3 Versions of Windows 8 to Compete with OS X 10.8 & iOS 6

Windows 8, Microsoft’s forthcoming OS X and iOS competitor, will come in just three versions, with only two of them available for end-user purchase, Microsoft announced Monday. This marks a departure for the Redmond-based company, whose previous versions of Windows came in many editions that confused consumers and resulted in criticism of the company’s marketing strategy.

PCs, laptops, and tablets running x86 processors will get “Windows 8” and “Windows 8 Pro,” while ARM-based tablets will receive “Windows RT.” The RT version will only be available pre-installed on ARM tablets and, while it includes a touch-optimized version of Microsoft Office, will not run existing Windows-compatible applications.

Windows 8 MetroThe Windows 8 Metro UI will be the same across all platforms.

On the x86 side, the Pro version will include all the features of Windows 8 plus “encryption, virtualization, PC management and domain connectivity.” Of note, Windows Media Player will not be included in Windows 8 Pro by default, but will be available via an “economical media pack add-on.” Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft’s Communications Manager, failed to specify what “economical” means in terms of cost in his blog post announcing the Windows versions.

It is expected that Windows 8 will launch this fall alongside Windows 8-based tablet hardware. This will place it in direct competition with the next version of OS X, 10.8 Mountain Lion, set for launch this summer, and iOS 6, expected between summer and fall.

Like Windows 8, with which Microsoft is attempting to unify the user experience across desktops, laptops, and tablets, OS X Mountain Lion is Apple’s attempt to “iOS-ify” the OS X operating system. While Windows 8 will present the same user interface across the various platforms, Mountain Lion, as seen in the early developer preview builds, maintains the familiar OS X-style interface while incorporating iOS-style applications, such as Notes and Reminders, and iOS features, such as iCloud and Notification Center. 

OS X 10.8 Mountain LionOS X 10.8 Mountain Lion keeps the familiar OS X interface for desktops and laptops, but adds iOS features such as Notes, Reminders, Messages, and Notification Center.

On the tablet side of things, Windows 8 (for x86 tablets) and Windows RT (for ARM tablets) will likely face off against the yet-to-be-released iOS 6. Apple, tight-lipped as always, has revealed little thus far about the next version of its mobile OS, although early rumors hint at the possibility of a Google-free experience. 

Pricing for the two Windows versions that will be available to consumers has yet to be announced, with Mr. LeBlanc promising an update “in the coming months.” Apple has also not yet announced pricing for its future operating systems, although the last two versions of OS X have been $29.99 and iOS upgrades, with some early exceptions, have been free for users with compatible devices. 

For users anxious to get their hands on prerelease versions of these next-gen operating systems, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview can be downloaded free from Microsoft and the Developer Preview of Mountain Lion can be obtained from Apple’s Mac Dev Center, although access to the download requires a $99 per year membership as an Apple Developer.

Metro Testbed iPad AppExperience the Windows 8 Metro UI on your iPad with Splashtop’s Win8 Metro Testbed App.

For iPad users that have Windows 8 already running on a PC or Mac via Bootcamp, the “Win8 Metro Testbed” from Splashtop ($24.99 on the iTunes App Store) allows you to run the Windows 8 “Metro” interface on your iPad via remote desktop, ironically providing a first-hand look at the Windows 8 Tablet experience on Apple hardware.