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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  • shamgar03 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    "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."

  • darkdemyze - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Personally I'm excited to see where Vista is going. But I still myself in the same position as stated above ^
  • CSMR - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    What has OS got to do with programming?
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    What has OS got to do with programming?
    The guy's obviously coding some Linux stuff - do you want him to code stuff in cygwin on Vista? I don't think he's THIS kind of pervert, now is he? :))
  • fikimiki - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    AMD will replace Intel, Linux is going to replace Windows.
    Microsoft is close to death, Bill is gone, Ballmer is crazy.
    They are going to make this system usable with SP3 working on Athlon64 16000+ (which is just 4x4000) acting as a fast turtle....
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    Linux is going to replace Windows
    and Mesa 3D is going to replace DX10 - woohoo man keep this stuff coming, you're doin' great :))
  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    lol close to death, and yet they somehow find a way to ring up a billion (with a B) dollars in profit every single MONTH.
  • Xenoid - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


  • darkdemyze - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    lol gg.

    I think some people need to get a grip..
  • sprockkets - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    1. Nice fade into the desktop.
    2. I'm sure they'll make new sounds and music, otherwise, it sadly is a new UI with and old annoying XP theme.
    3. Still can't use anything other than .wav for sounds? Why?
    4. Everything is all over the place, yet the classics are still there if you need it.
    5. Finally, an all GUI installer. Welcome to the rest of the world haha.
    6. Instead of asking for permission all the time, why not allow the control panel to open, then ask, then do not ask again when using anything in it?
    7. Like mentioned, why make it so hard to hide the turn off button? Stupid.
    8. It will take getting used to. Might as well switch to a Mac or even Linux, because you will be spending effort to get used to the differences. "Where is the start menu? No display properties? OK, it is personalize. Where did all the usual menus go? "
    9. Funny, doing a file download in IE7 shows a nice progress bar, with the old as hell earth graphic with the flying piece of paper into the folder with the little red crash mark. Couldn't think of anything to replace it, or feeling nostolgic?
    10. Major annoyances gone with fresh new ones.
    11. Usual Microsoft behavior: Change for the sake of change (that damn power button!)

    Other thoughts: Yeah, OSX officially runs on x86 hardware, as long as it has an Apple logo on it. We did it to not have to worry about drivers and such. Yeah, as if you don't both have the same Intel chipset to support.
    Sometimes in Xp you cannot burn unless you are an Admin. I couldn't even run Asus Probe for whatever reason, and all it does is check for temps and such.
    Is Expose the same as the new compiz and XGL?

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