The Many Faces of Windows

It has been a poorly kept secret that Microsoft has been intending to stratify its Windows offerings, in order to best reach a price point and feature set that fits each market. We already saw a portion of this with the initial launch of Windows XP, which was split into two versions: XP Home for home computer use, and XP Professional for business/office/workstation use. Since then, Microsoft has further augmented that lineup with XP Starter Edition for emerging markets, an HTPC-oriented version with XP Media Center Edition, and of course their enterprise server software Windows Server 2003.

With Vista, Microsoft will continue this trend and will be designing 6 separate versions of Vista: Starter, Business, Enterprise, Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate. As Starter will only be available in select countries, most users will have a choice among the other 5 versions of Vista, which are in turn broken into two categories based on the target user audience and features.

Vista Home Basic, Home Premium, and Ultimate are targeted at home users, separated by cost and features. While Microsoft already has a version of Windows for emerging markets, Home Basic, the 2nd most stripped down version of Vista, will also include a number of handicaps like: not supporting the eye-candy or productivity features of the new Aero interface, limited communication abilities, and an interesting 8GB/1 physical processor cap that may become an issue in a couple of years. While Microsoft has compared this to XP Home and targeted it towards households with only one computer, under their current proposal it'll likely end up too limiting for many users, but it will also be the cheapest version of Windows possible.

Home Premium in turn will be the first consumer version of Windows to come loaded with a more realistically complete feature set, comparable to XP Media Center edition. Home Premium will include full Aero interface functionality, the Media Center application, video authoring applications, an increased RAM cap of 16GB, and better computer networking abilities that will only lack certain business features. It will also still only support a single physical processor (i.e. one socket), though with quad core chips launching next year it's questionable how many people will really need more than that.

Last and not least rounding out the consumer side of Windows will be the nebulous Windows Vista Ultimate, which Microsoft has pitched as the version of Windows that includes everything from both the consumer and business categories. At this point Microsoft hasn't made it clear what is really going to separate Ultimate from some of the other versions of Vista, so it's likely there will be some changes before it ships. So far on top of including all the Vista features from both sides (including the business side's processor and memory support), Ultimate will include the System Assessment Tool, which Microsoft is pitching as a way to predict computer performance for use in adjusting game settings.

Moving over to the business side, Vista Business and Enterprise will be the successors to XP Professional. Business is almost exactly like XP Professional as we know it now, coming with most of Vista's features from both the business and consumer sides. As the only consumer features lacking at this point are the video authority and Media Center applications, it seems likely that Business will end up being the OS of choice for many computer enthusiasts. This is something Microsoft wants to avoid, as they want enthusiasts to use the more feature packed (and expensive) Ultimate edition, so it's not impossible that the feature set may change before Vista launches.

Last on the business side is Enterprise edition, which is only intended for large businesses, and as the successor to XP Professional corporate edition it will only be available to volume license key holders, putting it out of the hands of individuals (who will need to purchase Ultimate edition to get Enterprise's features). New to Enterprise will be a built-in version of VirtualPC and an enhanced encryption ability that will be able to encrypt the entire OS instead of only user folders.

Still with us? On top of the 6 versions of Vista, Microsoft is also taking the 64-bit push very seriously with Vista, as enthusiasts are only a year or so away from reaching the 4GB RAM limit of IA-32. As a result, all versions of Vista except for Starter will also come in a 64-bit version signified by the x64 moniker (versus x86 for the 32-bit version), with both versions planned to be included with each copy of Windows at this time. Our beta version of Vista came on two separate DVDs, one for x86 and one for x64, but we're not sure at this point if Microsoft is going to package Vista in a dual-layer DVD with an installer that can pick the right version, or if it will continue to come on separate discs. It's also worth noting that Vista will choose which version of itself to install based on the product key used, as now all versions (for x64 and x86) will use the same installation media, which will be a relief for doing reinstalls. Vista will also be upgradeable; Microsoft is planning on allowing users to purchase updates over the internet to allow them to upgrade from Home Basic to Home Premium, for example. Since there's now a common media, users will only need to put the installation disc back into let the unlocked features install.

Finally, Microsoft will still be shipping stripped down versions of Windows for the European market that lack the Windows Media Player, with versions of both Business and Home Basic being available. Since these will also apparently come in x86 and x64 versions, this brings the total number of unique versions of Vista up to 15. At present, there is no successor to Windows Server 2003, but that will probably become available in time.

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  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    Out of the box, Vista's firewall is a full-featured firewall that can block inbound and outbound connections. Tiger's firewall can't do the latter
    Excuse me, what? How about this then:">

    "The emphasis is on incoming. As it ships from Apple, the firewall does not monitor traffic that may be originating from your own computer. If your Mac gets possessed by a malware application that then attempts to attack or infect other computers via your Internet connection (a not-uncommon trick), OS X’s firewall won’t, by default, pay any attention. And, there’s no way to change this default setting from your System Preferences. To force the firewall to monitor outbound traffic, you must use Terminal’s command-line interface."

    See - IT CAN monitor and block outbound traffic, contrary to what you say. It's just a matter of configuring it properly. You should at least correct your article and stop saying OSX ipfw CAN'T track outbound connections. You can say this: it's SET UP not to monitor outbound connections BY DEFAULT but anyone can CONFIGURE it to monitor outbound connections either through third party GUI like Flying Buttress or via command line. Then you won't look like a liar to any Mac guy who cares to read your review.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I see your point, but I believe there's nothing in the article that needs changing. Tiger's firewall can't block outbound connections without having to drop to the terminal to muck with IPFW, I do not classify that as an ability any more than I classify Vista x64 as being amateur driver programmer friendly(since you need to drop to the terminal to turn off the x64 integrity check). When a version of Mac OS X ships with a proper GUI for controlling outbound firewalling(as is the Apple way), then it will be capable by a reasonable definition. Right now it's nothing more than a quirk that results from using the BSD base.
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    When a version of Mac OS X ships with a proper GUI for controlling outbound firewalling(as is the Apple way), then it will be capable by a reasonable definition.
    Excellent point! So, when (and if) Mac OS X will see its share of virii and malware, THEN Apple will incorporate outbound connection settings in OS X GUI - right now it's not needed by Mac users, and the rare exceptions are easily treated with third party apps and command line.

    OK, got your point, agreed, issue closed. Thanks :)
  • bjtags - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Vista x64
    I have been pounding on it for 4 days never crash or even farted once!!!
    Have all HalfLife 2 and CS running Just Great!!!
    Had at one time 10 IE windows open, MediaPlayer, Steam updating, download driver,
    updating windows drivers, and 3 folder explorer windows open, and tranfering
    4gig movie to HD!!!

    Still ran fine... I do have AMD 4800 x2 with 2gigs...
  • Poser - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Two questions:

    1. What's the ship date for Vista supposed to be? Q4 of 2006?
    2. I seem to remember that speech recognition would be included and integrated with Vista. Is it considered too much of a niche toy to even mention, not considered to be part of the OS, or am I just plain wrong about it's inclusion?

    It was a extremely well written article. Very nice job.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    1. Expected completion is Q4 with some business customers getting access to the final version at that time. It won't be released to the public until 2007 however.

    2. You're right, speech recognition is included. You're also right in that given the amount of stuff we had to cover in one article it was too much of a niche; voice recognition so far is still too immature to replace typing.
  • ashay - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    "Dogfooding" is when a company uses their own new product (not necessarily beta) for internal use.(maybe even in critical production systems).

    Term comes from "eat your own dog-food". Meaning if you're a dog food maker, the CEO and execs eat the stuff. If they like it they dogs hopefully will.">Wikipedia link
  • fishbits - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Yes, I know it's still beta, we'll see. The UAC and signed drivers schemes sound like they'll be flops right out of the gate. Average user will quickly realize he can't install or use anything until he adopts a "just click 'Yes'" attitude, which will reward him with a functioning device/running program. I've lost count of how many drivers I've installed under XP that were for name-brand devices, yet didn't have the official seal of approval on them. Again, get trained to "just click 'Yes'" in order to be able to do anything useful. Without better information given to the user at this decision point, all the scheme does is add a few mouse-clicks and no security. Like when you install a program and your security suite gives a "helpful" warning like "INeedToRun.exe is trying to access feccflm.dll ... no recommendation."

    As expected, it looks like the productivity gains of GPU-acceleration were immediately swallowed up by GUI overhead. Whee! "The users can solve this through future hardware upgrades." Gotcha. For what it's worth, the gadgets/widgets look needlessly large and ugly, especially for simply displaying things like time, cpu temp/usage. Then it sounds like we're going to have resource-hungry programs getting starved because of GPU sharing, or will have an arms-race of workarounds to get their hands on the power they think they need.

    Ah well, I've got to move to 64-bit for RAM purposes relatively soon. Think I'll wait a year or two after Vista 64 to let it get stable, faster, and better supported. Then hopefully the programs I'll need to upgrade can be purchased along the lines of a normal upgrade cycle. Games I'm actually not as worried about, as I expect XP/DX9 support to continue for a decent bit and will retain an XP box and install Vista on a brand new one when the time comes.
  • shamgar03 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    I really hope that will mean for BETTER GPU performance not worse. I would really just like to be able to boot into a game only environment where you have something like a grub interface to pick games and it only loads the needed stuff for the game.
  • darkdemyze - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    beta implies "still in developement". chances are very high performance will see an increase by the time of release. I agree with your seconds statement though.

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