Windows 8 will have three versions. What are the differences?

Microsoft says it will introduce three Windows 8 editions, including Windows RT, an version optimized for ARM tablets and PCs. 

Microsoft Windows 8 will ship in a variety of flavors, Microsoft reps announced today. Here, the interior of a Microsoft retail store in San Diego.

Windows 8, the next-generation Microsoft OS expected to debut later this year, will ship in three distinct "flavors": Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT. So says Microsoft communications manager Brandon LeBlanc, who took to the Windows blog this week to tout the "flexibility" of the new Microsoft ecosystem. 

"We have talked about Windows 8 as Windows reimagined, from the chipset to the user experience," LeBlanc wrote in a post on Blogging Windows. "This also applies to the editions available – we have worked to make it easier for customers to know what edition will work best for them when they purchase a new Windows 8 PC or upgrade their existing PC." 

So which edition will you be picking up? Well, it depends on what kind of machine you own. Windows RT is "the newest member of the Windows family," LeBlanc writes – an OS optimized for ARM tablets and PCs. In practice, that means "touch-optimized" desktop versions of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and OneNote, as well as a stripped-down interface and improved battery life. Windows RT is what you'll run on your new tablet. 

Windows 8 – plain old Windows 8 – is what you'll run on your desktop. This is the real successor to Windows 7: A workhorse OS with all the niceties, including access to the new Windows Store and Internet Explorer 10. And then there's Windows 8 Pro, which is geared toward business users or "enthusiasts" (read: Windows geeks). 

Windows 8 Pro, LaBlanc writes, "includes all the features in Windows 8 plus features for encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity. Windows Media Center will be available as an economical 'media pack' add-on to Windows 8 Pro."

Unlike past versions of Windows, Windows 8 is designed to mix the traditional elements of desktop operating systems with elements from the world of tablets and smartphones – the tiles, the apps, the touch-controlled interface. Microsoft has not specified an exact release date, but smart money is on this fall – just in time for the holiday shopping rush.

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