Transitioning to a new operating system is a major endeavor—and a major headache for both small business company and little ones, which could be account for why so many companies still use Windows XP, after all. So when you do bite the bullet, you want to make sure you’re picking an operating system that meets all your needs.

Once you decide to transit to Windows 8, you also have to make up your mind which edition of Windows 8 is best for you. Windows 8 comes in several editions: the basic, straightforward Windows 8—similar to the Home edition in previous versions of Windows—as well as costlier Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise versions, both of which offer additional business-friendly features.

Which is the best for your business? It all depends on your company’s particular needs. Let’s break down what each version of Windows 8 brings to the table.

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Windows 8

Most small businesses will be fine running the standard version of Windows 8. And the screen will give the OS a whole new look and feel; Windows 8’s desktop mode is basically Windows 7 sans a Start button—along with several under-the-hood tweaks that improve the operating system’s overall speed and responsiveness.

That’s not to say the stock version of the OS skimps on new features. Windows 8 gives your OS better security protection, offering a multitude of core improvements. In addition, file histories, improved multi-monitor support, native ISO and VHD mounting, amalgamated Storage Spaces, and a streamlined Task Manager make it easier to get things done on a day-to-day basis. From a direct productivity perspective, Windows 8 boots up, shuts down, and wakes from sleep faster than greased lightning, especially if your business has invested in solid-state drives.

Windows 8 Pro

For some nifty new features in Windows 8 Pro, you will have to pay more for Windows 8 Pro. The ability to install the optional Windows 8 Media Center Pack for $10 probably won’t appeal in a business setting, but other Windows 8 Pro additions are firmly business-friendly, albeit highly specific in nature. Here are the highlights:

BitLocker and EFS BitLocker is available in Windows 8. It’s a full-disk encryption solution that can encrypt entire hard drives, including your Windows system drive or even USB drives. Once you’ve encrypted a drive with BitLocker, anyone who powers on the computer or connects the USB drive will need to enter the encryption key, or the drive will remain locked and inaccessible—a useful feature if you’re dealing with sensitive customer information. Windows 8 Pro also packs support for Microsoft’s encrypted file system (EFS) technology. Businesses that need Windows 8 Pro only for its encryption features can try using TrueCrypt, instead. It’s a free, open-source encryption solution that works with all desktop versions of Windows.

Domains and group policy If your business uses a centrally administered network with a Windows Server domain and group policy, you could consider using Windows 8 Pro or Enterprise which provide domains and group policies. These features allow an organization to centrally manage a network, including user profiles and computer settings, from a single server. And many businesses rely on these features to maintain daily work.

Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro come preinstalled on a variety of new tablets, convertibles, Ultrabooks, laptops, and all-in-one PCs. Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro work with both existing desktop software and apps that you download from the Windows Store. Windows 8 Pro gives you all of the great benefits of Windows 8, as well as enhanced networking and data encryption features.

Windows 8 Enterprise

Most small or medium-size businesses won’t need the advanced features found in Windows 8 Enterprise has included added features that are more useful in large enterprise environments. And you’ll need to have at least five PCs in your business and you’ll need to participate in Microsoft’s Volume Licensing program to receive access to Windows 8 Enterprise.

Windows RT

Different from Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise, Windows RT can’t be purchased directly; it’s only found preinstalled on ARM processor-powered Windows RT tablets such as the Microsoft Surface RT. Windows RT largely mimics Windows 8, but unlike its PC-focused counterparts, Windows RT cannot run traditional desktop programs. Instead, it can run only the Modern-UI-style Windows 8 apps found in the Windows Store, and while the Windows Store’s app selection is improving, it’s still generally lacking in both quantity and quality.

The inclusion of the Office Home and Student RT suite is a major boon for Windows RT tablets, but licensing technicalities stamp out its legal use in the workplace.

“As sold, Office Home & Student 2013 RT Preview and the final edition are not designed for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities,” explains the Office Home & Student RT FAQ page. “However, organizations who purchase commercial use rights or have a commercial license to Office 2013 suites can use Office Home & Student 2013 RT for commercial, nonprofit, or revenue-generating activities.”

Windows 8 Upgrade

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Other Useful Article: 3 Ways You Need to Know When You Lost Windows 8 Password

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