How-To Geek

Do You Need the Professional Edition of Windows 8?


If you’re looking to purchase Windows 8, there are two main editions you need to concern yourself with: Windows 8 (similar to the Home edition in previous versions of Windows) and Windows 8 Pro.

Update: Windows 10 is coming out soon, and we’ve got an updated guide to let you know whether you need the Professional edition of Windows 10 or not.

Windows 8 has fewer editions than previous versions of Windows. We’ll be ignoring the other two here: Windows 8 Enterprise is targeted at larger organizations, while Windows RT is for ARM-based devices and is another beast entirely.

Upgrading to Professional

Even if you buy copy of the standard edition of Windows 8 (or you purchase a computer that comes with Windows 8 instead of Windows 8 Pro), you can upgrade to the Professional edition of Windows 8 at any time.

To do so, use the Add Features to Windows 8 control panel (known as “Windows Anytime Upgrade” in Windows 7). Purchase the Windows 8 Pro Pack from this window and you’ll get the professional features without needing to reinstall Windows. You won’t even have to leave your chair.


Windows 8

The standard edition of Windows 8 comes preinstalled on most computers you’ll find in stores. While it’s no longer known as the “Home” edition of Windows, it’s similar to the Home editions of previous versions of Windows. It contains the features most users would use.

Love it or hate it, the new Windows 8 interface, along with the new start screen, charms, modern applications, and Windows Store are present in all versions of Windows 8. The Windows desktop, complete with a variety of great new features and security improvements, is still present. Internet Explorer 10, integrated antivirus, and most other things you’d expect are integrated into the “core” edition of Windows 8.


Media Center Functionality

Surprisingly, some media center functionality is no longer included with the standard edition of Windows 8. You can’t play DVDs out-of-the-box or use the Windows Media Center application on the standard edition of Windows 8.

To access these features, you’ll need to upgrade to Windows 8 Pro and purchase the Windows 8 Media Center Pack from within the Add Features to Windows 8 window mentioned above.  You can actually get Windows 8 Media Center Pack for free until January 31, 2013 – assuming you’re using Windows 8 Pro.

Microsoft has done this to save on licensing costs – licensing DVD playback and the codecs necessary for media center costs money, which no longer makes as much sense when many new computers come without DVD drives and people are increasingly streaming video from online services like Netflix.

This may seem like a problem, but it really isn’t. If you want to play DVDs, you don’t need to pay a cent – just install VLC. Click here for more information about playing DVDs on Windows 8.


Windows Media Player is still present on Windows 8 (except on Windows RT) and you can continue to use other media-playing applications. Very few people used Windows Media Center – you’ll only need to purchase the Windows Media Center Pack if you want to use Windows Media Center itself.

If you use your Windows computer as a media center PC, you can try using something like XBMC instead. You may also want to try using the modern applications for Netflix, Hulu, and other services – their full-screen interfaces could be at home on a TV.

Windows 8 Pro

The remaining features in the Professional edition are targeted towards businesses and “enthusiast” geeks that like taking advantage of more advanced features. Many of these features can be replaced by free alternatives on the standard edition of Windows 8.

  • Domain-Joining & Group Policy: Organizations using Windows Server domains and Group Policy will need the Professional edition of Windows 8.
  • Remote Desktop Server: You can connect to remote desktop servers from a Windows 8 PC, but you’ll need the Professional edition of Windows 8 to host a Remote Desktop server. However, you can use third-party remote desktop services like TeamViewer or VNC on the standard edition of Windows 8.
  • BitLocker and Encrypting File System: Windows’ encryption features are only offered on Windows 8 Professional. If you don’t swear by these features, you can install TrueCrypt for free on all editions of Windows 8.
  • Hyper-V: The Hyper-V technology found in Windows Server can be used by Windows 8 Pro users to run virtual machines. Everyone else can just download VirtualBox or VMware Player for free.
  • Virtual Hard Disk Booting: Windows 8 Pro can boot from a VHD file. If this means nothing to you, you don’t need this feature.


We’ve also covered more free alternatives to features found in the professional editions of Windows.

Unfortunately, Windows To Go, a useful feature that allows you to install Windows 8 to a USB drive and boot it on any computer, is only available on the Enterprise edition of Windows 8 – not even Pro users can use it.

You should now have some idea of whether you need Windows 8 Professional. if you’re a business that depends on domains and group policy, the answer is an unequivocal yes. If you’re not a business, you’ll only need if it you absolutely require Windows Media Center or another “enthusiast” feature, such as BitLocker.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/1/13

Comments (49)

  1. Chdslv

    Do you really need Windows 8?

  2. scifi1

    When is MS support for Win 7 ending? No more security updates and such?

  3. mhenriday

    Speaking of booting Windows 8 Pro from a VHD file, Chris, I’d like to be able to do a dual boot from my present Win7 Pro installation (which is a dual boot with Ubuntu). Alas, from what I understand, the VHD feature is not available on Win7 Pro – can you suggest a way to get around this limitation ?…


  4. LadyFitzgerald

    All support for Win 7 ends 01/14/2020.

  5. Doug

    There is still one good reason to Install Media Center in Win 8, and that is to use it with a TV tuner. The program guide built into MC and ease of recording programs make MC one of the best I’ve used with a tuner.
    Another nice feature when using a tuner with Win 8 is that you can snap Media Center (the desktop)with the START screen and watch/listen to TV in a small window while you work with other Win 8 apps. You can switch to it when you really want to see the picture near-full-screen.
    You can buy a TV tuner complete with remote control for about $25, and LT $20 when it is put on a limited coupon sale. It’s a great addition to any PC and it is even easier to multitask in Win 8.

  6. Tony

    I just recently bought a Gateway lap top with Windows 8 and it came with Cyberlink power DVD with it.I can still play my DVD’s without installing anything. So it appears if you buy a store bought you may get some extras for free.

  7. Bender

    Chdslv is correct.
    Do you really need Windows 8?
    The answer is no.
    Microsoft has been bitten by the technology disruptor bug and will never recover.
    People are voting with their pocketbooks.
    Go to any store that sells desktops and laptops and look at the equipment gathering dust.
    This generation does not want PCs. They want a tablet with hundreds of thousands of apps at little or no cost, able to perform their wishes, Cell phone usage, play games, take pictures, entertainment on their networks, there’s an app for that.
    So. Do you really need Windows 8?

  8. RonV42

    BitLocker and Hyper-V are the reason I went with Pro. Plus the price of the upgrade for Pro was so “low” there was really no reason not to go to Pro. I would just wish they would bring the USB Windows to Go experience down to the Pro level.

  9. GraveDigger27

    I’ve installed Windows 8 Pro on my ASUS laptop as an upgrade to Windows 7 and while I found I missed some of the features (like a start menu) of the older OS, I’m growing to like Windows 8. Most of my old applications and utilities work without any issue and it’s faster than Windows 7 when it starts. I purchased it from my local MicroCenter so for $39 it doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable expense. While I was originally doubtful about making the move there really isn’t a good reason NOT to update your systems and take advantage of the next generation of Windows.

  10. James

    If your current version of Windows still does what YOU need it to do, why upgrade? What will you be missing? Like a car, if your current car still gets you from Point A to Point B safely with no problems, then why get another one? Microsoft says they will provide technical support for Windows 7 goes until 2020.

  11. Ted McCarty

    What everyone is missing is that since XP Pro there has not been a Pro version of Windows. We no longer have the ability to create a true default user. Why does that matter? Well think of the school district IT guy who has to image 5000 PC between June and August each year. When you log onto a PC you create your own profile, your own desktop and email, favorites etc. In a school district or many other venues it is desirable for everyone to get the SAME desktop, the same favorites, the same software. That was easy to do with XP Pro, almost impossible in Windows 7, you can get close but no cigar. I don’t even want to think of trying it in Windows 8.
    Micro$oft has lost direction and has become a tag along with Apple. Win8 is probably fine on a tablet but it will be the death of Micro$oft in the REAL world. You people only think of home users, there really is a REAL world out there and it will live on XP and Windows 7 until the end of time if Micro$oft does not wake up and get back to BUSINESS!
    MCSE since ’96

  12. Jim


    Just about everyone I know who has a tablet also has a laptop and/or desktop. They want a tablet for reading books/magazines, playing “Angry Birds” type games and lightweight things like that, not to replace a real computer.

    The reason new computers aren’t selling right now is there’s no technological need to upgrade. Most systems, (except for the ultra cheap entry level ones), are more than capable of handling anything they’ll be called on to handle. And often a cheap upgrade, (adding RAM or a video card), will fix those problems. Why spend several hundred dollars on a new system and deal with the hassles of moving data and learning a new OS when you don’t have to?

  13. leicaman

    I understand that if you buy a windows 8 pro machine you can downgrade to Windows 7 free somehow. Not sure as to the details. That would be a good reason alone to have that escape hatch ‘so to speak’.

  14. Jeff Sadowski

    What about permissions? Do you need Pro to take ownership of files on a drive from an old computer?

  15. nt0xik8ed

    my attempts at the windows 8 upgrade: first try it stopped half way for 24 hours until i shut down the computer. i wanted to keep my programs, apparently that was asking too much. second try, it wouldn’t connect to the internet no matter how much googling i did. then i had to reinstall and activate windows 7 again. third attempt, windows 8 installed and connected to the internet but for some reason i had to call to get it activated. once it activated i attempted to install windows media center with my activation code. it installs and on reboot i find windows 8 needs activated again because i installed windows media center. but it won’t activate, and there’s no option to call the toll free activation center. no effin way, i have to call during business hours, which is like 1:00 to 1:17 pm on the third thursday of every month.
    so now on craigslist i have a full copy of windows 8 for $10, which no one has hit on for a week, and now windows 8 pro upgrade w/ wmc activation code. what should i price that as? buy 1 get the other free? windows 8 seems to be as popular as a sarah palin best seller.

  16. Joe Whyte

    Call me backward.

    I (am forced to) use Windows 7 because all my Course software for my degree are windows based and it takes too much valluable study time to try to get them to work on linux or get the linux alternative. I feel very exposed as I am online as long as my computer is turned on.

    Personally, I thought windows7 was the best windows and couldn’t wait for what came next. Then windows 8 happened. I have not had enough hands-on to be critical of win8, but three friends of mine who bought computers last month for business have requested that I wipe windows 8 and install windows 7. They say they are fed up!

    These are not experts, they just want an easy way to use their computer. One guy kept repeating “Seven clicks… to shut down my computer!”. I might find him one of those start menus that HTG featured earlier. Might save me from having to install windows 7 over a perfectly legal copy of windows 8.

    For all the people who say linux will be too hard or take too long to learn, it will take about the same as adapting from win7 to win8.

    Hard? My 4-year-old had win7 on his computer and kept complaining that hi laptop was getting slow. he now happily, uses linux mint and and when my youngest turns 3 in two weeks – slax 7 on his birthday present.
    yeah baby

  17. Steve

    Windows 8 is great on my laptop but it would be so bad on my desktop PC.

  18. Steve

    Wow Jimmy,

    Do you know anyone who has a real job? All of the Doctors in our company are using tablets at the patient bedside, and this is a huge issue. Win 8 Pro on an intel tab will make our life MUCH easier. Now go back to your angry birds.

  19. George

    More about windows to go and enterprise please.

  20. Kevalin

    @Steve: I have a real job, and I use, and will continue to use a desktop, and or laptop.

    Why? Because creating professional-quality business videos on a 10–inch tablet is an unadulterated pain in the ass. Even if that tablet is an iPad. And that’s still true of many, many professions.

    We’re all glad your doctor friends can use tablets to do their work, but try being enough of a grown up to realize that doctors aren’t the only working people in the world.

  21. James

    As I’ve said before, the genuine improvements over Windows 7 and XP are greatly negated by the annoying omissions and crippled features. On a desktop, the clumsy Metro start screen is a nuisance. The missing Start menu (the most crassly idiotic design decision in history!) is a huge encumbrance. To cap it all, explorer has been infested by the unituitive, screen-wasting horrid ribbon. I stay with Office 2003 just to avoid that thing. It halved my productivity.
    There is no sensible reason to downgrade to a version of Windows that needs a load of 3rd party fixes to get it back to the way Win 7 is right now.
    Obviously there will be a handful of people who think Win8 is the best; there always are those who think something is better when in fact it isn’t. I tried it for 2 weeks and gave up. My productivity was constantly hindered by the missing facilities. Even the mailer was weak and vastly reduced in quality from Outlook Express, which is my main mailer on my XP machines (mailstore synced via Dropbox).
    I will not buy a Win8 machine. If the store can’t sell me a Win7 computer, then they lose a sale.

  22. James

    @leicaman …going from Win8 to Win7 is an upgrade, not a downgrade LOL Is this known to be so? I can buy a Windows 9 computer and fix the thing by installing Win7? I guess most everyone will be doing just this after a week with ver 8 !
    @Gravedigger27 … why suffer all the inconvenience and omissions just for a little more speed? Better to put the old O/S on an SSD.

  23. Harry Edwards

    I will take that Windows 8 full copy for $10.00 bucks.
    Let me know where to send the money.

  24. Sleepy Cat

    I like Windows 8 LOL, because lots of people have asked me to install Windows7 ( they hate the Metro screen) and Ted Mcarty is right business users won’t touch it.
    Microsoft should have kept a business look . Vista time is coming again. This is a computer not a mobile phone so forget the apps and the screen cluter that starts to appear when you have started to install your other personal programes.

  25. Ralph

    I’m still using Win7 Home on my desktop and love it. But I have Win8 Standard on my tablet and love it. We all have to understand that we have to evolve to the future and at some point everything will be touch so let’s get used to it now. I also did not like the ribbon’s but in a touch environment the ribbon’s are nice. You have a choice, learn new stuff or stay in the past. I’m nearly 60 years old and I love new technoly.

  26. Ernie Aguilar

    I agree with all comments regarding using Win 7 and or Win 8 in a corporate environment. Microsoft has and is going away from corporate customers. And will turnout to be the death of MS. And as far as the customers they are targeting now the home users, wait till Google Chrome OS and or Android for PC matures a bit and goodbye to Microsoft….

  27. Ralph

    Sorry hit the submit button while back spacing to correct the word technology.

  28. Zakariah

    I do need it! :D

  29. LadyFitzgerald

    I’m nearly 64 and I say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I also love new technology but only if it actually benefits me. Win 8 is great for tablets, good for smaller laptops for users who want a simpler interface for simple usage, but is an albatross for serious desktop work.

  30. bergakker

    #gamer’s hell: I have just re-installed my win 7 on my pc.

    I used classicshell start menu on win8 and it’s pretty comfy. I liked win 8 but I feel it still needs a lot of work. I could get it to do what I want but it takes a bit of workaround. Like “quickly” changing a setting, opening notepad, calculator or browsing pics. The thing that I struggled with is games. Some games like Tekken didn’t install, and others like Arcanum and temple of elemental evil lagged terribly. WoW, GW2, Fallout New Vegas worked perfectly. Also, my d-link rangebooster n650 installed without a problem but then I couldn’t connect to any wifi. I give it 60% at this moment for a gaming PC and maybe 90% for a working PC.

  31. bergakker

    #gamer’s hell: I have just re-installed my win 7 on my pc.

    I used classicshell start menu on win8 and it’s pretty comfy. I liked win 8 but I feel it still needs a lot of work. I could get it to do what I want but it takes a bit of workaround. Like “quickly” changing a setting, opening notepad, calculator or browsing pics. The thing that I struggled with is games. Some games like Tekken didn’t install, and others like Arcanum and temple of elemental evil lagged terribly. WoW, GW2, Fallout New Vegas worked perfectly. Also, my d-link rangebooster n650 installed without a problem but then I couldn’t connect to any wifi. I give it 60% at this moment for a gaming PC and maybe 80% for a working PC due to the amount of work required to get everything working for an average user and the amount of alt-f4 punching.

  32. .nashdoe

    am thinking of going W 8 from 7 on my desktop, dell optiplex 270. need some advice

  33. Robert Twigg

    I upgraded to Windows 8 Pro. I regret it. Yet is boots faster and runs faster but lately it cannot see USB attached thumb drives or external hard drives. I am considering going back to Windows 7 that came with my laptop.

  34. Sam


    What are you talking about? They would be using Active Directory to make accounts and I’m sure theres still ways to deploy programs.

  35. Thunderchild

    Another option, if you already have a legitimate ISO image of Windows 8 (or have legal access to the ISO image) is to follow the link below and you can get a free and legitimate Windows 8 key. This key will activate and will give you the full features of Windows 8 Pro and Media Center. Enter your email address in the window about half way down the page and follow the instructions.

  36. Paul

    Ironically those who believe that touch screen devices are the future are themselves out-of-touch with how most people work. Touch screens are nothing new and they’ve had a place for many years in jobs where mobile (but limited) data entry is important, but they don’t suit most office, educational, commercial and manufacturing environments. Ergonomically they’re a joke for anyone who spends a significant part of their job using a keyboard. An on-screen keyboard can’t replace a real one, and separating input devices (a touch screen and a keyboard) by what is unavoidably quite a significant distance results in inefficient and uncomfortable movements to operate both. Due to the need to work the screen at arm’s length and the consequent hunching back and forwards and raised arms I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rise in instances of Work Related Upper Limb Disorders like Tendinitis, Tenosynovitis etc. Those doctors that are mentioned above… I’d bet good money that when they need to do some work on the data they’ve collected on their tablets, it’ll be at a desktop machine with a real keyboard and an OS designed for the job.

  37. LadyFitzgerald

    @ Paul. You summed it up very well! Add adhesive capsulitis to your list of ailments (been there, still doing it, and wore out the tee shirt).

  38. Indianatone

    I’ll just stick with Windows 7 which comes with Media Centre and most importantly without The Interface Formally Known As Metro.
    I do have a copy of 8 Pro and it is to say the least awful. It looks awful even on the desktop, the windows are flat and lifeless. Of course it performs better than a fully loaded Aero Desktop on 7. I’ll bet 7 performs just the same if you or even better if you adjust for best performance. 8 is for toys, 7 is for real power users.
    Oh and as for windows to go, forget about it, it is so slow and takes so long to boot you could have the job done with your favourite Linux distro on a stick, and you don’t need a 16gb stick either.

  39. B Pratt

    About the only thing that Media Center has going for it is that it looks shinyshiny. However it is VASTLY inferior to the awesome power of VLC, which admittedly looks as dull as dishwater. But then, you aren’t pulling these thing up just to look at them. You want to look at (or listen to) something else. Course, you can always skin VLC if you so desire. Also, if you need to you can either turn the volume up to 200% or fiddle with the equilizer in VLC, which is dead useful if you’re somewhat deaf and have really cheap speakers. Why anyone would PAY for Media Center is beyond me. Unless you like the audio visualizer. However, you can get that for VLC if you search for it. But then, perhaps M$ is banking on Idiocracy coming soon. That might explain it all.

  40. Cynicle

    Holy crap there are a lot of whiners on here (with exception to the actual IT workers and people who need to use advance Windows features for work).

    So what the start menu is gone…It’s been replace with a bloody start screen that can hold more links and display more information than the classic start menu ever could. The metro apps are totally avoidable (unless you use the RT version of the OS), Win 8 is far quicker and more secure, not to mention heaps of small tweaks that basically makes it an expansion to Windows 7.

    If small aesthetical changes bother you so much then download a program like stardock and change it all to your liking. Otherwise be quiet and let us enjoy the advancement of the Windows ecosystem (I’m talking from the perspective of a personal home user and in no way am suggesting win8 is good for businesses). I’m for one loving the speed on my laptop, all the little features and some beauties like the “reset windows” button (basically fixing slowdown that occurs over time albeit in a brute force way)..

  41. Michael B.

    guys, I use Windows8 and it is above and beyond Windows7. Once you understand the interface you’ll notice that it’s windows but more intuitive than before.

  42. LadyFitzgerald

    Intuitve my Aunt Fanny!

  43. don

    When will these animals stop leaving our computers alone. I WILL NOT get Windows 8. I have yet to downgrade to vista from XP. You should see how fast Windows 3.1 is with a 3 gig computer. I have hardware that will NOT work with anything newer and so I have to emulate it and when you are emulating a 12 mhz system on a 3 gig computer it still runs rings around the newer stuff.

  44. William Knight

    Add a program like Start8 and windows 8 becomes much easier to use

  45. Jack Jackson

    No one needs Windows 8 – it’s Desktop is the same or similar to Windows 7 – but if you have multiple devices you will find Windows 8 a reasonable step forward.

    The intent of the Metro UI is to give a single interface that is recognize-able (and shares data easily) among several platforms – desktop & tablet & smartphone. In my opinion, they missed by not having entree to the SmartTV…but I don’t follow the field as well as I ought to so they well might.

  46. Jeffrey Haun

    So I have to pay more to get the same features I had with Windows 7? Upgrade my A$$.

  47. David

    @Joe Whyte

    “For all the people who say linux will be too hard or take too long to learn, it will take about the same as adapting from win7 to win8.”

    The main issues people had with Linux is not the learning curve, but the fact that Linux can’t run 95% of the Windows software, has poor hardware support (my printer is not compatible with Linux), lousy gaming support, and is a poor platform for HTPC (Linux shot itself in the foot by not implementing DRM support).

    As you can see, Linux is a joke OS as far as I’m concerned. The only saving grace of Linux is that it works great on servers, but that’s it. It shouldn’t be viewed as a credible alternative to Windows OS for home use.

  48. Keith


    notepad ?

    calc ?

    control ?

    Shouldn’t all these hop to it, just by typing those words from the Run dialog (win key + r) ? I don’t know because I’m still on 7.

  49. Dogan

    well win8 can suck for some users but u cant deny some options like “Refresh your PC” and “Reset your PC” , “hyper-v” , “hotmail acc user” ……

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