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.

Index System Requirements and More
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    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.
    Windows driver support and OSX driver support are quite different, in Windows you usually need a driver CD or download, while with OSX there almost nothing to do - plug the thing and enjoy it - hence the need for certified hardware - you need someone in charge of hardware approval to get that level of smoothness with hardware & other stuff. Apple can't provide this level of service IF they can't stamp their logo on something, while Windows can't provide this level of service BECAUSE they can't stamp their logo - feel the difference here :)) There's no such thing as "certified Windows hardware that you can just pop in and enjoy" - put all the WHQL/XP/MS logos on a Chinese card from newegg - and you still have to download and setup drivers yourself - which sounds like an insult for any Mac guy, hehe ;-)
  • Locutus465 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Not neccessarly... Hell, at work we started using signature pad software in conjunction with an active x control to provide digital signature functionality... I ordered a Topaz signature pad, it got to the office, plugged it in the USB and wouldn't you know it.... Windows found the device right away and it worked. To be fair, microsoft supports a huge number of the box... They just can't support all of it... Heck, I didn't even *need* to install any system drivers with vista, it found all my nForce4 devices and Gefore 7800GT just fine... I chose to becaues I'm guessing nVidia probably did a better job with thier drivers than microsoft did with their generic ones.
  • Pirks - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    To be fair, microsoft supports a huge number out of the box. They just can't support all of it.
    This is what I'm talking about - noone can support everything out there out of the box but a MANAGEABLE subset of hardware, like most popular video/audio/TV/RAID and other cards - that's a piece of cake, and now you are right, Vista will support a lot out of the box but LATER maybe in a year or two a lot of new devices start to appear on the market that Vista will not support out of the box, and the problem is NOBODY cares whether user has to download a driver or something, nobody cares about setting up some automatic update site driven by MS and maybe some other big PC vendors together (joint MS/newegg site would be ubermegacool!) which says "IF YOU GET CERTIFIED HARDWARE FROM US IT'LL WORK MAC-STYLE" meaning that if this card has a special logo - you know you pop it in and nothing else - Windows automatically locates driver online and downloads/installs it - Mac OS X style. Just forget about this thing unless you get a Mac - somehow MS and other can't realize many users would love such a feature - very nice choice - if you're a pro - go to newegg and get nice cheap stuff and install it yourself, but if you're a noob - here's your, get there, choose a card, order it, pop it in and just FORGET about everything else - no drivers no other sh1t to worry about - well, all AT/DT readers won't care about that, I know, but for noobs/general public I think that's a boon, all my Mac owning buddies LOVE that feature of Macs - hence it's a good idea to adopt something similar for Windows, don't you agree?
  • Locutus465 - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    What you don't seem to realize is that Windows has such a feature called Windows update. Microsoft does continuously update their in house set of available drivers. The main thing is that Microsoft tends not to do as good a job optimising drivers for *performance*. What microsoft want's are good solid drivers that don't crash your system, as far as their conserned performance is a distant second. This is why most users in the know specifically tell Windows *not* to locate a driver for their new hardware (unless it's something simple like a USB/Firewire harddrive etc) and proceed to download drivers from the hardware manufacturers website.
  • Pirks - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link


    Windows has such a feature called Windows update
    Ever tried to install Audigy 2 or X-Fi on XP? Ever tried to pop in Nomad Zen in 2002 or so... rings any bells? Or not?

    Well, if not, here's an explanation for you - your Windows Update is just this - purely WINDOWS update, and nothing more - the problem is - Windows Update is not concerned with a lot of new hardware coming out (Nomad Zen back in 2002, X-Fi, many other examples), there's not even an idea of certifying the new piece of hardware and submitting drivers to Microsoft where they are put online with WHQL logo on them. See the difference? In Macs it's a rule - got a new fresh driver for Mac OS X for your card? Submit it to Apple NOW! In Windows? Who cares about this in Windows? Windows PC makers do not care whether their customer can or can not install drivers - here's your PC, bye now. You wanna install X-Fi? Well, you're on your own. Get a nerd or something. Yeah, this works, but why not to go one step further and do it like this - Creative makes new flashy X-Fi - IMMEDIATELY submits drivers to MS - MS quickly tests them and in a week or two there you go - you pop your new expensive X-Fi in your PC and MAGICCC!!! PC GOES ONLINE AND DOWNLOADS/INSTALLS DRIVERS ITSELF! Why? Because X-Fi has this logo "Just Works in XP". You wanna get third party hi-perf drivers and apps/tuning utils? No problemo - go get 'em. But if you're a noob and dont' know what a driver is - this is a boon.

    So far no enthusiast understood me when I mentioned this idea - and this is normal - enthusiasts do not need this kind of service. What is more interesting is why a major Home PC brand still doesn't have this kind of service. My guess this is because quality Home PCs come pre-assembled with all the drivers, but still - this service is an interesting approach to clone from Apple.

    After all Vista cloned a lot from Tiger - why not clone other things from Apple like this service?

    Will it hurt anyone?

    Or will it make PCs more noob friendly and hence better competitors for Macs which constantly boast this "Just works" attitude? I mean this is nothing major, this is just a little service - but this Dashboard and Expose and other things - they are also little services, if you think about it. Is Vista actively cloning this stuff? Sure it is, everybody loves eye-candy, Spotlight and stuff like that - so why would anyone NOT like this additional automatic hardware configuration service?

    I feel this is a thing of the future, and should appear sooner or later.

    Any other opinions on that?
  • Locutus465 - Saturday, June 17, 2006 - link

    Yes, but perhaps what you're missing is Microsoft will update their own in house drivers for hardware they consider essential to Windows functioning properly. The fact that microsoft doesn't try to control the PC market in the way Apple controls the Mac market has made the PC significantly more cost effective than Apples platform, while still allowing for a very high degree of innovation. The IBM PC has always been about economics, which is why no one (including IBM) could control it the way in which Apple controls the Mac platform. So apparently the answer to your question is yes and no.

    Yeah, there does need to be a service to update driver critical to the functioning of modern PC's automatically (in Microsoft's case, Windows Update). But no, in order to retain the economic's of the IBM clone market, there needs to be no such Apple like control over the market..
  • Pirks - Sunday, June 18, 2006 - link


    But no, in order to retain the economic's of the IBM clone market, there needs to be no such Apple like control over the market.
    Excellent point - total Apple-like control of the hardware turns PC into Mac, which is obviously not what users need and want (excluding zealots, of course). However, my point was not about turning PC into Mac by introducing total hardware control over every PC out there, Apple-style, it was rather about creating a special BRAND of PC, obviously a Vista-based PC, which should retain best features of Vista and Mac from the point of view of a noob. This means: a Vista PC which has similar subset of applications as OS X Tiger, and which also behaves like a Mac when you pop a certified piece of hardware into it - it goes online and downloads/installs drivers quietly and user just enjoys the device without any thinking - it "just works".

    Naturally, there is no need at all to convert all PCs to that ideology, one brand would be enough. Who is the best candidate for that? Probably an alliance between Dell and MS, or something similar.

    I heard a lot of talk about Microsoft's iPod Killa coming out soon, not sure these aren't just baseless rumors but... let's imagine for a sec MS is going to try and kick Apple a little in DAP market - how'd they do that? Obviously by cloning and amplifying strengths of iPod. What are these? Tight integration and control of course, especially on Macs - on Mac the OS itself plus iTunes/iPod/iTMS work seamlessly together. Maybe MS can leverage some of that by creating its own PC brand (together with Dell would be the best) so that when there's someone thinking about bying a Mac just because it's so noob friendly, he/she can reconsider - hey, wait, don't buy a Mac - see, there's similar MS PC, which also accepts a subset of certified hardware, just like Mac and because of that is as easy and stable as a Mac - this is its strength, this is why it can compete with Macs on their turf.

    In other words, if Apple pushes personal computers as easy to use, utility devices, and if MS also kind of succeded with its console (which is also utility device - plug and enjoy) then, maybe, it's time to attack CORE Apple market - those utility PCs called Macs. MS has attacked Sony market with game console - why not attacking Apple market at some point by creating similar PC clone of Mac, which is also controlled by one company and hence easy and stable etc.

    Seems like a viable business idea to me, well meybe not at this point in time, maybe we should wait till Apple share of US home computer market grows to, say, 10 or 20% - but EVENTUALLY MS might be just FORCED to go Apple way - tight control over hardware and such - while leaving current free PC market intact of course - as I said it should be just another PC brand, nothing more.
  • stash - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link


    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?

    Because that is a nice gaping vulnerability.


    7. Like mentioned, why make it so hard to hide the turn off button? Stupid.

    If you notice, there are two large buttons (sleep and lock) and a menu containing restart, logoff, shutdown, hibernate, etc. Sleep is a faster and more efficient method to shut off a computer, since it combines standby with hibernation. So machines will shut down much faster and startup nearly instantaneously, right where you left them. They will also use less power, since resuming from sleep uses far less power than a cold boot.


    11. Usual Microsoft behavior: Change for the sake of change (that damn power button!)

    This is not MS's behavior at all. All of these things are tested extensively in useability studies by thousands of (non-Microsoft) users. The UX and UI changes in Vista are a result of these studies, not some artibrary decision.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    Sleep and standby are not "more efficient" as they continue to draw power. (If fact, even shutting down will still leave the PC drawing 5-10W on most desktops.) The best way to totally shut off a computer is to shut down Windows and unplug the PC (or turn off the PSU switch). If by more efficient you mean that it starts up faster, then yes, but that's really more convenient, not more efficient.
  • Locutus465 - Friday, June 16, 2006 - link

    So far, sleep doesn't start up my computer any faster than a cold boot with vista. In fact... Some times it doesn't start up my computer at all! I do like the general idea that you can put your computer into a sleep mode and still have it continue downloading data etc. Hopefully MS will get this worked out.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now