On its Windows Team Blog, Microsoft announced the official name for the next version of Windows. It will be called... Windows 8. Yeah. Big surprises abound.
However, there was one surprise in today's announcement. Microsoft is reducing the number of different versions of Windows that will be available to purchase from five with Windows 7 to two in Windows 8. Here's the breakdown.
There will be two versions of Windows available to most people who use traditional x86/x64-compatible computers. (There's also an Enterprise edition, which will only be available to large companies with Software Assurance agreements.) Also new, but not sharing the Windows 8 moniker, is a specific version for ARM-based computers--called Windows RT. Windows RT won't be available as standalone software, it will only come bundled with compatible hardware. All Windows RT machines come with an ARM-native version of Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote).
With Windows 8, Microsoft has dramatically simplified the overly-complex scheme used to differentiate the different Windows 7 and Vista SKUs. This is a good thing. I'm sure the question you're asking right now is which version of Windows 8 will you need to buy? And, for the first time since Windows XP launched, the answer is simple. If you need to join a Windows Domain or use BitLocker's full-disk encryption, you should buy Windows 8 Pro. Otherwise, you can buy plain-vanilla Windows 8.
The only limitation comes if you want to do an in-place upgrade of an existing Windows 7 Pro or Windows 7 Ultimate machine. Because those versions of Windows 7 support BitLocker and joining domains, you can only do an in-place upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, which offers support for the same features. If you want to move to Windows 8 vanilla, you'll need to do a clean install.
Reducing the number of versions of Windows on offer is a good move on Microsoft's part. The over-priced Ultimate offerings and the confusing delineation between Home Basic and Home Premium versions were the perfect example of Goldilocks marketing, but despite offering many different versions, none were "just right".