Microsoft has announced the main Windows 8 product line-up when it makes its next operating system available later this year. There will be two retail editions for Intel-compatible processors, Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro; a third edition for ARM processors, Windows RT; an enterprise edition, Windows 8 Enterprise, for volume license customers. Its official as of today, April 16: Windows 8 is the name for the next version of x86/64 edition of Windows. And there will be three SKUs only.

“First, Windows 8 is the official product name for the next x86/64 editions of Windows,” Brandon LeBlanc, Microsoft’s Windows communications manager, wrote on the official Windows blog. Windows 8 is the consumer SKU. It will include the updated Windows Explorer, Task Manager, better multi-monitor support, and the ability to “switch languages on the fly,” which previously was only available to those purchasing the Enterprise and Ultimate Editions of Windows.

“Windows RT” is the new name for what had been called Windows on ARM. You won’t be able to purchase it on its own; it’ll come preinstalled on PCs and tablets that run ARM processors. Windows RT won’t be able to run traditional X86/64 desktop software. Instead, it’ll run touch-oriented apps based on Windows Runtime, Microsoft’s programming model for mobile apps. Apps for the touch-oriented Metro interface are built using Windows Runtime.

Unlike Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, Windows RT won’t be upgradeable from any edition of Windows 7, obviously, but it also won’t get Windows Media Player or Storage Spaces. Windows 8 and Windows RT have broadly matching feature-sets. As previously announced, Windows RT adds Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote as built-in features and includes full-device encryption, which Windows 8 lacks.

Conversely, Windows 8 includes support for existing x86 and x64 applications, Storage Spaces, and Windows Media Player. Windows 8 Pro builds on Windows 8 to include support for BitLocker, domain membership, Hyper-V virtualization, Group Policy support, and certain other high-end features. No edition of Windows 8 will ship with Windows Media Center. It will, however, be available as an “economical” add-on to Windows 8 Pro. The software giant is loading several new and updated features across all three SKUs, including the next version of Microsoft’s Web browser, Internet Explorer 10, Windows Defender, Windows Update, and Enhanced Task Manager. But Windows RT looks to be a somewhat different animal than the x86 versions of Microsoft’s next operating system.

One of the concerns often raised since the announcement of Windows on ARM processors is how Microsoft would inform consumers that this edition wouldn’t support existing x86 and x64 software. WinRT — the new Windows Runtime which is at the heart of the Metro-Style side of Windows 8. The new line-up is simpler than the Windows 7 line-up. While most consumers were never even offered the full range of Windows 7 options, the smaller set of SKUs should make purchasing simpler.

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