What IT Pros Need to Know about Windows 8: Just the FAQs

Every two or three years, Microsoft releases a new version of Windows. Windows 7 will be three years old this fall, and its successor will be there right on schedule.
Windows 8 is a complex product packed with big and small changes. If you’re an IT pro, Windows 8 will increasingly be on your radar screen over the next few months. This post focuses on answering the key questions you (and your boss) are likely to ask first.

What is Windows 8?

Windows 8 is the successor to Windows 7. It is built on the same foundation as Windows 7, and it runs virtually all the same programs that run on Windows 7 (the exceptions are system-level utilities that might need an update). On your enterprise network, it supports the same networking and security features as Windows 7.

What’s new? What’s different?

There are many small improvements in Windows 8 designed to make it faster and less resource-intensive than previous versions. It starts up and shuts down faster than Windows 7 on similar hardware, and its system requirements are unchanged.

The biggest difference is that Windows 8 supports a new class of applications in addition to traditional Windows 7 programs. These new apps take up the full screen and are designed to be usable on touch-enabled devices.

The new apps embody a distinctive visual style called Metro. That same style is embodied in the new Start and search screens, which also use the full screen, and are designed with finger-friendly arrangements of tiles for access to apps and information.

Is it available now?

Microsoft has made a preliminary version of Windows 8 available for use by the general public. In techier times, this would have been called a “beta.” Instead, it goes by a much friendlier name: “The Windows 8 Consumer Preview.” Don’t let the name fool you: this edition includes business and enterprise features, but its focus is to introduce the new product to early adopters, enthusiasts and IT decision-makers.

Anyone can download and install the Consumer Preview on a desktop or notebook PC (or on one of the few Windows tablets available today). It’s free.
Microsoft promises that a new test version, called a Release Preview, will be available in the first week of June. This release should be nearly identical to the final product, with bug fixes and a near-final user interface.

When will it be finished?

Even within Microsoft, the target dates for Windows 8 are a closely held secret. But the smart money says it will be released to manufacturing (and available for download by IT pros and developers) in August. I expect the General Availability date, when it’s available in shrink-wrapped boxes and on new PCs, to be in late October.

How many editions will there be?

On retail shelves and on new PCs, you will be able to select from two editions. The first is called simply Windows 8. It contains most of the features you find today in Windows 7 Home Premium. An upgrade version called Windows 8 Pro includes advanced features that power users and enterprises will find attractive or essential, like the ability to join a domain and to safeguard a drive’s data with BitLocker encryption.

For enterprise customers with Software Assurance subscriptions, Microsoft will offer an upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise edition that includes a handful of features and licensing rights that are useful in large organizations.

The final member of the Windows 8 family is called Windows RT. It is designed to run on new devices (tablets and small PCs, for example) that use low-power ARM chips. This edition will include a free version of Microsoft Office 15 and some features from the Windows Desktop, such as Windows Explorer. But it will not run traditional Windows programs.

How much will it cost?

Sorry, that hasn’t been announced yet. But most observers think the prices will be no greater than their equivalent Windows 7 editions.

For more on this topic, watch my recent webinar “The Ins and Outs of Windows 8 – What IT Pros Need to Know and Why”.

Image Credit: Ceo1O17

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