The number of distinct versions of Windows one can choose from has become a sort of running joke. Between Home, Basic, Premium, Ultimate, and all the rest, it's enough to drive a person to buying a Mac instead. Microsoft has at last addressed the problem, and the upcoming Windows 8 will have only three flavors to choose from. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBCUniversal.)
They're refreshingly easy to wrap your mind around:
- Windows 8 -- for x86-based hardware like your average desktop or laptop; includes all features the average user will need, including both the new Metro interface and the original desktop look.
- Windows 8 Pro -- for pros, naturally, and businesses, this version adds in things like encryption, virtualization, and PC management. There is a variant of this strictly for enterprise called, unsurprisingly, Windows 8 Enterprise, but it's not actually something home users can buy.
- Windows 8 RT - also known as Windows On ARM, this version will be for devices like tablets that run on ARM processors. This is mainly for people who will only be using Windows on a tablet. RT stands for "runtime," referring to the new Metro style and ecosystem.
This post at the Windows Team Blog goes over the specific differences between the versions. People upgrading from Windows 7 will want to get the vanilla version, and businesses know they need Pro. RT will mostly be made available already installed on devices, the way your phone or tablet comes with everything already installed, so it barely even counts as an option.
Rumors had propagated following the release of the Windows 8 consumer preview that there would be as many as nine versions, from "Home Basic" to "Professional Plus," and many were understandably upset at this. But fortunately, that information turns out to have been mistaken -- or perhaps Microsoft saw the reaction and decided to rein in the number of offerings a bit.
The coming months should bring pricing and release date information, but you can try out the OS if you want by downloading the consumer preview here.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc .