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Our guide to the differences between Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows RT

Windows 8 is here and the new iteration of the ubiquitous OS (opens in new tab) represents one of the most dramatic shift in functionality the Microsoft platform has ever seen.

It looks to impel a massive change both in the way software and hardware are designed, as the touch sensitive control scheme has inspired an architectural evolution in the new generation of Windows-based PCs and laptops.

However, in the unveiling of a plethora of new (opens in new tab)hybrid tablet-laptops and touch functional PCs, the spotlight may have shifted away from the actual operating system. Windows 8 has become a catch-all term that does not distinguish between the three variations of the OS currently on offer.

Therefore it is paramount that the prospective buyer is made aware of the differences between the various versions of the operating system. We haven't considered Windows 8 Enterprise since it is only available to Volume License customers and therefore won't be available in the retail market.

(opens in new tab)Windows 8 is the standard edition, Windows 8 Pro is for the advanced user requiring more features and Windows RT (Runtime) is an ARM powered OS that is specifically intended for mobile computing.

The main differences between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro are advanced encryption features, the ability to sideload Windows Store apps and other business-focussed features like Group Policy.

Due to RT’s focus on mobile computing, it stands as a radically different iteration, compared with Windows 8 and Pro. Therefore due to a need for clarity and a desire for expediency, I will be comparing Windows 8 Standard and Pro to Windows RT.

Hardware Support

Windows RT: The primary difference between the three SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) is what hardware they will be available on. Windows RT can only operate on devices that run on ARM (either using an Nvidia, Qualcomm or doTI system on chip), and is incapable of running on an AMD or Intel powered PC.

Windows 8: Windows 8 operates on x86 devices and cannot run on ARM powered devices. This means that the Microsoft Surface (opens in new tab)can only run Windows RT and cannot use Windows 8. Conversely, the upcoming Surface Pro tablet will only be able to run Windows 8.

Software Support

Windows RT: It runs solely Windows Store apps and comes with a streamlined version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint only) pre installed. It is not compatible with existing Windows programs. Furthermore it actively restricts the range of application programming interfaces (API) that developers can use. This has direct repercussions on the web browser as Internet Explorer will be the only browser capable of performing the advanced functions needed for fluid web access.

Windows 8: Both SKUs are compatible with existing Windows applications but do not come with Office pre-installed (opens in new tab) (ed : expect Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition to be bundled on some devices though).

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Windows RT: Its app-based user interface is the new Start Screen interface (formerly known as Metro) that is designed to be touch friendly.

Windows 8: It carries a dual-navigation feature that allows the user to switch between the Start Screen and a more mouse friendly desktop mode.

Business Applications

Windows RT: The mobile specific OS does not support third party software, with business applications having to be downloaded via the Windows Store.

Windows 8: Its compatibility with pre-existing Windows programs means that it supports most business software. Windows 8 Pro on the other hand has a full array of new business-oriented features like the ability to join a Windows Domain or Group Policy.

Battery Life

Windows RT: It is expected to have a longer battery life than other Windows devices, estimated to be somewhere between 8-13 hours.

Windows 8: The upcoming range of Windows 8 enabled devices are estimated to have 6-8 hours of battery life.


Windows RT: As of today, It is impossible to upgrade to Windows RT as it is only available on pre-installed devices.

Windows 8: The new flagship OS will be pre-installed on most if not all PCs launched on the 26 October and afterwards. Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro will also be available at retail and as an upgrade. Those on Windows 7 Starter, Home Basic and Home Premium can upgrade to Windows 8 while Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Professional users will be able to get Windows 8 Pro.

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Windows RT: As it can only be obtained via the purchase of a pre installed device the software itself is not available for retail. Though it is believed that RT devices will be cheaper than Windows 8 devices as it will have a lower manufacturing license fee.

Windows 8: The physical upgrade pack is currently on sale for £49.99 with £25 additional charge for those who upgrade to Pro. Users can download Windows 8 upgrade for as little as £25 (opens in new tab).


Windows RT: If you are primarily interested in mobile computing and are looking for a tablet with basic productivity apps, then the Surface RT would be the ideal purchase.

Windows 8: Just like good ol' Windows 7 (and its other predecessors).