Confirming previous rumors about simplified SKUs, Microsoft has announced that its latest operating system will come in three consumer flavors: Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT (stands for runtime). The first two will be available at retail, while the third will only be preinstalled on ARM-based devices. This has been reduced from four retail editions of Windows Vista and three for Windows 7.

All three have the same core features and the average user would likely have a tough time telling them apart. "Windows 8" is intended as the base offering and it seems analogous to previous "Home" editions. It has virtually all the upgrades we've discussed, like the updated Task Manager and Windows Explorer, better multi-monitor support, Sky Drive integration, improved power efficiency and more.

"Windows 8 Pro" has some extra perks meant for tech enthusiasts and professionals, such as access to BitLocker and BitLocker To Go, Client Hyper-V, Group Policy controls, as well as the ability to host via Remote Desktop and boot from VHD. Again, nothing the average user is likely to need, though it's worth noting that the Pro edition is required to upgrade from Windows 7 Professional and Ultimate.

"Windows RT" (also known as Windows on ARM or WOA) won't be available as a standalone retail OS and since it's mostly geared toward tablets, Microsoft made some mobile-oriented tweaks. Most notably, the company mentions touch-optimized desktop versions of Office applications including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. It also gains device encryption, but loses Windows Media Player.

Outside consumer offerings, there will be an Enterprise edition that contains everything in Windows 8 Pro with added features for IT organization that "enable PC management and deployment, advanced security, virtualization, new mobility scenarios, and much more." Pricing hasn't been shared yet, but we'd be surprised to see a significant deviation from previous rates. The full feature chart is below:

Feature name Windows 8 Windows 8 Pro Windows RT
Upgrades from Windows 7 Starter,
Home Basic, Home Premium



Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate   x  
Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles x x x
Windows Store x x x
Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging,
Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, Video)
x x x
Microsoft Office (Word, Excel,
PowerPoint, OneNote)
Internet Explorer 10 x x x
Device encryption     x
Connected standby x x x
Microsoft account x x x
Desktop x x x
Installation of x86/64
and desktop software
x x  
Updated Windows Explorer x x x
Windows Defender x x x
SmartScreen x x x
Windows Update x x x
Enhanced Task Manager x x x
Switch languages on the fly
(Language Packs)
x x x
Better multiple monitor support x x x
Storage Spaces x x  
Windows Media Player x x  
Exchange ActiveSync x x x
File history x x x
ISO / VHD mount x x x
Mobile broadband features x x x
Picture password x x x
Play To x x x
Remote Desktop (client) x x x
Reset and refresh your PC x x x
Snap x x x
Touch and Thumb keyboard x x x
Trusted boot x x x
VPN client x x x
BitLocker and BitLocker To Go   x  
Boot from VHD   x  
Client Hyper-V   x  
Domain Join   x  
Encrypting File System   x  
Group Policy   x  
Remote Desktop (host)   x