A simple guide to Windows 8 devices

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Planning on buying one of the new Windows 8 devices scheduled to be released next week? For those of you confused by all of the Windows 8 devices out there, I've put together this simple guide to quickly help you shorten your shopping list.

Windows RT versus Windows 8

The most crucial question probably pertains to whether or not you should get a Windows RT or a Windows 8 device. The latter option comes in four main editions, and is not that different from the Windows operating system that you've grown to love (or hate). For the most part, these  editions will be compatible with your desktop software, though they will also come with the Metro-like "Modern UI" start screen that you've no doubt already seen on websites everywhere.

Note that the Metro-like apps are quite different from your standard desktop apps, and are installed via the Windows Store. This is similar to the way you download apps from the App Store and Google Play store. Developing Metro-like apps is similar for Windows 8 and Windows RT, though some tweaks are necessary--and there are some differences in the API available on each.

Windows RT was designed to run on devices powered by ARM-based microprocessors. With its focus on the tablet experience, Windows RT also incorporates optimizations that are designed to provide a superior battery life. One crucial difference: There is no Windows desktop and none of your "legacy" x86 applications will run on it. And, in case you were wondering, the final version of Office for Windows RT is unlikely to arrive until 2013.

Convertible versus hybrid laptops

A convertible laptop is essentially a laptop designed with a display that adjusts in multiple ways so that it can convert to a tablet. This may range from the sliding mechanism of the Sony VAIO Duo 11, the 360 degree screen of the Lenovo IdeaPad YOGA, the "twist and turn" style of the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Twist, or even the innovative rotatable lid of the Dell XPS 12.

On the other hand, a hybrid is essentially a tablet that transforms into a laptop by connecting to a keyboard base. The keyboard base generally consists of an extra battery and additional peripheral ports, while the display portion contains the processor and works independently of the base. An example of this would be Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2. Certain models, such as Microsoft's Surface, come with a detachable custom keyboard that does not incorporate additional ports.

You can also expect Window 8 to come on "standard" laptop form factors. These devices may incorporate a touch-screen in many cases, though are otherwise not distinguishable from typical laptops and Ultrabooks.

You may also want to check out CNET's field guide to Windows 8 hardware here, which offers a great overview of the many product offerings--with photos--of what you can expect come October 26.

Comments, questions? As usual, feel free to leave a comment, tweet me or drop me an email. - Paul Mah (Twitter @paulmah)