Whether you are buying a new PC or thinking of upgrading an existing PC, the choice of Windows 7 or Windows 8 is not an easy one. To determine whether Windows 8 will work for you and your environment you first have to consider: application compatibility, added benefits, and usability. Once you have done that you can then determine which edition of Windows you should purchase (Windows 8 Core, Pro, Enterprise, or Windows RT).
Compared to previous versions of Windows, application compatibility is pretty good between Windows 7 and Windows 8. If an application runs in Windows 7 it will most likely run in Windows 8 as well. There are a few exceptions to this, though. To play it safe, check with your software vendors to make sure your most critical software will support the new environment.
Added Benefits / New Features
Windows 8/RT (I’ll explain the difference below) is faster, more secure, and will even provide better battery life for mobile computers and devices. Windows 8 comes with the newly rewritten Windows Defender which is a complete anti-virus/anti-malware protection software. This makes Windows 8 the first version of Windows that actually protects against infections right out of the box. Browsing the web (using Internet Explorer 10) and running applications is also much more secure since Windows now actively tries to makes sure everything being executed is intentional, and not being run from a Trojan on your system.
Some of the visual effects that were in Windows Vista and Windows 7 are now gone in Windows 8. The primary reason for this is to make the operating system more efficient. This means less CPU horsepower is needed to process all those extra effects, and better battery life as a result. This is especially noticeable on the new tablet PCs coming out (such as the Microsoft Surface RT tablet).
Windows 8 is a touch first environment. This means that everything has been re-tooled to make it easy to navigate and use with just a touch screen. For those of us who prefer a keyboard & mouse, Windows 8 works just as well (if not better) than Windows 7. With the new search capabilities, navigating is easier than ever before.
Windows 8 has replaced the Start menu with a new Start screen which gives you dashboard-like information about your Windows 8 apps (not to be confused with traditional desktop applications). It sounds more confusing than it actually is, and it really does not take very long to get used to the new user interface since it is so user friendly… especially if you have a touch screen.
Windows 8 has a new native style of app which is purchased through the Windows store (built into Windows). These new style of Win 8 “Apps” run full screen, and do not use the Windows desktop you’re used to. Traditional desktop applications such as QuickBooks, Photoshop and CAD programs can still be run from the Windows desktop as long as you are running Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro (not Windows RT). Windows RT is a special version of Windows which is designed to run on mobile low-powered ARM processors commonly found in inexpensive tablet computers. Windows RT does not give you the ability to run any traditional desktop applications, but instead only Apps purchased from the Windows Store. The exception to this rule is Microsoft Office, which is included and pre-installed on all Windows RT devices.
Editions of Windows 8 / Windows RT
There are three different editions of Windows 8, and the differences can be a little confusing, but I will try to de-mystify this for you.
Windows 8 (core): This is the core version of Windows designed for consumer PCs and laptops. Windows 8 will run both the new style of App, as well as the old style of desktop applications (such as QuickBooks, Photoshop and CAD programs) using the traditional Windows desktop.
Windows 8 Pro: This edition includes everything from Windows 8 as well as some functionality useful to small & medium-sized businesses. With Windows 8 Pro you gain the ability to join a corporate domain. Drive encryption using BitLocker is also included in Windows 8 Pro. Just like Windows 8 (core) you can run both Win 8 style Apps purchased from the Windows App Store, and also traditional desktop applications.
Windows RT: This is a special version of Windows specifically designed to run on mobile devices (such as tablet computers) running the ARM processor. ARM processors use far less power than traditional desktop/laptop CPUs so you get much better battery life. Windows RT only comes pre-installed on computers, so you can not purchase it separately. A big benefit is that it comes with a version of Microsoft Office built right in. With the exception of MS-Office, Windows RT devices will not allow you to run traditional desktop applications. It will ONLY support the new style of Windows Apps purchased from the Windows App Store.
Windows 8 Enterprise: This is another special version of Windows only available to volume license customers. Unlike Windows RT, Windows 8 Enterprise is not limited in any way. Windows 8 Enterprise includes all of the functionality of Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, plus includes a few features important to enterprise businesses. Windows 8 Enterprise includes the ability to create a Windows To Go bootable USB drive. If your corporate network utilizes Direct Access, Branch Cache, or VDI (for virtualized desktop environments), then you will really need to consider Windows 8 Enterprise on the PC (or virtualized PC in some cases) since it is the required version of Windows client to utilize these technologies.