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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  • Squidward - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Having beta tested Windows XP when it was released, I have to say that so far I'm not very impressed with Vista. Granted there is still quite some time before final release but even with RC1 of XP it was a rock solid stable OS that I used as my full time OS and never had any issues whatsoever (especially security cause no one was writing viruses and malware for it back then). Quite frankly I don't see how the beta 2 I've been looking at and the final polished out the door product is going to happen in 7 months for a Jan. launch. The real problem however lies in the fact that I know I will move up to Vista at some point, but not because it's a better OS than XP but that I'll be hindered by continuing to use an older operating system. I just haven't seen anything in it yet that made me go. "Now that's the kind of feature I've been needing!", and the few features that did make me feel that way were removed to be implemented 'at a later date'. Fancy graphical effects are nice and all, but they don't make an OS. As it stands in the betas the UAC feature is just a complete hinderance that to me seems to punish the end user because of security risks that are out there. The end user shouldn't get a pop up on every single application or item they open to be sure it's 'safe'. There are far better means of controlling permissions within an OS that would have made a lot more sense that what we have now with UAC. That being said, I believe in time and with Microsoft really listening to customer feedback they'll work out a lot of the kinks, but I won't consider purchasing Vista until they do... or force me to upgrade. :)

  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    Granted there is still quite some time before final release but even with RC1 of XP it was a rock solid stable OS that I used as my full time OS and never had any issues whatsoever
    Besides this thing being early beta, also keep in mind that it's not a cosmetic chaneg akin to upgrade from W2k to XP or from OSX 10.3 to 10.4 - this is a major OS overhaul not too far from migration from 9x to NT, of course early beta of such a grand release will be total crap (at least for many people, but some others seem to enjoy it a lot). So, comparing this early beta release to XP release candidate is indeed pretty stupid. I don't even expect Vista release to be 100% usable out of the box, ESPECIALLY x64 version - Vista 64 will take another year or two to mature, get drivers/apps ready and such. And you should also keep in mind that MS is in a big hurry to avoid Apple to chop its balls off - some more delay and you'll see Apple market share well over 10% which is pretty dangerous to MS if they wanna keep enjoying their desktop x86 OS monopoly status. Hence MS does stuff quickly, cuts off features and will probably release something buggy just to avoid serious threat from Apple. Expect something usable only after SP1 and give it at least a year - in a meantime read some rumours about Leopard and salivate a little - that'll keep you going ;-))

    The real problem however lies in the fact that I know I will move up to Vista at some point, but not because it's a better OS than XP but that I'll be hindered by continuing to use an older operating system.
    Yet another nice point - you think MS will sit still and let Leopard to chew its (MS's) private parts with impunity? I doubt that - MS will very likely release those nice sweet WinFS and other toys there were promising for years and integrate them in the next Vista release (I hope Leopard or whatever Mr. Jobs is up to isn't going to eat that for lunch - 'cause WinFS is the last hope for MS, really - DX10 won't count, too small a market it seems). So, in two years or maybe earlier you'll get those new sexy features you want, I believe... well, Apple could probably beat MS's ass here again, which is even more likely judging how well Apple devs were performing so far, so maybe you won't be interested in Vista at all - OS scene moves very fast - bang bang and u'r dead :) Especially now when Ballmer replaced BG - I'm worried, I don't quite trust Ballmer and Ozzie and others - ol' Bill was da man, not sure Vista survives w/o him when his archrival Jobs is only started to accelerate before real takeoff (Leopard?), but we'll see, we'll see...

    There are far better means of controlling permissions within an OS that would have made a lot more sense that what we have now with UAC
    Oh, interesting, tell stupid us what is this "far better means of controlling permissions within an OS" instead of annoying ugly UAC, this must be something revolutionary and ingenious - maybe MS will pay you big bucks for that, who knows ;-))
  • ChronoReverse - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    You tested RC1 of XP. Release Candidate 1.

    This is BETA 2 of Vista. Maybe when they release RC1 of Vista you can compare again.
  • Frallan - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Well i found 1 thing to be more interesting then the rest: Gaming Perfomance!!

    That means that at least til the games I want to play are DX10 combined with the fact that DX10 games get better results im going to stax with my XP.

    Sorry M$
  • Googer - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    There are so many versions and the feature sets will confuse most of us.

    Here is a screen shot from Paul Thurott's Win Super Site.">Windows Vista Versions.
  • Ryan Smith - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Keep in mind that that's an old chart. Small Business Edition no longer exists, and Professional is now Business Edition.
  • Googer - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    Thanks forthe update. Here is the now silghtly out of date chart but still has some usefull information.">
  • slashbinslashbash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Page 8, "regulated" should be "relegated"
    Also in the same sentence, "Superfetc.h" (which might not be a typo)

    A 14-page article with 2 minor problems.... The quality ratio here at AT just kills DailyTech.... please impose AT quality control on DailyTech!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Fixed - DT runs a lot of short, quick articles, and unfortunately that means they get more typos and errors. Anyway, since they are a separate entity, there's not much we can do. Feel free to post and tell them, though, but remember they're looking at probably 10X as many press releases as we do. LOL
  • DerekWilson - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    1) vista is perfectly capable of being a stable light weight desktop system (with some quirks) at the beta 2 stage ... but try to do anything fast or power hungry and you'd be better off sticking with xp until vista is released. right now, at beta 2, vista is a neat toy. don't try to use it for everything.

    2) after all the spit an polish dries, i will still prefer os x to vista

    3) final verdict? same as it ever was -- i'll be running vista for games and linux for programming. and since i've recently been bitten by the switch bug, os x for everything else.

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