Windows 8 Versions: Microsoft Simplifies, But Boots Tablet OS Name

Microsoft gets points for streamlining the number of Windows 8 versions to half that of the cluttered Windows 7. But it committed a marketing blunder by naming its tablet version "Windows RT."

Microsoft announced today in a company blog post that it will be selling three editions of Windows 8 (now the official name), two editions for PCs and one for ARM-based tablets.

It's nice to see Microsoft keep it simple with the Windows 8 editions, although the naming of one is still a real head-scratcher (more on that later). Any Windows user can tell you that Microsoft has a tendency to complicate names and versions of all its products, creating too many versions to market and profit from, but leaving most users confused.

Even the well-liked Windows 7 came in six versions: Home Basic, Starter Edition, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

Windows 8 whittles that down to "Windows 8" and "Windows 8 Pro" for devices powered by x86 processors (both 32- and 64-bit), and the more puzzlingly named Windows RT for tablets powered by ARM-based processors.

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Windows 8's simplified versions are a throwback to Windows XP, which only had two versions, XP Home and XP Professional. Maybe Microsoft is nostalgic for the XP glory days when PCs ruled and Microsoft was still the king of the hill.

In the blog post, Microsoft marketing manager Brandon LeBlanc explains that Windows 8 will be the OS version for consumers, taking the place of Windows 7 Home Premium. Windows 8 Pro, which includes encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity features available in Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate, will be the version for tech enthusiasts and IT professionals.

Things get a bit confusing with the tablet version, Windows RT (formerly referred to as Windows on ARM or WOA). This is new terrain for Microsoft as Windows RT will only be available pre-installed on tablets powered by ARM-processors that will allow the battery life to compete with the iPad and Android tablets.

Windows RT will enable tablets that Microsoft desperately needs to catch on with consumers. A key standout of Windows RT is that it will enable touch-optimized versions of Office 2010 (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote).

These are all good developments, accept that the Windows RT name couldn't be worse. As if cracking the ultra-competitive tablet space isn't hard enough, Microsoft has given the OS an obscure name based on WinRT, or Windows Runtime, which is the name for the APIs used by developers to create apps for the Metro interface.

That's right, Microsoft just named an OS that depends on consumer adoption in order to survive after a programming model. What happened? Did Microsoft's marketing department get hijacked by the IT group?

It should have been called "Windows 8 Touch." So you'd have Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro for x-86 devices and Windows 8 Touch for ARM-based devices (essentially tablets). That would be clear and simple, and really drive home Microsoft's all-important message of uniformity of one brand across devices.

But with Windows RT, Microsoft has not only taken the Windows 8 brand out of it (Windows RT won't carry the Windows 8 brand, even though it has most of the same features and is built on the Windows 8 code base), but the name is also similar to RTM (release to manufacturing) an industry term used often by Microsoft to describe software that is ready to release to public. Too much unnecessary confusion.

Yet despite the Windows RT name misstep, Microsoft deserves kudos this time around for untangling the thicket of versions that bogged down Vista and Windows 7.

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