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I was reading the specs about MS Surface and saw that there are two Models offered. One with Windows RT and one with Windows 8 Pro. I'm wondering what's the difference between those two OS?

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I simply can't see how this question would not be constructive. It's perfectly answerable in an objective fashion. See meta.superuser.com/questions/6473/…. –  DragonLord Mar 10 '13 at 0:44
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My deepest apologies on voting to close this. I must've not been paying attention and didn't read the question correctly. This is a perfectly legitimate question for Super User. –  KronoS Mar 10 '13 at 4:15
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5 Answers

up vote 52 down vote accepted

From the Windows Blog post "Announcing Windows 8 Editions":

For PCs and tablets powered by x86 processors (both 32 and 64 bit), we will have two editions: Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro.

Windows RT is the newest member of the Windows family – also known as Windows on ARM or WOA, as we’ve referred to it previously. This single edition will only be available pre-installed on PCs and tablets powered by ARM processors.

Wikipedia also has nice pretty tables with more details on the available features.

Full list of features in each version from the Microsoft blog post:

╔════════════════════════════════════════════════╦═══════╦═════╦═════╗
║ Feature Name                                   ║ Win 8 ║ Pro ║ RT  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Upgrades from Windows 7 Starter,               ║   x   ║  x  ║     ║
║ Home Basic, Home Premium                       ║       ║     ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Upgrades from Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles        ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Windows Store                                  ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Bundled Modern UI/Metro Apps (Mail, Calendar,  ║       ║     ║     ║
║ People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader,   ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
║ Music, Video) and support for other Store Apps ║       ║     ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Microsoft Office Home & Student RT included    ║       ║     ║  x  ║
║ with OS (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)     ║       ║     ║  *  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Internet Explorer 10                           ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Device encryption                              ║       ║     ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Connected standby                              ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Microsoft account                              ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Desktop and support for Desktop apps           ║   x   ║  x  ║  †  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ SmartScreen                                    ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Windows Update                                 ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Enhanced task manager                          ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Switch languages on the fly w/ language packs  ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Better multiple monitor support                ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Storage spaces                                 ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Windows Media Player                           ║   x   ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Windows Media Center (separate download)       ║   x   ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Exchange ActiveSync                            ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ File history                                   ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ ISO / VHD mount                                ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ VHD booting                                    ║   x   ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Mobile broadband features                      ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Picture password                               ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Play To device                                 ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Remote Desktop client                          ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Remote Desktop host                            ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Refresh and reset your PC                      ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Snap                                           ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Touch and Thumb keyboard                       ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Trusted boot                                   ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ VPN Client                                     ║   x   ║  x  ║  x  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ BitLocker and BitLocker To Go                  ║       ║  x  ║  ‡  ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Client Hyper-V                                 ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Domain join                                    ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Encrypting File System                         ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╠════════════════════════════════════════════════╬═══════╬═════╬═════╣
║ Group Policy                                   ║       ║  x  ║     ║
╚════════════════════════════════════════════════╩═══════╩═════╩═════╝

* Office Home & Student RT does not include support for Macros, Add-Ins, Forms and other features as listed in the FAQ.

† Only bundled Microsoft applications such as Notepad, Paint etc. can be executed in Desktop mode on Windows RT.

‡ Windows RT has no UI and very limited support for managing Bitlocker To Go drives (cut down version of manage-bde command is available).

If you're not sure whether a given program will work on your version of Windows, you can find more information in How can I tell which versions of Windows 8 a program will work on?

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Fantastic Answer! Thank you! –  gsharp Jun 21 '12 at 6:59
    
We had actually been planning to make a question like this soon, since somebody was bound to wonder. You beat me to the punch! –  nhinkle Jun 21 '12 at 7:02
    
One comment, that chart makes it look like Office will only run on Windows RT (clearly not the case). I know they are developing Office RT and said they will ship it with the new MS Surface tablet. Any confirmation that it will be a standard part of the OS? Will OEM ship a tablet with out it? –  Brad Patton Jun 21 '12 at 18:59
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That's what it said in their table, but hey, why can't we beat Microsoft at their own game? I'll edit it to be more clear. –  nhinkle Jun 22 '12 at 1:07
    
Few more points - Office RT lacks support for macros, Windows Media Center isn't available for Windows RT, Windows RT can't boot from VHDs, there's no UI for BitLocker on Windows RT but commands such as manage-bde are still supported (although some options such as autounlock seem to be missing) ... –  Karan Mar 12 '13 at 0:28
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There seems to be some confusion on this topic, so I have attempted to clarify.

Windows RT:

Windows RT is a variation of the Windows 8 operating system specifically designed for ARM(see bottom) devices. Since it is a distinct operating system, you will see Windows RT in place of Windows 8 when you look at the Settings -> PC Info screen of an ARM based tablet device (or similar). Earlier incarnations of the operating system were branded Windows on ARM.

WinRT:

WinRT is a runtime, somewhat like .NET or Java. It provides a cross-platform environment for other software and supports multiple languages (C++, C#, JavaScript and others).

Difference between "Windows RT" and "Windows 8":

From the end-user perspective there is not much difference as both support the Modern UI. Windows RT is not sold directly to consumers, but is meant to be sold to device manufacturers (aka OEMs) for preinstallation on devices. The goal behind Windows RT is to enable a consistent user experience across the range of tablets offered by manufacturers (including Microsoft's homegrown Surface). Windows RT will come bundled with Office, while Windows 8 users will have to buy (and install) it separately. The selection of bundled software differs between Windows RT and Windows 8. Windows RT seems to have stricter and different limitations on the software you are permitted to run on it, and it does not enable the use of the Win32 and COM APIs(see bottom). The WinRT API is available in stead.


I am working on a project requiring access to the underlying system information of an ARM device running Windows RT, and it appears to be possible to access a subset of the Win32 API. If it works, I will post my experience in a subsequent post.


A microprocessor architecture (actually a family of architectures). Other architectures are x86, x86_64/amd64, PowerPC and MIPS. There are several companies licensing the architecture and producing ARM chips, mostly for low-cost and/or low-power applications.

Application programming interface. If a specific API is unavailable, you will not be able to run software created for use with that API.

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Windows RT is compiled to use an ARM CPU and only runs Metro apps. Windows 8 Pro is the standard Windows OS that runs on x86 processors (Intel, AMD, etc). It runs Metro apps as well as existing Windows applications.

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Metro apps can be developed with a .NET language (C#/VB) and XAML, not just HTML and JS. –  josh3736 Jun 21 '12 at 1:12
    
They're not even just limited to .NET! You can also use C++ with XAML. –  Cam Jackson Nov 8 '12 at 10:20
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Windows RT has been designed to work with ARM processors, while Windows 8 Pro is designed to work with x86 processors.

This Endgadget article points out some of the differences:

It's worth pointing out that the ARM-based WinRT (psst -- you can catch up on what exactly Windows RT is here) model is both thinner and lighter than the version with Windows 8 Pro. Moreover, the battery is sized up in the latter, presumably to handle the higher power drain of the 1080p panel and the Core i5 processor.

So it looks like the RT version of the tablet is a bit more energy efficient.

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Windows RT is a version designed for ARM Processors, machines like tablets. Windows 8 will be the normal x86-x64 type.

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2 second split time in our answers :). –  Brad Patton Jun 20 '12 at 20:51
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Yours is better :) Must. Try. Harder. :) –  arpz Jun 20 '12 at 20:53
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