Windows Migration—Choosing the Right Version of Windows 8.1

The end of Windows XP is near. Despite its continued popularity (it’s estimated that as many as 1/3 of the PCs still in use are running XP), Microsoft is ending updates and support on April 8, 2014.

Because of that, many users are finding it necessary to make the switch to Windows 8.1. But, which one? There are at least 4 different versions, not including the 32- and 64-bit options thrown in. You likely don’t want to spend more money than necessary, but you also want to make sure that you get all the features you need.

Here’s a breakdown of the differences:

Windows RT

This version is designed for tablet use relying on the Start screen and a bunch of the different apps that either come with the initial program or that you download from the Windows Store app. It’s pre-installed on the tablets or laptops and isn’t available to buy in any other formats, which means it also can’t be transferred from one device to another. You’re also not able to upgrade to Windows RT from an older version of Windows, so you’d only be running this version if you plan on replacing any of your XP desktops with Windows tablets.

RT also doesn’t have the ability to run “legacy” desktop software (x86/x64-based applications). RT does, however, have full device encryption which protects your data on the device if the drive accessed from another source or removed. It also includes a bundled version of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote 15.

Windows 8.1

This is your standard version that is geared toward consumers. It’s quite a bit more powerful than Windows RT, but includes some of the same features such as the Start screen and apps, but on top of that, includes a fully functional desktop.

You can buy additional apps through the Windows Store or by purchasing additional Windows software. If you’re mainly just using your PC for document processing and email, you may be okay with the basic 8.1 version.

Windows 8.1 Pro

This is the end-all version. It includes more security features like BitLocker and BitLocker-to-Go encryption and Encrypted File System (EFS). You can also boot straight from a virtual hard drive (VHD), which may be useful.

While not everyone will need all the extra features, the beefed-up security should make this version the go-to for most business owners. This is especially true if you are going to be hosting or accessing sensitive data on your desktop.

Windows 8.1 for Emerging Markets

Emerging Markets is only available to specific countries and in specific languages.

Windows 8.1 Enterprise

This version is only available to companies that are involved with the Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) program. Although Microsoft usually gives bulk buy discounts, it can also be quite expensive as you buy Windows Pro covered with SA for every machine. Enterprise comes with extra networking features and a few more technical programs for technicians and is the most robust version of Windows available.

32 vs. 64-bit

The Windows installer comes in two identical versions: 32-bit and 64-bit. There’s no way to go back and forth between the two without erasing your system and starting over, but your choice will depend on the hardware you have and the age of your computer.

The 32-bit version works with almost any PC, but you get a maximum of 4GB of RAM. The 64-bit version lets you have more RAM, but if you don’t have the correct software installed, or have a much older system, it may not work. There is an upgrade compatibility checker built into the setup process, so that should also help with your decision making.

Choices Narrowed Down

So, which version is right for you? It depends on the features you need. If you’re concerned about security, go with 8.1 Pro. If you think you’re only going to be doing basic tasks and don’t need to worry about too much about data loss or compromise, 8.1 should be the one you use. And if you need the ultimate version of Windows with enhanced networking features, look into 8.1 Enterprise.

Are you upgrading to Windows 8.1? Which version are you going to use?




About the Author:

Matt Smith works for Dell and has a passion for learning and writing about technology. Outside of work he enjoys entrepreneurship, being with his family, and the outdoors.