Unanswered questions about what's in Windows 8 editions

Unanswered questions about what's in Windows 8 editions

Summary: Microsoft's announcement that Windows 8 will ship in only two retail versions cleared up some uncertainty. But it left a handful of interesting questions unanswered.


Microsoft’s announcement earlier this week that Windows 8 will be available in two retail/OEM editions for x86/x64 PCs cleared up a lot of uncertainty. But it left some observers, including me, with a short list of additional questions.

I sent a list of questions to Microsoft, which politely declined to comment. So I decided to share the list with you, along with my conjecture as to what the answers are.

Here’s what I’m still wondering about:

Are the RAM limitations gone?

Current versions of Windows 7 have arbitrary limits on the amount of physical memory that can be addressed by different editions. (See this link for the full list.)

If Windows 8 is a replacement for Windows 7 Home Premium, will it also be limited to 16 GB of addressable RAM? Or will all editions of Windows 8 have the ability to address up to 192 GB of RAM, as Windows 7 Professional and higher editions can today?

My guess: In keeping with the goal of simplifying editions, this artificial limitation will be removed.

Is Windows RT part of the Windows 8 family or not?

The wording of an announcement of this nature isn’t random. Each draft goes through many hands and is vetted heavily by marketing and legal managers before it’s published. So I found it interesting that the post contained this carefully crafted language:

Windows 8 is the official product name for the next x86/64 editions of Windows. … Windows RT is the newest member of the Windows family – also known as Windows on ARM or WOA, as we’ve referred to it previously.

That link leads to an earlier post on the Building Windows 8 blog, in which Steven Sinofsky referred to Windows on ARM (now officially named Windows RT) as a “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.” The implication is that Windows RT is not an edition of Windows 8 but a very close cousin.

My guess: We’ll have to wait and see how Microsoft’s marketing plays out late this year and early next year, when ARM-based devices appear in the marketplace. But it sure looks like Microsoft is trying to keep the Windows 8 and Windows RT brands separate.

Will Windows Anytime Upgrade be supported?

In Windows 7, it’s easy to upgrade from one edition to another, without having to do a complete reinstall. All you have to do is enter a new product key. (Here’s a Windows Anytime Upgrade walkthrough I did back in 2009.) Earlier this week, I used this feature to unlock Windows 7 Ultimate edition on a new notebook that came with Windows 7 Home Premium installed. The upgrade took eight minutes, with one restart and absolutely no change to installed applications and saved data. Will Windows 8 offer a similarly easy upgrade?

My guess: I’ll be shocked if this feature isn’t included. It’s incredibly easy and the underlying installer technology hasn’t changed. It would be more work to remove it than to leave it.

What’s the deal with Media Center?

Some readers are confused about the status of Media Center in Windows 8. Media Center was not a line in the chart listing features in each edition. The only mention in the post itself was this one:

Windows Media Center will be available as an economical “media pack” add-on to Windows 8 Pro.

Several commenters on my previous post expressed hope that the base edition of Windows 8 included Media Center technology. Others expressed concern that the “media pack” add-on requires Windows 8 Pro, when they view Media Center as a home/consumer technology, not a “pro” feature.

My guess: Media Center will not be included in the base edition and will only be available as an extra-cost “media pack” that requires Windows 8 Pro. My completely unfounded, wild-ass guess is that it will cost between $10 and $20 and will be available exclusively as an online offering.

And as an aside, for enthusiasts using Media Center’s DVR technology: Remember that it’s perfectly OK to stick with Windows 7. The Media Center code in Windows 8 is essentially the same as its predecessor, as far as I can tell. Windows 7 will be fully supported until 2020, and I can’t think of any Windows 8 feature (with the possible exception of Storage Spaces) that will be a must-have item for a dedicated Media Center machine.

Will Windows 8 offer DVD playback?

The point of separating Media Center from the base operating system, of course, is to avoid the requirement of paying Dolby Labs a royalty for every copy of Windows sold. Dolby Digital Plus technology is what allows DVD playback with surround sound. As Mary Jo Foley reported in August 2011:

DVD playback is built into Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

Dolby’s Digital Plus technology also is built into Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional and Ultimate, according to Dolby’s Web site. The site describes Dolby’s DIgital Plus as providing “next-generation surround sound” that helps improve the listening experience of DVDs and digital TVs by complementing high-definition video with support for HD audio.

If you use the base version of Windows 8, will you be able to play a DVD?

My guess: Place your bets. The DVD capability in Windows 7 is fueled by a simple MPEG-2 decoder that allows playback in Windows Media Player. With Windows XP and certain editions of Windows Vista, you had the option to purchase a separate codec pack that unlocked DVD playback.  If you have Windows 7 Home Basic or Starter, you have to upgrade to  Home Premium or install a third-party player to enable DVD playback. Given that so many new PCs no longer ship with any optical media, it’s conceivable that Microsoft could revert to a default configuration without a DVD decoder.

That's my list. Any questions you're dying to know the answers to about Windows 8 editions? Leave them in the Talkback section.


Topics: Software, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobility, Operating Systems, Windows

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  • Would MS be better . . .

    . . . . to go to one "cheaper, basic" version and then have a bunch of different apps or features that could be separately bought and installed (such as WMC and Bitlocker)? I am not sure about the practicality, but it would potentially end all of the angst about what is and is not in various versions. I guess that MS would have already thought of the idea and dismissed it for various reasons, but I would sure like to know those reasons :-)
    • I don't think so ...

      I think "Windows 8 (Home)" and "Windows 8 Professional" just makes sense to consumers, whether they are buying a new PC/notebook/tablet or they are buying shrink-wrapped Windows 8.

      When you buy a new PC today, OEMs almost always give you the option of including MS Office. Adding Media Center to the lineup of options for PCs with DVD drives is a natural progression - especially with the growth of downloadable 720p and even full HD materials, the need for DVD and Blu-Ray playback will continue to diminish.

      The point is that Microsoft has, for years, been beaten up for not coming as a complete OS package. (You always needed something else, an office quite, AV, anti-malware, blah, blah, blah. With Windows 8, AV and ant-malware is built-in. Metro apps for MS Office and Media Center, and even an upgrade to the Pro version is a click away. Windows 8 really is one-stop shopping.
      M Wagner
      • it's the extra features

        Yes, have a Pro version which bundles N features not found in the Home version, and charge N times X more than the Home price for Pro. But make the Pro features available for a la carte purchase for Home at, maybe, 2X for each of them. Not all that much different from MSFT selling Access stand-alone, so someone could buy Office Standard or Small Business rather than Pro and then buy Access later.

        Now what's this upgrade to Pro a click away? I haven't seen that.
    • Bitlocker I don't know about

      It's not very handy until more systems begin shipping with TPMs
      • TPMs becoming universal with 8

        even SoC and ARM systems will have firmware TPMs
  • BitLocker should have been included in the base edition

    Just like the blooper with System Image not in all editions of Vista, Microsoft is doing the same I believe with BitLocker Drive Encryption. Considering that a large part of its effectiveness is to protect mobile users from having their laptops compromised if stolen. I see a lot of Windows 7 Home Premium laptops in use and I believe their data is just as important as a business user. If not BitLocker, at least EFS would have been nice.
    • this i agree with

      Having BitLocker and/or EFS available on Windows 8 would be nice to have to add a layer of protection to personal data. Although many home laptops never leave home, when they do it would be nice to have a little security for your personal data.
    • Why? Most consumers do not even password protected their computers!

      If consumers do not do this simplest of things to protect their data, bitlocker will be of no use. Same way with Media Center. If people are buying their HD movies from iTunes or Amazon, or whomever, why charge them for a DVD codec they will never use?

      Everyone wants something for nothing. Tough.

      Microsoft gives consumers a break by not including stuff they don't need and won't use. Want more? Buy the Pro version. Want stuff Microsoft won't sell to you? There is a third-party out there that WILL sell it to you.
      M Wagner
      • Why? Well why not!

        [i]Microsoft gives consumers a break by not including stuff they don't need and won't use. [/i]

        What break? They're not going to pass those savings on to the end user.
      • True but sneaky trojans can bypass even the most complex passwords

        In the era of social media, it's even easier to just fool someone to installing something that enables complete access.

        Windows does not need to give DVD play back since it's just the OS. HP, DEL, Lenovo, Acer, ASUS, Gateway, etc... and other reatil PC maker sould include some basic OEM if not trial ware that plays back DVD. The media pac is mainly for system builders that OC the latest X86 cpus and radeon/geforce gpus so they can post a purdy bar graph on a PC hardware thread. Besisdes who needs a PC that plays DVDs when they got net enabled blu-ray players for under 100 bucks. They are a lot easier for the older VHS generation to use.
      • don't use, sure -- don't need, well...

        On that basis MSFT shouldn't include backup software in [nada]/Home version since so few would use it. Ditto pretty much all the other admin tools. And if your PC comes with Office or Works, who needs Wordpad?

        I agree people shouldn't expect something for nothing, but why does BitLocker make more sense as only available bundled with Pro version rather than also available a la carte as something [nada]/Home buyers could purchase separately, the same way Office Standard buyers could buy stand-alone Access later if they find out they need it?

        Try a little logic next time.
  • What does Windows RT even stand for?

    Giving it a name with no meaning to the public seems another deliberate attempt to strangle ARM Windows at birth. Do you get the feeling MS is just no enthusiastic about this product? I'd be surprised if many OEMs actually bother to design [s]WOA[/s] Windows RT tablets.
    The Star King
    • RT stands for Run Time

      I am not sure why they named it that though to be honest.

      I don't get the feeling MS is not enthusiastic about RT. I think they are trying to leverage the Windows name but also set the expectation that there will be no emulation of legacy Windows applications on SoC. I think it is going to be confusing to PC and tablet buyers and I think they know it is going to be confusing but they are trying to ride out the storm.

      The problem they are trying to overcome is that the SoC hardware is not powerful enough to provide a decent user experience while running applications that were written for x86 machines. They are also trying to create an more or less new Apple/Android/Amazon like ecosystem for apps. It is going to be an uphill battle but I understand why they trying it.

      The problems they are going to run into is someone like my brother that wants a Windows tablet and gets frustrated when I tell him that most Windows 8 tablets will probably not run the legacy software he wants to run on it. I think they may also struggle to get regular PC users to move over to the whole app store model. It will be interesting to watch.
      • Well, a Windows 8 tablet will run legacy apps; a Windows RT tablet won't

        That's probably the main reason for the separation of the branding. The capabilities (particularly in regards to legacy anything) of x86/64 Windows 8 are very different from those of ARM-based Windows RT
      • There will be x86/x64 Windows 8 Tablets

        The Microsoft announcement clearly states that there will be x86/x64 Windows 8 Tablets as well:
        "For PCs and tablets powered by x86 processors (both 32 and 64 bit), we will have two editions: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro."

        Therefore you brother need not be worried.
      • This is also why there will be Intel-based tablets ...

        ... running Windows 8 - so your brother can run all of the legacy apps he wants while migrating, over time, to a pure Windows RT (ARM-based) tablet environment.

        Users want every transition to be smooth and perfect - but they never are. Legacy code and legacy hardware always lead to unanticipated problems.
        M Wagner
    • It stands for "Run Time"

      Windows RT is meant for tablets. Plain and simple. Tablet users tend to take on one task at a time. The form-factor is really too small for true multitasking so the OS does not need Preemptive Multitasking. It just needs simple task-switching. This is how tablets save their battery. This design also makes it possible to run a Metro-style app under Windows 8 and under Windows RT without re-compiling.

      It is reasonable to assume that all future versions of Windows will have the Metro paradigm and Windows RT while Windows RT itself will run natively on ARM tablets.
      M Wagner
  • Microsoft - Let me smack you upside the head.

    You're winning a war but apparently nobody told you. While the PS3 is stuck in juniors bedroom, the XBox is getting invited to the living room. It's not just a game system anymore.

    But here's the deal. To keep winning this battle you need every advantage you can get - and Media Center is one of those advantages. The biggest problem with WMC is that it's underused, not overused.

    Be smart ... not only should you keep it part of Windows, but you should educate people on how to use this product to host their private media libraries. Once hooked, you'll only sell more Xboxes and WinBoxes.
    • To Be Honest

      Media Center seems like it would fit perfectly into the Metro UI of Windows 8, by becoming a Metro Media Hub, similar to the hubs found on Windows Phone. Honestly, I expected this program to eventually replace the aging Windows Media Player app, which hasn't been really developed for since the XP days.

      I can see why Microsoft doesn't want to pay royalties, but they're missing out on some great functionality for entheusiasts.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Metro app

        My bet is that they will try to sell a new "Media Center Metro" app through that new store, that's why they remove it from Windows.