- Windows 8 – likely to become the most popular for home users.
- Windows 8 Pro – targeted more at power users and businesses. Adds BitLocker, ability to join domains, Group Policy, Remote Desktop, Encrypting File System etc.
- Windows 8 Enterprise – only available to Software Assurance customers (typically large corporations).
In addition, you need to decide whether to buy an Upgrade or Full version of Windows 8:
- Upgrade – cheaper than the full version but you must have a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 installed on your computer to upgrade from.
- Full – if you do not have a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7 installed on your computer, you must buy a Full version.
Warning: If you buy the Upgrade version and ever have to replace your hard drive, remember that you need to reinstall the previous version of Windows before you can upgrade it to Windows 8 – problematic if you have no way of reinstalling the previous version e.g. Vista was pre-installed and you have no Vista installation DVD.
32-Bit Or 64-Bit? The 32-bit version can only read and use up to about 3.25 GB of memory (RAM) whereas the 64-bit version can read and use up to 16GB of memory or more. Computers today increasingly come with at least 4GB of memory to satisfy the high demands of gaming and video editing so 64 bit versions of Windows are far more common as they can make full use of these larger amounts of memory.
If your computer has 3GB or less RAM you can choose either version – but we recommend 64-bit in case you want to add more RAM later. If your computer has 4GB+ RAM you should choose the 64-bit version or part of your RAM will be wasted and your computer will be slower than it could be.
[Note: not all older programs will be compatible with 64-bit versions of Windows 8, check the requirements of any programs you intend to install]
OEM Version? Many online shops also sell the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) version – often called the ‘System Builder’ version because it is aimed at those building a new PC. OEM versions are cheaper than the standard price of Retail versions – e.g. Amazon sell Windows 8 OEM DVD 64-Bit for just $99.99 at the time of writing.
OEM versions come in either 32-bit or 64-bit versions whereas Retail versions include both (you choose which of the two to install). OEM versions are licensed for computer system builders only – there are different opinions as to whether home users can legally buy and install it for themselves but the fact that major stores happily sell it to the public suggests it is probably ok.
The license for W8 OEM versions is linked to the motherboard in your computer i.e. you can only use it on that one computer – if you scrap your computer and buy another you will not be able to reuse W8 on the new computer. If your motherboard dies and you replace it, you may be able to persuade Microsoft that it is still basically the same computer but if they say no you will need to buy W8 again…
Current Offers – There are several offers from Microsoft on Windows 8 Pro at the moment:
If you buy a qualifying Windows 7 computer between 2 June 2012 and 31 January 2013 you can upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $14.99
Consumer versions of XP, Vista and Windows 7 on qualifying computers will be able to download an upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $39.99 until 31 January 2013.
Consumer versions of XP, Vista and Windows 7 on qualifying computers will be able to buy a DVD upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for $69.99 until 31 January 2013 – this is on offer at Amazon for $66.99 at the time of writing.
Windows 8 Pro users can take advantage of a temporary offer to get the Media Center Pack free (usual cost $9.99) – so you can watch and record live TV with Windows Media Center.