its like, to early to see the true advantages. MS must really be scared if their putting this much effort into Windows 8.
      • Why comment on it?

        Because some of us have supported Microsoft and it's increasingly vapid marketing plans since the mid-80's son.. We have a right to say this constant "must-fit-all-and-must-be-totally-different" planning is getting very, very old..
      • I have an MSDN account...

        I haven't purchased a single copy of Windows does that mean I can't comment?
      • RE: If you won't ever purchase...

        For all we know this is just a story to get the discussion boards hot and bothered. Increased web traffic and all that good stuff.
  • Fairly smart thinking about the single language versions...

    having a hacked Chinese language only version of Windows would be useless for most Americans.

    I like that they are simplifying the editions, so I can easily get the Pro version with the media addon so I can get all I need. If enough people want the Media addition, then it would probably be made available to the "home" version. I would guess that most people who love WMC will likely get the Pro version anyway.
    • well said

      And for those who don't care at all for WMC then the Windows 8 will be plenty and cost much less confusion. I for one am sold on their new approach, but for now will hold my applause until I see the final product.
  • it would be nice if...

    ...the local shops sold pc's with the pro versions instead of offering the $$$ upgrade to pro disk set. wastes my time and nerves either doing an upgrade of back-dooring a fresh install (more reliable) before deploying a new computer. only other options is 'mail order a pro'.
    • You have options

      First of all, your local PC shops can install a System Builder edition of Pro. That will be your cheapest route.

      Or you will be able to use Windows Anytime Upgrade to enter a product key and upgrade from Windows 8 to Pro without having to do a reinstall. I've done this with Windows 7 many times. Very fast and easy.
      Ed Bott
  • They forgot Windows 8: Windows 7 Edition

    Doesn't come with Metro UI.
    • Non-Metro UI users use Windows-9

      Think of Windows-8 as being really designed for smartphones and tablets; admitted by MS and other pundits. Enterprise and serious personal PC users will have to wait for the next version.
      • next version?

        All future windows os's will have some form of that retarded metro UI. Unless Windows 8 severely fails, which I hope it does.